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How VSTO changes office development

Microsoft has released Visual Studio Tools for Office, or VSTO, to supplement the macro-creating capabilities of Visual Basic for Applications. VSTO's main strength is security,.

For years, many developers used Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) to create macros and tie Office applications together. This tool has since been supplemented with Visual Studio Tools for Office, or VSTO, which along with its new features can entail a substantial learning curve for deploying them.

Greg Enslow, president of 3Sharp LLC, recently spoke to about the ins and outs of VSTO 2005, which is currently available in beta format and works with Office 2003 as well as the 2005 update.

Like its VBA predecessor, VSTO lets developers customize features for Office applications, mainly Word and Excel. These can be as simple as a button on the application's Command bar or as complex as an expense report template with access to back-end databases. Once a user's applications recognize these features, they are always available, even if the user is offline.

But VBA had its limits, not least a lack of security. "It really didn't have a strong mechanism for protecting the code," Enslow said. "Often people didn't even set the password. A malicious password could take the code that you worked on and [which] has your name on it, add some malicious aspects and deploy the code."

To combat this, VSTO relies on the .NET framework for true security. It also uses .NET Code Access Security. By default, this is set at "full trust" on the developer's machine but needs a .NET framework, an MSI (which stands for Windows installer) or a group policy before it can be deployed on users' machines, Enslow said. A framework is fine for a few users, while MSIs cover a larger audience and group policies allow developers to create specific rules.

Other additions to VSTO 2005 include the ability to deploy data cache sets into offline documents, support for typed datasets and a .NET host wrapper for native Office controls like bookmarks and XML notes, Enslow said.

Earlier this year, BJ Holtgrewe, Lead Product Manager, Visual Studio, presented a webcast to members on what's new in VSTO 2005. Click here to listen to this webcast.

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