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VSTO for Office 2007 now in beta

Microsoft has released a beta version of Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office that is compatible with Office 2007. It ensures that applications built with VSTO for Office 2003 will work on Office 2007.

Microsoft has released a beta version of Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office that is compatible with Office 2007. The product, officially called Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office Second Edition Beta (VSTO 2005 SE Beta for short), is available for download here. It was developed under the code name Cypress.

VSTO 2005 SE Beta offers managed-code add-in support for six Office 2007 applications -- Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Visio and InfoPath. It runs on Visual Studio 2005 Team System, the professional version of Visual Studio 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office.

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K.D. Hallman, general manager for Visual Studio Tools for Office, writes about the features of VSTO for Office 2007 here in the VSTO forum on MSDN. These features include support for UI elements such as the ribbon, custom task panes and Outlook's form regions, plus design-time support for InfoPath's form templates.

In addition, applications built on Office 2003 using Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office will run with Office 2007, Hallman says.

Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's development unit, writes about the release here in his blog.

Jay Roxe, group product manager for Visual Studio, said in an interview with TheServerSide.NET that the Office System has improved in ways that help professional developers. "I think one of the important things that came out around Office System is that it has really positioned itself as a development platform. You can see that in the things like the XML file format," Roxe said.

"With [this release], Office development gains that level of professionalism that developers have come to expect from Visual Studio," he said. He noted that the established VBA tool set alternative is supported in the newest Office System as well.

The UI Ribbon available for the next Office release could better position Microsoft in the "eye-candy" sweepstakes that distant competitor continues to press with some effectiveness. And that type of updated UI development can't start too soon for some people.

One thing to note, said Roxe, is that, if you used VSTO 2005, when you go to do a Word project, Word opens in the designer. With "SE," there is runtime support, he said, so when a developers go to create a Ribbon UI, they use code only. Roxe said to expect designer support with the future Orca release of Visual Studio tools.

Having a useful tool that was concurrent with Office 2007 was deemed more important, perhaps, than holding the tool back until a full-fledged designer interface for Ribbon UI development was ready.

Greg DeMichillie, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, said VSTO 2005 SE Beta was an important release.

"Back in 2001 and 2002, when the development platform made the big jump to .NET, the Office tools were pretty much out of synch with the other development platforms," he said. "They have spent the last five years trying to rebuild some bridges so the .NET platform can be used in a reasonable way to built on top of Office."

However, given that Office 2007 has an entirely new interface, Microsoft still has some catching up to do on the tools side, DeMichillie said.

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