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VSTA: How lightweight can you get?

Visual Studio Tools for Applications helps ISVs and other developers customize applications buildtaround Office 2007. Here we take a closer look at VSTA.

Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Applications helps ISVs and other developers customize applications built around Office 2007. Here we take a closer look at VSTA and what may be in store for future releases.

Just as light beer is a blasphemy for some beer drinkers, and a godsend to those seeking to limit their caloric intake, so also are lightweight tools designed to bring Visual Studio functionality into various kinds of application environments a toy to some and a boon to others. The Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Applications (VSTA) have been around for some time, and will be getting something of a facelift and a boost to functionality from the upcoming Visual Studio 2008 release.

Basically, VSTA enables software developers to add extensibility to their applications, by integrating all kinds of customizations that draw from work done to create Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). That probably also explains why VSTA is embedded in Office 2007, and already available on any system with InfoPath installed.

What VSTA aims to do is to employ standard .NET tools along with a secure, reliable customization framework so that software vendors and their customers can build customizations around this platform. VSTA also supports new working scenarios for Visual Studio and MS Office, including workflow, with standard tools to extend functionality easily and securely.

The VSTA environment offers a streamlined version of the Visual Studio IDE that provides familiar, well-understood tools so that users can leverage existing knowledge and experience in extending applications. Also, all VSTA projects integrate with full-blown Visual Studio (they will open in Visual Studio, in fact), and any innovations that come to Visual Studio will also be accessible in VSTA.

Because application and communication security have gained dramatically in performance, VSTA also puts a premium on delivering new forms of security and control. Built around the .NET security model, it can isolate add-ins and protect host applications, and offers explicit, robust controls over which elements may (or may not) be customized and who has permission to make such customizations.

More on VSTA
Mini-Guide: Visual Studio Tools for Applications

Because VBA is such a widely used development toolset, especially in Microsoft Office, VSTA hopes to succeed VBA by maintaining standard, simple tools that are easy to use and learn while upping the security and control antes considerably. That explains why VSTA also provides options for integrating BASIC code, macro recording, and various scripting mechanisms, to leverage its appeal to IT organizations and end-user groups.

For more information about this potentially potent toolset, check out the VSTA home page. With plans to provide VSTA integration and support in Visual Studio 2008, keep your eyes on upcoming betas and releases in that arena as well.

Ed Tittel is a writer and trainer whose interests include XML and development topics, along with IT Certification and information security. E-mail with comments, questions, or suggested topics or tools to review. Cool tools rule!

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