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Microsoft Talks Up Office 11 Developers Tools

Visual Studio Tools for Office aims to exploit XML to help developers create applications based on Word and Excel.
Microsoft on Monday answered questions about how developers were supposed to take advantage of Office 11's new functionality, particularly its XML expertise, by unveiling a set of development tools, code-named Visual Studio Tools for Office.

Visual Studio Tools for Office aims to exploit XML to help developers create applications based on Microsoft Word and Excel. The new tools enable those who work in Microsoft's Visual Basic .Net and C# .Net to build customized applications able to run in those two Office 11 apps.

Developers will have complete access to all the features of Visual Studio .Net 2003, Microsoft said, including its editor and debugging environment, as well as the tools needed to create user interfaces, work with data and XML, and build server-side code and components.

But does this play out?

"This could make a stronger case for deploying Office 11," said Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, an independent Microsoft-monitoring firm. "But only in very specific situations."

At least for the moment. "I don't expect early adoption will be that great," DeGroot said, because those who are now programming Office will need time to transition to Visual Studio .Net. "But going forward, this is an important technology and a very positive move for Microsoft."

DeGroot highlights Microsoft Excel and Web services among the most attractive uses of the new tools. Excel, he noted, is already widely used as a reporting client for businesses, while XML is pervasive as the data-transfer mode from Web services. With the Visual Studio Tools for Office in hand, he thinks it most likely that companies will turn to Excel as a front end for Web services.

"They could create applications that go to the Web service, display the results in an attractive fashion within Excel, and do local calculations," DeGroot said.

In late November, Office competitor Sun Microsystems said it would add Java application development tools to its StarOffice 6 suite around the middle of next year. "Microsoft is in the position to be the second to announce development tools for its suite," DeGroot said, "and leads to the suspicion that this is a response to Sun's move."

"If you're trying to bring Office into the Web services/XML world, this announcement is fairly important to you," DeGroot said. Others, though, will have to look at the functionality of these tools and decide themselves if there's enough to make the Office upgrade worthwhile.

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