Microsoft Opens VBA to Corporate Developers

Microsoft Office is a staple in the corporate desktop fabric. Competing products from Corel Corp. ( and Lotus Development Corp. only scratch the surface when compared with Office’s market share.

To build on that success, Microsoft created Microsoft Office Developer -- formerly known as Microsoft Office Developer Edition -- to help developers customize their Office environment.

The software giant also released a new Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) 6.0 Software Developers Kit (SDK) and a new licensing program last month. With tools such as VBA, Microsoft is allowing ISVs to build Office components right into custom applications.

By embedding VBA into applications, developers can extend an application to pull features from software such as Excel and Word. Microsoft's previous licensing program gave that ability to ISVs who used it for packaged applications they would sell to customers. But the new redistribution license for VBA allows corporations to develop VBA-based applications for internal use. Microsoft also released new technologies as part of the VBA 6.0 SDK that aim to simplify VBA integration for developers. The efforts include a new wizard for integrating VBA into Visual Basic-based applications, additional sample code and more comprehensive documentation.

The new VBA SDK is free and can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site ( Information on licensing and technical support also can be found there.

This customization of Office tools isn't just for Visual Studio developers anymore. DeVries Data Systems Inc. ( ) released a suite of software components designed to integrate the Microsoft Office suite with tools from Inprise Corp. ( ). Called OfficePartner, and designed for rapid implementation, the suite enables developers using Delphi or C++Builder tools to exploit the power of Microsoft applications.

Tillman Dickson, managing engineer at DeVries, says OfficePartner was developed in Delphi and encapsulates the access to Microsoft Office applications by tracking down and automating the housekeeping issues associated with COM.

"The other thing we allow you to do is to do design work without having Word or Excel loaded on the machine," Tillman says. "When you bring that type of application up on a machine it can have a big hit and hurt you as the developer."

While DeVries did not enlist help from Microsoft on the project, it did take advantage of the public materials on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Web site. "Actually, Microsoft invited us to their campus for the day to show their Visual C++ group how we did this," Tillman explains.

While DeVries officials would love to pull developers from all over to use this tool, Tillman concedes the users of OfficePartner will most likely be those familiar with Delphi or C++Builder already. There is also a large section of Visual C++ developers who wouldn't be caught dead using Visual Basic.

VBA 6.0 and OfficePartner are both available. Developers can download VBA 6.0 for free from the MSDN Web site, but need to pay a licensing fee for software they sell. This can range from $23 to $30 per seat. On the flipside, developers who pay a $399 upfront charge for OfficePartner can distribute that software royalty-free.