Microsoft Office 11, An App Platform

Aiming to turn its upcoming Office 11 business productivity suite into an extensible platform for business applications, Microsoft Monday unveiled plans for a set of tools that will allow Visual Studio .NET developers to build business-specific applications based on Word and Excel documents.

Dubbed Visual Studio Tools for Office, the technology will allow developers to design Word and Excel templates with an underlying customer-defined XML structure, based on corporate, departmental or industry-wide schemas. In this way, developers will be able to build document-based applications with context-specific help and supporting information.

The tools support the Visual Basic .NET and Visual C# .NET programming languages, and developers will also have access to other features of Visual Studio .NET 2003, including its editor and debugging environment, and designers for creating user interfaces, working with data and XML, and building server-side code and components.

Developers will also be able to leverage other features of Office 11, like smart documents and smart tags, to help build tailored applications for customers by providing rich user interfaces.

Smart documents help with the creation of XML-based applications that can give end users contextual data, help content and workflow, and present information through a programmable task pane when a user needs it. In addition, Microsoft said it has improved smart tags in Office 11 so that they are capable of providing content-specific actions or dynamically modifying a document’s content.

Office 11 also includes integrated support for XML Web services, Extensible Stylesheet Language (XSL) and XPath, which developers can also leverage when designing new applications.

Both Office 11 and Visual Studio Tools for Office will be made available in mid-2003. Microsoft said it will release pricing and availability details at a later date.