Many IT sites have already implemented custom applications built around Microsoft's Office 97 components. Companies that choose to migrate to Microsoft's Office 2000 will find that Microsoft offers a plethora of useful tools and enhancements in this Office 2000 Developer upgrade (formerly known as Office 97 Developer Edition), now in beta 2 release.
Although Microsoft does not have direct competition for Office 2000-based development tools, competing office suites - such as Star Division's StarOffice and Applix's Applixware - offer development access and tools for sites that want to build custom office applications using their products.
Additionally, these rivals provide extended platform support along with interoperability with Microsoft Office. For example, StarOffice 5.0 is available for Windows, Linux, OS/2 and Solaris; and Applixware supports Unix (inclusive of Linux) and Windows.
Microsoft Office 2000 Developer includes all of the components found in the Office 2000 Premium version, including Office 2000 modules, such as Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, Outlook, FrontPage, PhotoDraw, Publisher and Small Business Tools.
Developers will also find several tools in Office 2000 Developer that are useful for building custom applications around the Office modules using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). An updated version of VBA - 6.0 - is included in this release, and it offers code interoperability with other third-party applications that support the language, such as Corel.
The Office 2000 Developer beta 2 release I tested was fairly solid, although I did experience some intermittent garbage characters on the screen and some strange error messages. Microsoft expects to resolve the beta issues prior to production.
Office 2000 adds several useful tools as well as some solid improvements compared to the prior version. For example, the Component Object Model Add-in support in this version allows you to create components that can be shared across multiple Office modules, such as Word and Excel. This is in contrast to the previous version where separate code was required to customise each module.
The Code Librarian - a centralised database of code snippets - was very useful as I was building several test applications. Microsoft also supplies some code snippets with the Code Librarian. I was able to drag the code snippets from the Code Librarian to my code editing window without incident. And, I added my own code snippets to the Code Librarian for later reuse.
Developer extras include the Code Commenter and the Error Handler. Both of these features use template support to automate code commenting and the addition of error handling routines.
Office 2000 Developer improves accessibility to external data. I was able to use the ActiveX Data Object support with OLE DB to include a wide variety of data sources. Microsoft has also added graphical tools for connecting to external data sources.
Those building custom applications around Access 2000 will find the addition of the Microsoft Database Engine (MSDE) a useful complement to the Jet engine that is already supported. MSDE simplifies data exchange between Access and SQL Server 7.0 databases. Those deploying Access applications will appreciate Access' run-time support, which eliminates the need to have Access installed on the client.
Microsoft has also provided some additional ActiveX controls in this version of Office Developer. In particular, one of the ActiveX controls is useful for displaying hierarchical data; a second control simplifies the manipulation of record sets.
I was curious about how easy it might be to migrate custom Office 97 applications forward to Office 2000. I successfully moved several test applications from the Office 97 environment over to Office 2000 without incident.
Developers often bemoan the lack of adequate documentation that arrives with many software products. Microsoft has provided both printed and online materials with Office 2000 Developer that will be useful to both experienced and more novice developers.
My copy of the programmer's guide contained nearly 1000 pages, and the included CD offered more help including additional code samples.
Office 2000 Developer made completion and deployment of my test projects much easier. After creating my test applications, I used the Package and Deployment Wizard to check for all file dependencies and then prepared to deploy my applications. I also added some online help for my applications using the included HTML help-creation facility.
All in all, this latest version of Office 2000 Developer really packs a punch for developers who need to create custom Office applications. Sites that are considering building custom applications for Office 2000 should keep this upcoming release on the radar.
The Bottom Line
Microsoft Office 2000 Developer, beta 2
Windows developers who create custom applications using Microsoft Office components will appreciate the bevy of useful additions in this update.
Pros: Updated version of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA); can interoperate with third-party applications that support VBA; projects created for earlier Office versions are easily brought forward; productivity boost; easier access to data; simplified deployment.
Cons: Limited platform support; some minor beta bugs.
Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT.
Price: Not yet announced.
Ship date: End of March.
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