Book review In addition to the legions of professional Visual Basic programmers, there are still more developers who use VBA and Microsoft Office for automation, customisation or the development of tailored office applications. Many of these are super-users rather full-time developers, but they have depended on VBA to extend and expand what it is they can do with Excel, Office, Access et al.
While Microsoft has devoted a lot of energy to helping the VB 6.0 developer move to Visual Basic .NET (which later morphed into Visual Basic 2005, in a move many saw as an attempt to woo those developers who hadn’t yet made the jump to the .NET universe), the road map for VBA developers has been less clear-cut.
For VBA programmers, the initial appeal of .NET was limited, not only because the initial release of Visual Basic .NET was missing some of the RAD features that VB developers knew and loved, but also because of the difficulties of switching to a completely different programming model, to the complexities of the .NET framework, Visual Studio and the Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO). Somewhere along the line doing Office application development in .NET gained the reputation of being difficult, particularly for those still supporting older versions of Office.
This is where ‘VSTO For Mere Mortals’ steps in. It isn’t a book pitched at the professional VB developer, many of whom had already started to move to objects and classes in VB 6.0. Instead this book is squarely aimed at the VBA programmer – professional or otherwise – who wants to take those first steps into the new world of Office development with VSTO. For starters, the book doesn’t take much time to look at C#, object orientation or the detailed architecture of the .NET framework. The focus is clearly on making practical use of Visual Basic 2005 and VSTO to extend and control Excel, Word and Outlook.
The opening section of the book is about the new environment: an introduction to the .NET framework, an introduction to VB 2005 (and how it differs from VBA), the new world of Visual Studio 2005 and VSTO. This is the core material needed to get started, but it's in the second section of the book that the pace picks up. Here five chapters are devoted to Word and Excel only, looking at customisation with VSTO, task and action panes, user controls, smart tags and so on.
It’s not just the programming models that have changed however. The final section of the book looks are broader issues such as deployment, security, Outlook add-ins, application migration and more. There is also a chapter on the next release of VSTO and the changes brought on by the arrival of Microsoft Office 2007.
While the experienced developer might find a lack of technical depth, particularly as regards the handling of object orientation and the architecture of the .NET framework, for the VBA developer anxious about moving to VSTO the book is about right. It strikes the right note in getting the reader to a point where it all makes sense, including oft neglected topics such as the debugging of Office applications in the new world.
VSTO For Mere Mortals
Verdict: A useful introduction to those wanting to take their first .NET steps to automating and customising Word, Excel and Outlook.
Authors: Kathleen McGrath and Paul Stubbs
Publisher: Addison Wesley
List Price: £31.99
Current Reg price: £21.43 inc. VAT (discount 33%)
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