Laser focus on Office Dev at PDC

The next Microsoft PDC (Professional Developers Conference) happens in November. Its a 4 day geekfest, with a focus on what Microsoft thinks devs should be focusing on in the near future.

The 2009 event has a laser like focus on Office development. Of the 50 or so sessions announced so far, 1 (one), (single) relates to Office development. (I’m using laser as in narrow, as opposed to powerful, highly focused, etc)

Here is the link in case you are thinking of going.

Office generates about a third of Microsofts revenues (and contribution), and yet over 90% of the sessions will ignore it completely. Or mention it disparagingly when claiming a code based session with little or no Powerpoint.

I wonder what the VSTO team think of all their hard work in linking VS and Office?

What is doubly frustrating about this picture is that some of us have actually tried to engage with MS on this, hoping to push the developer story in Excel and Access (and the minor products (Word ppt etc ;-))).

Even more alarming – Office 2010 is due out 6 months after that PDC, and ONE crappy general Office dev session is all MS can muster by way of revving up their army of devs to leverage their latest and greatest smart client. (Its probably in the smallest room too!)

The sad reality is of course that VS devs have zero or less interst in Office dev. And of course no one is engaging with the Office devs and powerusers.

So who thinks they should have a BPDC (business prof…) that covers getting the job done with tools accessible to business devs? (That would be Excel/Access/JET/VBA).

If Microsoft hosted an event that targeted VBA dabblers and power users would you go? Would you pay? Would you feel more positive about Microsofts commitment to Office development?

Talking of events kindly hosted by Microsoft: Don’t forget if you are registered for the next (free) Excel User Conf in the UK, its coming soon, 7/8 Oct at MS London. If you are not registered then watch this space – there may be a reserve list starting up soon.



38 Responses to “Laser focus on Office Dev at PDC”

  1. Harlan Grove Says:

    Like it or not, Microsoft does know where not to bother expending resources. Since 90% or more of corporate and government desktops already have Office installed, how much up-side is there for growth? If there’s little or no up-side, where’s Microsoft’s motivation to promote it? Or are you living is a dream world where Microsoft cares about the success of ISVs?

    Microsoft wants to grow in areas where it doesn’t yet have a lock on the market. Not surprising that’s where their emphasis is for the PDC.

    As for a BPDC, who’d present? Sullen VS types forced to do so? Members of Microsoft’s own finance or facilities departments describing how they use Excel and Access? ‘Black belt’ PowerPoint sessions? Word for Wonks sessions?

    Maybe if Oracle devotes significant resources to OpenOffice once it completes its acquisition of Sun, so only when there’s a clear and present danger to Microsoft’s market share, only then is there a chance Microsoft will devote some resources to making nice with Excel and Access developers.

    Cynical, moi?

  2. Marcus from London Says:

    That may be true Harlan, but wouldn’t MS have a vested interest in maintaining their 90% position? Lotus 1-2-3 had, at one point, 80%ish of the market but that didn’t stop Excel from snatching that away.

    They’ve usually been fairly aggressive at protecting their turf without waiting for their market share to be taken by some ‘clear and present danger’.

    Kind Regards – Marcus

  3. workerthread Says:

    I thought the plan was to put the Office Developer stuff in the October SharePoiint conference in Vegas –

  4. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    From what I can read MSFT incorporates more and more Office Development within the server platform MOSS. The next VSTO version will include a tighter integration with MOSS as well. Project Gemini will bring Analysis Service into Excel, i.e. integrate Excel with the SQL server platform. I assume that the Web version of Office 2010 will also be integrated with MOSS/Exhange/SQL Server.

    So what MSFT is trying to do is simple to integrate Office with their flagships MOSS and SQL Server. Implicit Office development is now being re-defined to server platform development and that’s the way central IT-departments and managers within large enterprises want to have it presented as!

    Kind regards,

  5. Simon Says:

    Harlan – fair points for sure, but of that 90%, only about 10% are on Office 2007. And that to me is the opportunity, to get orgs to upgrade to the latest. And VS2008 VSTO/O2007 is a very realistic combination, previous versions not so much.
    Marcus, agreed, but I think Dennis has it.
    Workerthread – good catch, mind you I don’t see many client based sessions there either.
    Dennis, I think you are right, and I think that summarises their strategy for Office – Selling it as a integrated server and client set to IT departments. Which is fine, I just wish there were a bit more space in there to fit in rich client development.

  6. workerthread Says:


    Having seen some of the new ways Office 2010 is integrating with SharePoint 2010 (Access, Visio, Project, and as Dennis says Gemini) I think there will be a fair few Office sessions once they announce the full agenda.


  7. Dennis Wallentin Says:


    I’m totally convinced that rich client development will continue to be evolved in a positive way now as well in the future. However, I’m not convinced that MSFT is the right guide within this area. Mainly because they need to earn their money in a different way then how we make our money.

    I regular scan the major third-party sites to see what they offer. For me it’s an indicator of what the market actually wants and requires. As long as they offer components and tools for COM and Windows Desktop rich client development seems to do well.

    Kind regards,

  8. workerthread Says:

    Also interested to read John Durant’s post here in which he says

    1) VBA is included in Office 2010 much as it was in Office 2007

    2) It is indeed supported

    3) You should continue to use VBA where it fits the needs of our business and migrate only if the need arises.

    But lots of other stuff in his post that Simon or others might want to respond to :)


  9. aivars Says:

    I am more and more satisfied I have moved to Python… beats VBA in every aspect. The only problem is I cannot make any money right now. :-) with python development. But seems when this VSTO takes over our python time will then come.

  10. Simon Says:

    Are you targeting Excel with Python?
    What sort of things are you doing?
    have you looked at these guys?

  11. aivars Says:

    Hi, Simon,
    I am in financial reporting and analysis (i am an accountant and acounting software consultant in Latvia) and honestly I think that nothing can beat VBA when automating Excel/word/Access(Jet). .NET does not stand even close. It’s my experience. Deniss vallentine is a big NET advocate. But it’s easier to automate excel with python than in
    I have started to use Python/Sqlite/Excel for reporting purposes – I think there is no other tool that can beat Excel in preparing non-web reporting solutions and Sqlite as background database.
    Will check an address you showed me.

  12. Harlan Grove Says:

    With respect to Lotus 1-2-3, they had over 80% of the DOS character mode spreadsheet market. They had 0% of the true GUI spreadsheet market when Windows 3 came out in 1990. Lotus came out with 1-2-3 for Windows Release 1 in 1991 and it proved to be to the other 1-2-3 versions what Windows ME was to other Windows versions – WAY NOT THE RIGHT THING!

    Lotus lost because their character mode look & feel lawsuits totally distracted them and they didn’t really figure out how to make a reasonable Windows version until after Microsoft had come out with Excel 5. While 1-2-3 Release 5 was the best of the 1-2-3 versions, it was too little too late to stop Microsoft Excel.

    But what really propelled Excel into spreadsheet supremacy was being bundled into Office. Lotus’s Word Pro (nee Ami Pro) stunk. WordPerfect may have been better than Word, but WordPerfect and Borland were separate companies in the mid 1990s, and it took too long for WordPerfect and Quattro Pro and Paradox to be combined into a suite by Corel. In short, the relative strength of Word, not Excel, won Excel its current market share.

    Getting to the other points, very large financial services companies, like the one I work for, still use Lotus Notes and don’t use SharePoint. Anything involving MOSS is utterly beside the point for us. Also, we’re a Business Objects shop.

    This proves my point: Microsoft still has a ways to go in the server software markets before they achieve commanding market share, so that’s where they concentrate their efforts. They have a lock on unconnected client-side development for now. Oracle pushing StarOffice is the only potential threat, and it’s at least 2 years off, and it assumes the EU will OK the merger as the US has done. Until that becomes a real possibility, from Microsoft’s perspective Office exists to help sell server software. That there are ISVs who make their living off of client-side Office development is nice but beside the point for what’s important to Microsoft.

    Simon: at this point, any company that hasn’t ‘upgraded’ to Office 2007 is almost certain not to bother with Office 2010 so close at hand. Besides, other than Tables and structured references [OK, IFERROR, COUNTIFS etc are useful too], what sensible things can one do with Excel 2007 that one couldn’t do with Excel 2000?

    I’ll begin to believe Microsoft is serious about Excel on its own when they implement the better features that 1-2-3 introduced 20 years ago, such as the 3rd argument to DCOUNT etc being criteria EXPRESSIONS rather than only references to criteria ranges, 3D what-if tables that use a 3rd variable across worksheets, naming queries into ODBC data sources WITHOUT requiring those queries’ results being entered into worksheet ranges then allowing those named queries to be used like defined names wherever named ranges could be used. While that may be too much to expect from Microsoft, I’d settle for a rewritten and bundled SQL.REQUEST function. But that’s not going to happen, is it?

    Am I the only one here not surprised that a company in a monopoly position acts the way economists say such a company would act?

  13. Cloto Says:

    Harlan, doing what the majority of Excel users request and not implementing what you personally want does not equate to monopolistic behavior. Please by all means continue using 1-2-3, Quattro Pro and whatever else suits your needs, rest assured Microsoft is not going to stop you.

  14. Simon Says:

    : what sensible things can one do with Excel 2007 that one couldn’t do with Excel 2000?

    Get Microsoft support.

    But that is about all.

  15. Harlan Grove Says:

    @Cloto – I’d use ’em all. Have. OpenOffice/StarOffice Calc and gnumeric too.

    The point you seem to have missed is that there’s considerable room for improvement in Excel as a spreadsheet, but Microsoft isn’t going to waste resources on such stuff because it’s not going to sell more Office licenses, and it might inhibit sales of Microsoft’s server software.

    If VSTA is the future, when will it find its way into Office Standard? If it’s not the immediate future, what to make of the stagnation of VBA/VBE since Office XP/Excel 2002?

  16. Simon Says:

    I want to add to what Harlan said, I thought I had written it, but maybe not, or maybe somewhere else…or maybe I deleted it.
    But drawing together Harlans point about VBA IDE stagnation (12 years and counting) and Dereks point about John Durants post, what I wanted to say was:

    Still having VBA in 2010 is somewhat short of the commitment I was looking for. I’d really really like to see some more IDE OM exposed, or a few new features (tabs especially). Engineering dollars (or marketing ones) is the sort of assurance I am after, rather than blog posts.

  17. Dick Moffat Says:


    This is a heavy thread :-) …. !! Lot’s to chew on.

    I found John D’s article interesting and valuable but I will continue to say that the problem isn’t in VBA vs Managed Code or VSTO vs VSTA, it’s always in the application itself and how it is perceived and how it is promoted (or not).

    Code (VBA, VSTO, VSTA, etc., etc,) is just part of the story around Excel and/or Access and I believe that VBA is only part of the bigger story that’s missing in Office Development. As such, I think VBA has to be promoted and encouraged in the context of “Continutity” wrapped around the entire message about the capabiltities of Excel overall to deliver business value inherently in a way that other tools simply cannot (or cannot without a lot of effort, money and/or a lot of relearning).

    I also agree whole-heartedly with Harlan that there are lotsa cool and valuable things that could be added to Excel (like the kind of things Lotus actually got right). Without more effort on their part MS won’t be able to rely in their Cash Cow of Office much longer.

    I LOVE to see my apps being relied on in my clients. If they’re smart (and they aren’t all believe you me) they’ll keep throwing me bones to keep me acoming around and available if they need me. The same is true of MS – if they can get people to NEED Excel then they will NEED Microsoft. Then they can sell them other stuff as well.

    But who am I to tell them how to run their business :-)


  18. Cloto Says:

    Harlan, I agree that there is a lot of functionality that can be added to Excel. My comment was about priorities for adding new features. First on the list will be the features with most user impact, such as better conditional formatting, easier to use pivot tables or sparklines. How many people need Excel to replicate some of the most arcane 1-2-3 features?

  19. Harlan Grove Says:

    My perspective is based on newsgroups. Given the frequency of questions about conditional summing/counting/etc and list filtering in general, there would seem to be a fair bit of demand for functionality beyond what’s provided by COUNTIFS etc.

    Possibly more arcane but also frequently requested is conditional counting/summing etc by cell formatting. That requires VBA or XLM in Excel, but it’s something 123 has been able to do with built-in functions for over 16 years.

    So, from my method of sampling, a solid 10-20% of Excel users want database or table functionality Lotus provided 15 to 20 years ago, and all of that functionality would be very useful for Excel developers.

  20. Cloto Says:

    Harlan, try writing it as a wishlist at without your usual “1-2-3 did this eons ago”. Tying your wishes to a long dead product does not help strengthening your case.

  21. Harlan Grove Says:

    I have no expectation Microsoft will add anything significant to true spreadsheet features in Excel in the next couple of versions. If Microsoft doesn’t see fit to track the newsgroups they host themselves, they’re not going to pay attention to blogs. Besides, you must not follow the blog you cited very closely. Otherwise you might have noticed that I’ve posted many comments there.

  22. Simon Says:

    I agree its not technology specific, that why I say I want to see engineering OR marketing dollars spent on Office development. It totally is perception, and a stagnant IDE does not send the message that VBA is alive and thriving – it says, we wish this would go away. Add in the lack of promotion of other types of Office dev and it looks very much like they want the whole industry to go away.

  23. Charles Says:

    There are some signs that MSoft have realised that they need to pay slightly more attention to VBA:

    – commitment to re-instating VBA in the next version of Mac Office
    – 64-bit VBA in Office 2010 (but no 64-bit VB6)
    – VBA performance improvements in both Excel 2007 SP2 and 2010

    But the death of VB6 has long since excluded VBA/VB6 as a serious (other than legacy) development environment for the vast majority of IT developers (Developers who do not want to be restricted to Office and/or Legacy stuff have to use other languages).

    My belief is that MSoft will continue to do the minimum work required to keep VBA going, but in a few years time (one or two releases after 2010) they will finally come up with a realistic .NET alternative for Office.

  24. Simon Says:

    I havent checked, but I keep meaning to, if the VSTO run-time are included in the 2010 TP. If so that would be a good start towards realistic .net/Office. Getting them in a service pack would be even better.

  25. Dick Moffat Says:

    “Add in the lack of promotion of other types of Office dev and it looks very much like they want the whole industry to go away.”

    It does doesn’t it ?? I think some senior people at MS have a problem with the idea that they would end up with a big chunk of their business “boringly” stable and not exciting and “cutting edge”. It’s an example of a class of pampered boobahs with nice hair and nice cars and more money than anyone deserves for a salaried job making the decisions based on what they think will be “cool” :-).


  26. Bob Phillips Says:


    I can’t see that as a commitment to paying more attention to VBA at all. It just seesm like doing just enough to make sure that the customer base does not desert wholesale or refuse to upgrade because they could lose so much functionality.


    Harlan is spot on with his comments. Those sorts of things are needed so that we don’t have to add slow VBA solutions. The sorts of things that are being added are OK, but hardly ground-breaking. Sparklines, nice – we have had good addins for years. Slicer – someone please tell me the point of this. Other than performance improvements, which are welcome, nay imperative, what else does 2010 bring? Nothing that I see, whilst the garbage CF remains, colours are crocked, charts still lack, formulae are inadequate, and so and so on. Compare all this to what is happening to SQL Server, but what does EVERYYONE use to report from SQL Server?

  27. Harlan Grove Says:

    Bob – I’ve been accused of being a Microsoft partisan in Lotus and other non-Microsoft forums, and of being a Lotus or Borland/Corel/whatever partisan in Microsoft forums. I figure that means I know enough about all of them that people consider me a threat to their pet spreadsheet rather than just a crank. [But we know I’m a crank too.]

  28. Dick Moffat Says:

    “Tying your wishes to a long dead product does not help strengthening your case.”

    Harlan: I’m sure Cloto regrets saying that as us old guys are more prone to sentimentality and we tend to be fragile ……..

    I agree with you Harlan about those features in 1-2-3 but I guess maybe these features would be better promoted as just good ideas as opposed to something out of 1-2-3 :-) ….


  29. Stephane Rodriguez Says:

    The Excel team has been doing the following the last few years :

    – try to redempt themselves from the huge pile of steeming shit that BIFF was, and come up with whatever fluff they now call Open XML. That was the Excel 2007 client
    – provide viewing scenarios for Excel 2007 server, in that entering the Crystal Reports server arena (see the features and roadmaps, they are the same over time…)
    – in Excel 2010, enhance the server side of thing by providing a few visual BI features and more proprietary connectors with their other software (both server and clients).

    Clearly, this is a joint MS and BI in the works.

    VBA/VBE is done. All the power is in the OM anyway.

  30. Dennis Wallentin Says:


    I finally remembered the keyword that MSFT use for Office development; Office Business Applications also abbreviated to OBA.

    Enjoy the reading!

    Kind regards,

  31. Bob Phillips Says:

    Under construction since August 2008, this is serious!

  32. Simon Says:

    OBAs just show MS understand Office development even less than they understand the web, which I didn’t think was possible.
    But they have got all the main TLAs in there.

  33. Cloto Says:

    Dick, yes you got it all right.

    Harlan, if your Excel glass is half of a half of a half of a half full then what is your reason to post many comments on Excel blogs.

  34. Bob Phillips Says:


    You are wasting your time poking at Harlan, he is a top guy. He and I have had many ‘interesting’ discussions in the past, and whilst I would suggest that he can be cranky (although I would not say a crank ), I have always enjoyed them because I know that Harlan thinks about things and is prepared to state thing controversially if need be. He is not what you describe, just someone who knows that Excel can be, should be, better, and will add his voice to that debate. Enough said!

  35. Simon Says:

    You seem to be new here, and every comment you have made so far has been criticising Harlan.
    If you have something useful to add to the debate fire away, if not then perhaps you could go away?

  36. Cloto Says:

    Bob, I have no doubt Harlan can be controversial. I wonder whether Harlan can be constructive.

  37. Cloto Says:

    Simon, as you wish.

  38. Simon Says:

    please take your personal digs at Harlan somewhere else, us adults are discussing the state of Excel/Office development here.

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