Archive for the ‘VSTO’ Category

Hi, Remember me?

Sunday, 18th July, 2010

I used to post here quite regularly.

Last week was mad busy.

I took 4 easyjet flights in the week. the combined travel time was about 6 hrs of flight. The combined delay time was closer to 10 – each flight was at least an hour late, the worst (the one that did an emergency stop on the runway) was 4 hrs late by the time they had flown us a replacement plane over from Scandinavia instead of our smoking one. Its not easy being an international jet setter you know…

Anyway Monday was the International UK Excel Developer Conference in London.

It was an excellent event, just over 20 of us altogether, about half a dozen in the pub before and dozen after.

The day went fairly close to schedule and the feedback has been very positive.

I did a session on general extending Excel technologies, Ross did a more indepth session on Excel DNA. Then I opened the kimono on the realities of being an Excel Add-in entrepreneur, as did Charles. I combined mine with a little look at OLAP data sources, because Roger agreed to show us some of the new features in 2010, in particular the pivoting improvements and slicers.

Then we went to the pub for dinner which many delegates washed down with their own body weight in beer so the afternoon was a bit drowsy for some.

In the afternoon I looked into xlls in some more details and covered some of the other tools such as Keith Lewis’ XLL library, XLW and XLL plus, and some of the criteria for choosing between them. Charles then took us through some of the other considerations for FastExcel and I showed VSTO and Addin Express.

We ended the day with a full and frank discussion about where we see the future of Office development going. With great participation from everyone there. some really interesting views were expressed and I picked up a few things I hadn’t considered before. More on this later though as I picked up even more insight towards the end of the week – more in a future post.

We kind of combined the panel sessions with a big free for all, and the prize giving was cancelled due to a logistics blunder which meant the prizes our friends at Microsoft had sent from the US (some time ago in fairness) did not arrive in Carlisle until the day after the conf. they probably passed us in lndn on the Mon. Luckily all my sessions had overrun so much we had run out of time anyway. The pub after the event was great – in many ways this informal socialising with others operating in the same areas is the highlight for me personally.

The venue I thought was superb and I would definitely use them again. The aircon was most welcome, as anyone who was at the very first Lndn excel user conf will remember.

Thanks to everyone who attended, I hope you found it useful. Any feedback or suggestions for improvements or future sessions or speakers are very welcome.

The current plan is to do another similar event perhaps next May time, or possibly hold it the day before Eusprig on a Wednesday in July. Your thoughts are welcome.



Excel Dev conf details

Saturday, 12th June, 2010

The draft (detailed) agenda is here.

The event location is here.

You can get yersen booked on here. Its currently 150 quid for the day (with early bird discount), that will go up to 200 at the start of July, if there are any places left (all plus vat). I didn’t work out how to do a declining stock thingy with the codematic shopping cart so I’ll just have to warn people as we get near the room limit and then disable the shop item.

Please tell everyone you know who might be interested. I think this will be an excellent event, and the first one I’m aware of that actually addresses the business of selling Excel stuff. Add in a bunch of technical content on the latest trends in corporate development, and plenty of time for questions and chat, an informal atmosphere, and I reckon we have an excellent well rounded event coming up.

If there is something you specifically want to be covered let us know. If you have questions for the panel let us know that too.

Accommodation-wise I suspect many of us will be booking into the nearest/cheapest travelodge.



UK Excel Dev Conf Venue

Wednesday, 9th June, 2010


so I forgot to mention where this magnificent gathering of the great and the good on Jul 12 is occuring!

Or the timings…

The game plan is for a meet and greet between 8:30 and 9:00, at 9:00 the first session will start. The sessions will be about half an hour long with additional time for questions and overruns.

The last scheduled session will finish somewhere between 17:30 and 18:00. The pubs starts at 18:01 prompt, last one in buys a round.

The venue is here. You will see they have wifi etc so if you have to answer emails to pretend you are ‘working from home’ that should be ok. (No guarantees mind, if its anything like the wifi nightmare I’ve been having recently you might be better bringing homing pigeons.)

We will be stopping for tea and coffee, and for dinner (or lunch) of course. If you want to bring cakes and/or biscuits feel free. Ross likes Wagon Wheels, I like all biscuits, even bourbons, no idea which is Charles’ fave, Charles?

We will make the resources available at the event somehow, if you want to bring a laptop to follow along that’s fine, in fact if you want to bring a desktop that’s fine too, as long as it fits on your knees…

Anymore questions, or blindingly obvious oversights let me know.

I will publish a proper timetable in a couple of days when the presenters and schedule have firmed up.



Excel Developer conference London Monday July 12 2010

Wednesday, 9th June, 2010

Here are some more details for the forthcoming Excel Developer Conference on Monday July 12 2010.

Outline initial Agenda
A one day event focussing on real world development with Excel. The event targets Corporate Excel developers and individuals considering selling Excel add-ins, tools, and templates on a commercial basis. There is an excellent mix of the business of Excel tools and the technical aspects of getting the best from Excel. And probably most usefully it is an excellent (and rare) opportunity to network with fellow professionals operating in the same technologies.
The presenters are all commercial developers, most of whom have been selling Excel related products for years.
The format is relaxed and informal, the numbers are strictly limted to maintain a friendly atmosphere. (the expectation is for an intimate event of 20-30 people)

The business of Excel:
Back Office systems and activities to sell on-line
security, piracy, sales and marketing tools
(both of these are based on the real world experience of Charles Williams and his highly acclaimed Fast Excel optimisation toolset).

Technology of Excel:
How to choose the most appropriate implementation technology, both in a corporate environment and as a independent software vendor.
Creating fast User defined functions with .net and ExcelDNA and XLL+, and by hand.
Using Excel as a window to your corporate data
Designing Excel based systems for easy maintenance, support and modification
Extending Excel with VSTO and Add-in Express based add-ins
Review of Office 2010 and Visual Studio 2010 and the possible implications
Discussion of the future direction of Excel development, which technologies to back which to drop.
Panel based questions and answers – we guarantee to answer all pre-submitted questions at the event, and will follow up any on the days ones we can’t answer there and then.

Currently confirmed:
Charles Williams – Excel calculation master
Ross Mclean – international lute playing spreadsheet developer
Me – general spreadsheet botherer and Visual Studio tinkerer

A key part of these event is the opportunity to meet other people going through the same issues. We will be in the pub the night before and the night after to discuss all things Excel, corporate, commercial and technological, and possibly a little footy too.

The event will include unlimited tea and coffee but the midday meal is left open to delegates to arrange. Some of us will no doubt be going to a local pub.

In order to ensure that cost is not a barrier to attendence, the event is priced at only 150 GBP (+vat) for the day.

I will put up a booking and payment page on the codematic site in the next day or 2.

Any questions, comments or topic suggestions – please leave a comment below.



VSTO Carter and Lippert

Sunday, 2nd May, 2010

If you are wanting to play with VSTO and want a simple, easy to carry intro, this isn’t it. It’s massive and it weighs a ton!

But that is because it covers all the main Office apps, well Excel, Word and PowerPoint, I dunno what the Access/VSTO story is. Maybe the Access boss was out the day they decided to point VS at Office?

This is a good book. I’m always a little sceptical on books, especially if I don’t know if the authors are commercial devs. I know the two Erics are key members of the VSTO team, but thats not the same as delivering and supporting, using the book contents, to paying clients. With this book though you can just follow through the examples and deliver working solutions, that actually work.

My only issue is with the section on UDFs using Automation add-ins – c’mon guys, everyone knows .net automation add-ins are completely inadequate for commercial use. Sure show the tech, but at least warn people that the performance is pitiful. Otherwise someone will use just that section, see how crap they are and assume that the rest of the book and the technology is as bad, and it isn’t.

The rest of the book (I didn’t bother with the non Excel stuff of course) looks like a simplified version of what to do, but actually VSTO 2008 is that simple. All that Caspol security bobbins is gone and getting your VSTO solution working on someone elses pc is now really straightforward.

The book is just C#, but you can download the VB stuff from their site. But I would strongly advise anyone wanting to look at .net to seriously consider the move the C#, sure there is a bit of a learning curve, but the resources are so much richer, and the language is so clean (well was – its getting more cluttered all the time). If you just want to get things done, stick with VBA, if you want to develop and grow as a developer take the plunge and try C#. Of course dropping back to VBA and putting a ; at the end of every line is a pain…

I’m not completely convinced by VSTO, I think the VS2010 v Office 2010 story will be pretty slick, but the VS2008 stuff v Excel 2007 is really quite flaky. I think in 2010 they have actually fixed some things they just patched in 2008 (I’m thinking the locale ID mess for one thing).

My preference for Excel add-ins is still xlls and with the rapid rate of improvement and availability of tools in this space, its getting better and better.

I have a click-once server deployed VSTO add-in live at the moment and its pretty neat. I publish new version any time I make a change and the users get it the next time they start Excel, easy squeezy. Moving it from the test server to production was a pain, but once live, updates are very smooth. Then again we have an add-in loader which does the same thing for .xlas, .xlls and .xlams so maybe its not that great a leap forward…

Anyway if you are doing VSTO development this is the book to get. PED also has a good section on Excel/.net covering all the options as well as going into detail on VSTO with

How are your VSTO projects coming along?



VSTO Arrives

Sunday, 7th February, 2010

(on my CV!)

I deployed my first commercial VSTO add-in last week. (I have done loads of meddling over the years of course, especially in the early versions)

As per my previous advice I use VS2008 and it was targeting Excel 2007.

It was a rewrite of a VBA add-in, I chose VSTO, mainly because it needed to listen for Excel events and this is notoriously flaky in VBA.

I have always said I like the idea of VSTO and the technology. My biggest gripe has always been deployment, and the significant list of prerequisites.

As this was a homogeneous corporate environment which met the prereqs, there weren’t really any downsides.

Given the choice between working in Visual Studio or working in the VBAIDE (whose own mother even, wouldn’t love it) I would always choose VS. Given the choice between a C language and a BASIC language I would always choose the C one.

So with no obvious downside (apart from fighting C# into working with a COM OM of course), and the joy of VS2008 and C# it was a no brainer.

So here is the scoop:

Events in VSTO are easier than VBA because you don’t need to faff around with a class wrapper. I spose you could just use the thisworkbook module in VBA, but I think thats a bit misleading.

Because VS2008 has mega intellisense you only have to type the first couple of letters and you are away.

C#/Excel is a bit more painful than VBA, but the VSTO guys have the ‘VSTO Power toys’ (google it)(or bing it) which eases then pain. For example styles(x) in VBA has to be Styles.item(x) in C# (can’t exactly remember which collection it was, but it took me ages to work out what the compiler was complaining about). As I understand it the power toys are an unsupported version of some of whats coming in 2010, the biggie being that you can call lots of Excel methods without loads of object.missings.

C# has some nice language features which if you can use make up for the OM niggles.

And finally deployment is a veritable piece of pish. Publish and forget. And with ClickOnce the add-in phones home at an interval you decide to check for updates, if it finds them it silently installs them. There is no, repeat NO security faffing required any more, what a relief.

This was my first brush with VSTO since version 1 using VS2003? I think, and Office 2003. At that stage I think I declared it unfit for use and abandoned it. As did many others in fact.

It’s hard to put into words just how far it has come since then, I’m still not convinced for Codematic web stuff that is offered to everyone and anyone but for corporate developments I think VSTO is the way to go, and the sooner the better. The alternative to join .net and Excel is a shimmed COM add-in which I wouldn’t really call a clean solution.

A quick scoot on Jobserve suggests Excel/VBA/C# is a pretty strong skillset right now, and I think it will get stronger and stronger. I am starting to see specific requests for VSTO and ClickOnce too.

I’ll do another post about the dynamics of the jobmarket because I think there are some big changes afoot.

Are you using VSTO? If not, are you planning to? and when? C# or VB?