As the dust begins to settle from Microsoft Corp.'s release of
its updated Office 97 desktop suite, corporate developers of custom
applications will find that their opportunities are just
PC Week Labs tested Microsoft's Office 97, Developer Edition,
which is slated to ship in March for $799 and commonly referred to
as ODE, and found its new version of the VBA (Visual Basic for
Applications) programming language impressively unified and
powerful. ODE's well-conceived aids for deploying secure and
efficient applications will increase developers' interest in using
Microsoft's Office (especially its Access database management
module) as their platform.
Despite the product's considerable hardware demands and the
persisting limitations of the BASIC language, ODE's strengths earn
it the distinction of being a PC Week Labs Analyst's Choice.
Office 97's rich collection of prebuilt objects and usability
aids can be controlled using the new VBA 5.0 in the full-strength
Office applications (Word, Excel, Access and PowerPoint). VBA code
in these applications also can control Office's new Outlook personal
information manager, which also supports the VBScript subset
The VBA environment's automated parameter prompting, integrated
debugging and object-based architecture have more in common with a
LISP machine than with the ancestral QuickBASIC. We wish that
Microsoft had started with a language that had richer data
structures, parsing tools and flow control options--such as those
provided by REXX, for example--but VBA 5.0 exceeds PC Week Labs'
VBA 5.0 also gives a preview of the welcome enhancements promised
in other forthcoming editions of Visual Basic 5.0, including views
of relationships within a complex project through the new Project
Explorer. This feature uses the familiar tree control to unify the
documents, forms and modules of a custom application and to make
these components easy to locate and edit.
Facilities like these become essential as a Word document, for
example, becomes a collection of ActiveX controls tied together with
custom code. (Viewing of code can be blocked by password protection
and RSA encryption.)
The complexity of such projects is brought under control, to some
extent, with convenient features such as drag-and-drop creation of
control templates. A combination of several controls can be selected
as a group, dragged to the control palette and named as a group,
which can then be placed on other forms in another single
But this feature is not as powerful as it might be. Such a
template appears only in the toolbox of the Office application (such
as Word) in which it was created. It can be shared with other
applications by exporting a toolbox page and importing that page
into another application, such as Excel, but we would welcome a less
Deploying data-driven tools
Developers of database front-end applications will find team
development easier with version control hooks in the new release of
Microsoft's Access. These now support Microsoft's Visual SourceSafe,
and third-party tools will no doubt follow.
Access 97's development tools automatically minimize application
overhead, for example, by using a simple hyperlink rather than more
cumbersome VBA code for navigation tasks associated with a command
button. New partial replication options reduce the network overhead
of distributed database designs.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Office 97, Developer Edition
The forthcoming Developer Edition of Microsoft's Office 97
unifies the programmable capabilities of the suite's applications
under a common and surprisingly strong implementation of the BASIC
language, Visual Basic for Applications 5.0. Database application
development is especially aided by version control hooks and
streamlined deployment options.
+ Highly automated BASIC programming tools; programmable
access to animated Office Assistant and other usability aids; useful
collection of ActiveX controls; many facilities for source code
management and protection.
- Additional steps required to share customized controls
across Office applications; Visual Basic for Applications remains a
weak procedures language compared with alternatives such as
Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash. (800) 621-7930
Scoring methodology: www.pcweek.com/reviews/meth.htmlThe Developer
Edition will let programmers control Office Assistant.