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Developer .NET Perspectives
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Developer .NET Perspectives
One of the major pushes now taking place in the software market is providing software that lets users share information. You've probably already seen software that takes advantage of the Internet to let everyone access information on a central server. The next step is to enhance that access. This evolution is taking the form of tools that run on the desktop. Of particular importance is the ability to leverage an interface with which today's knowledge workers are already familiar: interfaces such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.
I'm not just referring to the ability to create a document, then post it on Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server. If you've had the opportunity to work with SharePoint, you know that the current version is a powerful collaboration tool. SharePoint lets you set up a departmental server and, within that server, create sites that are oriented around specific groups and tasks. The key is that SharePoint doesn't require a developer to set up a basic site; advanced users can set up a basic site. Now when a project manager starts a new project, the users can set up a central repository for project-related data.
SharePoint is an amazing technology that offers many built-in capabilities. For example, you can load Word and Excel documents into a SQL back end for document management, the creation of custom Web parts, or the setup of task lists or bug reports. I speak from experience--the InterKnowlogy project managers have become experts at leveraging SharePoint's built-in capabilities to coordinate, track, and manage development projects.
However, as part of the Microsoft Office system, SharePoint is just one enabling technology in Office 2003. For years, you've been able to record and create macros in Word and Excel through Visual Basic for Applications. VBA is code that you can embed in a document. Based on Microsoft's COM model, VBA came with its own development interface. However, VBA suffered from built-in limitations, including security problems. To deal with the limitations, Microsoft enhanced Word and Excel in Office 2003 by leveraging the power of its .NET technology.
One of the main features of .NET is that, unlike COM, which operates directly against the OS, .NET runs within a managed environment. This means that you can manage its security context at a much more granular level. For example, you can set up shared documents on a SharePoint site and enable these documents so that users don't need to change their desktop security settings.
Even more impressive is the ability to build dynamic documents that can quickly and easily leverage the power of the Internet. To build such documents, you use Microsoft's Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System, a new add-on for Visual Studio .NET 2003. Unlike VBA, which creates a custom development environment within the Office environment, Visual Studio Tools for Office uses Visual Studio .NET's IDE. With VBA, you create a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet, then add a macro to it. With Visual Studio Tools for Office, you create a Visual Studio Tools for Office project in Visual Studio .NET's IDE, then the project becomes the basis for a document or spreadsheet. This is a major paradigm shift. Instead of adding automation to a document or spreadsheet, you're designing an application that uses the document's or spreadsheet's object model as its interface. Visual Studio Tools for Office provides a platform from which you can use the same software tools and patterns that you would use for a custom application. However, instead of creating a Web form or WinForm, you now have the ability to create a document or spreadsheet interface.
Visual Studio Tools for Office is the primary enabling technology from an implementation standpoint. From a data manipulation standpoint, the enabling technology is XML. As you've probably heard, Office 2003 truly exposes XML within the Word and Excel object model. The result is that you can embed an XML schema within a custom document, then programmatically manage the associated data. Don't underestimate this capability. With it, you can use both Excel and Word as a feature-rich interface for displaying and manipulating data in a format very familiar to business users.
The story about the enhancements in Office 2003 doesn't end here. In my next column, I'll introduce you to Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003. For now, if you need additional information about SharePoint, Visual Studio Tools for Office, Word's object model, or Excel's object model, I recommend the following links, respectively:
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New and Improved
Helixoft released VBdocman .NET 1.0, a Visual Basic .NET add-on that automatically generates technical documentation from Visual Basic .NET source files. With VBdocman .NET, Visual Basic .NET programmers can generate technical documentation for their Visual Basic .NET and ASP.NET projects with just few mouse clicks. The product parses the source code and automatically creates a table of contents, an index, topics, cross-references, and context-sensitive Help information. The predefined output formats are Help 2 (the latest Microsoft Help technology used in Visual Studio .NET), HTML Help 1.x (i.e., .chm files), Rich Text Format (RTF), HTML, and XML. Users can also create their own output formats. VBdocman .NET works with Visual Basic .NET 2002 and later on all Windows platforms that support Visual Studio .NET. Pricing starts at $179 for a single-user license; volume discounts are available. Contact Helixoft at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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