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Microsoft shows developer tools

Microsoft is expected to roll out a tool bundle for building business applications based on its Office desktop application suite.

Microsoft is expected to roll out a tool bundle tomorrow for building business applications based on its Office desktop application suite.

The Office 2000 Developer package includes the company's Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) 6.0 programming language, new COM support, and the ability to programmatically save documents as HTML pages to Web servers, the company said. The package will be available in the first half of next year. Pricing has not been announced.

Microsoft's chairman and CEO Bill Gates is expected to announce the release of the new bundle at a Microsoft-sponsored developers conference in Redmond, Washington.

Microsoft has a stranglehold on the desktop application software market. Office commands more than 90 percent of the market, easily outdistancing competitors such as Lotus. The software bundle continues to be one of the best-selling packages overall, according to market researcher PC Data.

Included in Office Developer is FrontPage 2000, the company's Web site building and developing tool. As previously reported, the inclusion of HTML as a file format brings tighter integration with FrontPage 2000, scheduled for beta testing by the fall.

Company executives said the second beta test version of Office 2000, also due this fall, will be bundled with FrontPage 2000. FrontPage will still be sold as a separate Web development tool as well.

The new bundle also includes the Microsoft Visual SourceSafe version control system and tighter integration of SourceSafe with VBA.

The Visual SourceSafe addition is one of several enhancements in the new package that helps Office developers deal with the management mess traditionally attributed to the suite, according to one analyst.

Tom Austin, an analyst with Gartner Group , said that in the past developers built applications in Office at the expense of manageability and cleanliness within the system. "Code would float all over the network. It was messy. With Office 2000 Developer, they have taken steps in the right direction for dealing with this. But does it fix it? No."

Along with SourceSafe, Austin pointed to the new Code Librarian tool as useful for Office developers. The Code Librarian allows developers to reuse code that is stored in a database and also share code across teams. The tool also comes with a starter database of prewritten code.

Another good effort by Microsoft to help Office developers organize their building process is the COM add-in features, particularly the COM Add-In Designer, which allows users to create standalone COM add-ins, using VBA 6.0, to extend other Office applications. For example, developers can add data from other sources to Office applications without having to write a separate application.

"This is good because it means the code doesn't have to travel with the documents, and there is no floating code in the network. It also means enhanced security," Austin said.

Other features in the new package include a number of data access tools, like the Data Environment Designer, which visually exposes tables, views, SQL server queries, and stored procedures in ActiveX data objects.

The new development package highlights Microsoft's efforts to make Office a completely componentized suite, a long-standing goal of the company's.

Austin said Office 2000 along with these new development tools is the furthest the software giant has come so far in its component strategy.