Microsoft's Office team takes a page from the Windows play book

Windows President Steven Sinofsky joined the Windows team from the Office unit, leading many of us Microsoft watchers to note how similar the Windows organization has become to Office, in terms of its structure, policies and procedures, over the last couple of years. But the Office team is learning from the Windows team, too -- in app compatibility.

Windows President Steven Sinofsky joined the Windows team from the Office unit, leading many of us Microsoft watchers to note how similar the Windows organization has become to Office, in terms of its structure, policies and procedures, over the last couple of years.

But the Office team is learning from the Windows team, too -- especially now that it's headed up by their former leader Sinofsky. One area where Office is now emulating Windows is in compatibility tools and techniques.

In early December, the Office team released several new compatibility tools into beta. These tools are aimed at both independent software vendors building on top of Office, as well as customers doing the same. Among them:

Office 2010 Code Compatibility Inspector: There's one for Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and one for Visual Studio. According to Microsoft, hese are add-ins that you install with Office 2010 or Visual Studio that scan VBA, VB.NET, and C# code for object model usage that is incompatible with Office 2010.

Office Environment Assessment Tool (OEAT): A tool for helping to determine the kinds of add-ins that are installed on users' computers and the extent to which the they're being used. OEAT collects and reports add-in information about Office 2000, Office XP, Office 2003, and the 2007 Office system, Microsoft officials say.

Application Compatibility Assessment and Remediation Guide for Office 2010: A document that "describes the overall assessment and remediation process, including planning, testing, piloting, and deployment," the Softies say.

I asked Microsoft why the Office team has begun focusing so much on compatibility. Is there something changing in Office 2010 that is going to affect negatively existing line-of-business apps built on top of Office 2003 or Office 2007? A corporate spokesperson said it's more a case of being proactive. Her response:

"The Windows Application Compatibility Toolkit taught the team many lessons about the value of managing compatibility. The Office team is hoping to supplement these existing services with this effort, as well as bring tools to market which can help customers who do not typically employ consultants or services when planning upgrades for Office....

"The purpose of the tools, documentation and services are to ease the transition to Office 2010 for both developers building Office applications,  and  for IT professionals who deploy Office. The tools and documentation are provided at no cost."

Up until this point, consultants, resellers, software providers and others have been the ones holding the compatibility bag -- or, as the Microsoft spokesperson more delicately put it "offer(ing) remediation support for Office upgrades." Microsoft had already built internal compatibility tools for testing Office, but never offered them publicly, she said, so why not make them available to these "remediators" and customers?

One area where customers and developers may require extra support and handholding could be around 64-bit Office. Office 2010 marks the first time Microsoft will offer a 64-bit version of its productivity suite. I'd think Office Web Apps might create some extra support/compatibility work for Microsoft and its partners, too.

More from the aforementioned spokesperson:

"We aim to provide developers with precise guidance on areas of their code which may require updates for Office 2010 (including guidance for 64-bit Office). For IT, we want to provide tools which give them improved visibility into Office add-ins used in their environment, even those which call Office externally. This will give deployment teams a more accurate picture of issues may affect deployments."

Now I'm curious. Any developers, business users or consumers running the Office 2010 beta seeing anything unusual or disconcerting, compatibility-wise, at this point?

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