Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 extensions

Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 extensions

Summary: Microsoft is guiding developers toward HTML5 and JavaScript for Windows 8 app development. It turns out the company also is pushing these Web technologies as key to extending Office 15 and Office 365.


Microsoft officials have made it clear that HTML5 and JavaScript are going to be key for developing for Windows 8. But Microsoft's HTML5/JS love doesn't stop there.

It turns out that HTML5 and JavaScript also are going to be key to Microsoft's Office 15 programmability story.

Office programmability refers to the ability to extend the Microsoft Office platform with custom code and third-party add-on applications. In the past, Microsoft has directed developers interested in going that route to use Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) and Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO). With Office 15 -- the version of Office expected around 2012 or 2013 -- Microsoft is going to be creating a new generation of Office development tools that will focus on HTML5 and JavaScript. And it seems the tools will target not just Office, but also Office 365 as a development platform.

A Microsoft job posting for a software development engineer explains the plan:

"Now is the time to take Office programmability to the next level. We're a small but strong team within Visual Studio that is currently in the planning stages for Office 15 programmability tools. One of our key goals is to enable professional developers to contribute to the Office platform by making development for Office as easy and fun as building applications for the next version of Windows! Integration of JavaScript/HTML5 will enable developers to create rich applications that span clients and server, integrate with Office 365, enhance the SharePoint experience, and unlock new scenarios that unleash the great potential that lies in the combination of Office and the cloud."

Another job posting adds some more specifics about the coming new tools:

"Our mission is to provide the next generation of tools for extending functionality in Microsoft and third party applications through scripting, macros, and add-ins. Those tools allow the business application developer to take full advantage of modern programming platforms (e.g., Visual Basic, C#, HTML, JavaScript) to quickly and easily develop innovative customized solutions for their organization."

The "enhance the SharePoint experience" line in the first job post provided me with another clue. After a bit of searching, I found a reference to the Microsoft "Office Solutions Framework" team. This team is focused on enabling Office developers inside and outside Microsoft to build new add-ons and extensions that combine "the power of the latest Web technologies with the best-selling productivity suite in the world," according to a job posting for a software development engineer. The criteria for the job is experience with VBA, VSTO, SharePoint Workflow and/or Open XML.

It's worth noting that these job posts do not make it sound as if Microsoft is retiring VBA, VSTO or any other existing Office programmability tools in the near term. (In a similar vein, Microsoft isn't expected to simply toss out .Net and Silverlight/Windows Presentation Foundation overnight. For now, developers still have no official information on how they will figure in the near and longer terms, however.)

There's little question, though, that the new emphasis is definitely on HTML5 and JavaScript as preferred ways to develop new apps and services for the coming versions of Windows and Office. With Microsoft championing the app store concept with Windows 8, it's easy to see how HTML5/JS-crafted Office add-ons and apps could fit in quite naturally.

Shameless plug alert: Since I mentioned SharePoint in this post, I thought it worth noting that there's a community-organized SharePoint extravaganza coming up next week in Annandale, Virg. SharePoint Saturday the Conference kicks off on August 11. I'll be there doing some coverage and will speaking on Thursday afternoon. (My talk is "10 Things to Know About Office 365.") It's not too late to register for the show. If you'll be in the D.C. area and want to learn more about Microsoft's Office/cloud products and strategies, this three-day event has a little something for everyone. (Not to mention a bunch of very enthusiastic SharePinters who can answer tech and business questions.)

Topics: Software, Collaboration, Microsoft, Open Source, Software Development


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development

    Put a fork in MS. They're done. This HTML uber alles policy they are blindly following is going to be disastrous to them and their developer community.
    Sir Name
    • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development

      @Sir Name - People (especially the Linux/FOSS community) have been saying that for decades, yet Microsoft persists and continues to push out products that people use and are happy with. Sure, some people (such as you) don't like Microsoft, but you're not in the majority.

      So why don't YOU put a fork in it, at least for the next 20 or so years.
      • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development


        Actually, you are mistaken. I am a longtime (circa Windows 1.03) developer. My concern is that they are ignoring what their developer base wants and chasing a constituency (web hackers) who will never support their products. They have truly great software development technology in Silverlight and the .Net stack that they are trying to ditch in favor the whole HTML, Javascript, jQuery, and 9 million libraries that attempt to make it useful but, in reality, is just a hacked up mess. I want MS to succeed because developing for their platforms has been my bread and butter for a long time. Their current intramural wars for who is going to be next in line behind Balmer are leading them in disastrous directions. For example: the Windows division triumph over the Dev division. Bad, bad, bad.
        Sir Name
        • JavaScript vs. VBA?

          Hold the phones. First, Silverlight may die for the same reasons Flash is slowly on its way out the door. Web development isn't as bad as it used to be. Soon we can ditch support for even IE8 (already 6 and 7 hold too little market share to care about for all but the most difficult of clients) and then we have a very powerful, performant platform to build web apps with.

          Anyway, my real beef is that no matter your feelings about JavaScript, VBA SUCKS!
          JavaScript is an OO language, VBA is not. JavaScript has the modern try/catch, VBA has that awful ON ERROR crap. JavaScript is an open standard with many runtimes and cross platform -- whether you care about that or not, VBA is useful for only one or two major applications (Microsoft Office and insert-company-here-that-actually-uses-it).
          Google's online documents stuff uses JavaScript for automation. LibreOffice uses it for automation. I can automate MS Office already using JScript/WSH, why the heck hadn't they done this forever ago!?
          Far more programmers know JavaScript than know VBA.

          Let's talk performance! VBA SUCKS! It's slow as a dog (probably because it is old-style interpreted). Look at the progress that's been made with Chakra or V8! JScript smokes VBA.
          Don't tell me you like strict typing over JavaScript -- I have one word for you if you do - VARIANT.

          Maybe there is a better alternative than JavaScript (I can't imagine, have you seen the COM interfaces for Office? you need a dynamic langauge to handle that) but just about ANYTHING is WORLDS better than VBA. Yuck!
    • Agreed

      @Sir Name
      One of my relative used VBA to create powerpoint in web server, unbelievable ridiculous. VSTO is awkward to use. Microsoft should focus .net API for office, not javascript.
      • Wish for JScript a first class .NET language

        ...then everyone could be happy. Don't like IronJavaScript.NET (or whatever - yes I know of the abandoned JScript.NET, blah blah) - use any other .NET language.
        Why Office didn't go .NET forever ago was a mystery to me until I heard that politics and bureaucracy held it up. Sad. (seriously, why can't I just link to a damn library and output excel documents in ASP.NET? EVERYBODY wants this automation)
        At least we finally got the OpenXML SDK. It's pretty compelling.
    • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development

      @Sir Name
      We're making judgements on very little concrete evidence.

      "(e.g., Visual Basic, C#, HTML, JavaScript)"... whilst they may be advertising HTML5/Javascript, I wouldn't be surprised if C# (and Visual Basic, as that quote suggests) come in, perhaps with HTML acting as xaml. Just pure speculation, but I don't think microsoft will ditch C#/VB (C++ will ofcourse stay).
  • Toss out what? .NET?

    Lets say writting UIs with html, js, fine. How do they deal with storage, especially database? Someone tell me how do you access database with HTML/JS? or even save content to a file?
    • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development

      @jk_10: HTML5 supports local storage, but the whole idea behind MS's moves is that they'll have special APIs that tie HTML/JS into the win32 and .NET system.
      • not sure how to tie office api to javascript

        • Look at Windows 8 Apps

          Microsoft ties in the APIs for that into JavaScript, and those clearly aren't JavaScript.
          It's pretty simple, really, from our perspective (outside of MS's development effort).
    • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development


      It will be in the view. I am guessing that it will work on the same principle as AJAX does now. Have all the logic in the user interface that make calls back to an internal "server" with a .Net back end that does all the "heavy lifting".
      Duke E Love
    • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development


      >>Someone tell me how do you access database with HTML/JS? or even save content to a file?

      Adobe has been doing that with AIR for years. Check out the API.
      Duke E Love
  • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development

    It will be interesting to see if HTML 5 and JavaScript will be the answer to programming Access Web Databases, which now require Access macros because Web Databases don't support VBA.
  • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development

    This is in fact good news.

    HTML5 + modern scripting engines are potent enough to replace a large part of the usual native plug-ins. By choosing this path, Microsoft can build a secure extensions framework that will have a huge positive effect on security.

    There is a strong parallel here with the rumored HTML5+Script bucket that will possibly be present in Windows 8.

    Clever strategy. Will pay off.
  • Just tell us already

    As a member of a team of .Net developers, please just tell us already. Should the upcoming rewrite of our LoB application be done in WPF? Should we wait for new VS2012 tools to author HTML 5?

    Not telling us the future of application development on the Windows platform is infuriating. This is completely the wrong approach to keeping your development community dedicated to Windows.
    • Couldn't agree more!

      After letting the cat half out of the bag in early June, I think it was/is irresponsible of MS to require devs to wait until mid-September to hear the full story. I am getting mail from a number of MS customers asking me whether they should drop SL/.Net projects because they believe MS is abandoning those platforms with Win 8. Secrecy can backfire! MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development

        @Mary Jo Foley
        I think that if the answer was a "yes" or a "no", they would've said that already... presumably the answer is a little more complicated, and will in itself raise more questions.
        Steven Sinofsky said during D9 to a person who asked about SL that they should not just drop all they have done, and went on to say there will atleast be a future for it on the desktop and in the browser.
        My thoughts as to what they will be announcing:
        A new platform which is in itself very similiar to SL now (XAML/C#)... (HTML5/JS is roughly the the same type of thing as XAML/C#... xml UI, C-based language)... perhaps with programmability in C# or VB (or JS) with HTML5 doing UI-type things.
      • RE: Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 development

        @Mary Jo Foley

        It is worse than this in some areas. I have several clients who do a mix of kernel and application development who cannot find out anything about Win8, the new Office etc. These firms are going nuts since their customers have been getting NDA breifing's from Microsoft on how great Win8 et al will be. So these customers are telling my clients that they expect to be putting together lab tests of the new Microsoft software including my clients software on or before my clients even see the Microsoft binaries.
  • Good Move....

    Look guys, it's unavoidable. Web-based and solutions will eventually be the only software being built, and desktop installs will feel as silly as 8-track casettes. Microsoft is finally thinking 10-20 years out instead of 2.

    I swore off building desktop applications 15 years ago as the update/hardware/driver issues from computer to computer were a nightmare. To me, the single point of update for web-based products and the ability to avoid individual desktop installations is worth any pain involved in building web-apps.

    HTML5+Javascript is the future whether you like it or not. Most devs are just updset that they've invested time in learning other skills that might go the way of the Dodo, but if you were to start from scratch today, I think you'd agree that it's the best way to tap into the insane number of form factors out there.

    This push for HTML5+Javascript might seem nuts now, but if you were looking back 10 years from now, you'd see that it was the right (bold) move. Good for Microsoft for having the 'kahonas' for doing this. (I'm secretly a little baffled that they figured this out!!)