Microsoft to focus on HTML5 and JavaScript for Office 15 extensions

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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.)

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