'Reports of VBA's demise have been greatly exaggerated'

Over the past few weeks, Microsoft has tried to reassure user-programmers that it would continue to offer Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) within Office applications.

Rumors and controversy have swirled since last month's release of Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, which did not include support for VBA. The problem for many corporate users is that the lack of VBA in Office 2008 for Macs will lead to incompatibilities on mixed PC/Mac networks.

To add fuel to the fire, Microsoft also announced last year that it would no longer license VBA to third party commercial software companies and pushed them instead towards using its Visual Studio Tools for Applications (VSTA) or Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO).

To calm things down, Microsoft's VSTO team blog published an explanation entitled, The Reports of VBA's Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated. It explained: "Microsoft has traditionally had two main avenues for VBA. The first, and the one the vast majority of users take advantage of, is that VBA was included as a part of the Microsoft Office system and used for recording macros and automating applications like Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word. Beyond that, Microsoft had a licensing program which enabled third-party ISVs to license VBA to include in their applications."

Joseph Chirilov followed up on the Microsoft Excel team blog by confirming, "We have no plans to remove VBA from future versions of Office for Windows. We understand that VBA is a critical capability for large numbers of our customers; accordingly, there is no plan to remove VBA from future versions of Excel."

One of the great sensitivities is that starting from macros recorded and edited using VBA, hundreds and thousands of user organizations have built up their own customizations and adaptations of Excel, Word, and other Office modules. If Microsoft did pull the plug, many of these users would face millions of dollars in reprogramming, or have to abandon any Office upgrade plans.

In a lively debate on Slashdot.com, "Killer Eye" commented: "I don't mind seeing software companies trash their customers' investments this way. It just means that more people will learn (albeit the hard way) just how tied they are to the whims of their vendors, and seek a way to end the pain. The outcomes of that are generally a step forward for the industry.

"For example, this could cause some people to start demanding more of their software vendors (e.g. open formats, better support contracts, whatever). Or it could cause them to look at free/open formats and software as a way to avoid this problem in the future."

ExcelZone caught up with the debate by way of a Smurf on Spreadsheets which noted Microsoft's shift in emphasis towards the .NET architecture and its Visual Studio developer tools.

"Personally I think VBA is much better than .NET for people like us, because it was designed from the ground up for people like us," argued Excel blogger Simon Murphy. "VSTO/.NET is just a port of a web developer's toolset graunched into Office. Our priorities are not its priorities. Neither are perfect of course, but VBA is the best fit in my opinion for what I do."

Johan Nordberg offered a counter view: "I'm starting to think VBA [developers] are a bit lazy and afraid to learn anything new. I don't know if most office devs are end users that learned some VBA and don't have a programmer background. I don't understand. What is so great about VBA and why hang on to it so much?"

By John Stokdyk for our sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk

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