Listening to the chatter

I'm sitting in building 33 waiting for the Bill Gates keynote to start, listening to the chatter. A guy behind me is asked whether he'll make the investment in VSTO 2005. He's on the fence. "I've been doing a lot of the stuff you see here for years in VB," he says. "And there's no upgrade from VSTO 2003 to VSTO 2005 -- you have to buy it all over again." Stilll, he appreciates the productivity gains as as you climb the VBA -> VSTO 2003 -> VSTO 2005 ladder. He'd like to convince his money people to write the check, but isn't sure they will. And then he makes this interesting point: "With the VB solution, if somebody changed one cell they'd break you," he says. "Now the tool insulates you from those changes."

My first thought is that this doesn't sound quite right. The abstraction he's talking about flows partly from the toolset, but mostly from the underlying XML layer. And that layer has been in place for two years, with deep support in the Word and Excel object models. You could say that VSTO merely democratizes the core XML technology, wrapping those object models and making them more easily accessible to a wider population of developers. This is the classic Microsoft tools strategy, deployed again and again to great effect. But what I'm also realizing is that, for a lot of the developers here, the new development tools for Office are showing a lot of developers, for the first time, what the XML infrastructure is and why it matters.

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