More Powerful Visual Studio Integration for Outlook

Developing for Outlook has always been extremely difficult. Microsoft made it somewhat easier with wrappers such as CDO, but for true integration developers need to resort to the MAPI API, which means writing in the C programming language.

When Microsoft declared Office 2003 a ‘System’, they promised a platform that applications would work against from version to version. Visual Basic for Applications could do this for Word and Excel, but not for Outlook. The last couple of versions of Outlook have added support for COM based add-ins, but again they require heavy duty programming.

Earlier this year Microsoft introduced Visual Studio Tools for Office 2003 (VSTO) that extends Visual Studio’s VB and C# languages into Office. Programmers could now write .NET Managed Code, leverage the .NET Framework, make use of reusable objects, and have standardized routines to control the Office applications and the data they produced. This support included Word, Excel, and the newcomer InfoPath. Once again, not for Outlook.

Microsoft announced today (June 6, 2005) that Outlook is joining the club with VSTO supporting Outlook 2003. Businesses can now develop applications with a set of very powerful and consistent interfaces. Examples include links to CRM systems, sales force automation, and task/project management systems.

There has been a lot of activity of late with 3rd party add-ons for Outlook and now developers can look forward to extending Outlook using VSTO for more powerful integration into the Outlook look and feel. Applications written with VSTO will stand a far greater chance of working correctly with future versions of Office and Outlook.

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