Here’s a head scratcher – Microsoft to Share Significant UI Investment in 2007 Microsoft Office Applications with Partner Community:
Later this month, Microsoft will make the 2007 Microsoft Office system broadly available to volume license customers. This new version of the world-leading productivity software solution includes popular application suites such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access, and Outlook. The new release marks the most significant advancements to Microsoft Office in over a decade and includes a newly redesigned user interface intended to help customers get more out of their desktop applications. The new UI represents a massive R&D investment and is a big step forward in terms of simplicity, ease of use and end-user productivity. By licensing this intellectual property, Microsoft seeks to allow partners to take advantage of its large R&D investment in order to benefit users.
To that end, Microsoft has created a royalty-free licensing program that will enable developers to build applications that have the look and feel of the new 2007 Office system applications. The new program will license elements of the new UI to software developers and component vendors on a royalty-free basis.
Aside from the fact that the Office 2007 user interface with its ubiquitous “ribbon” isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea, you will have to be somewhat of a masochist to license it since Microsoft apparently had the lawyers design the licensing program:
The question that naturally arises isn’t whether there are strings attached, but rather how many. Today the answer came: As Office 2007′s “chief stylist” Jensen Harris announced on his blog, along with the perpetual, royalty-free license will be a 120+ page document detailing the precise use of Microsoft’s meticulously designed features.
For licensees to remain protected, they must abide by these guidelines, which will apparently be as extensive and strict as were the original Common User Access guidelines from IBM almost 19 years ago.
A check of MSDN’s new Office UI licensing site reveals that the guidelines have yet to be completed, though the license itself is available, and mandates that licensees must follow those guidelines. A quick read of the two-page license does not indicate that licensees must disclose any information, or are under any obligation to provide any feedback to Microsoft whatsoever. So the extent of the “little bit of information” to which Harris refers, isn’t clear.
However, the license does state that if Microsoft makes changes to its guidelines, or if the company believes a licensee is not in compliance, it will notify the licensee of the changes it needs to make to its software to remain in compliance, and give the licensee six months to produce adequate changes.
There’s more by following the link, but you get the idea. All of this begs the question of why one would want to use the Office UI in the first place since the usual route of developers enamored of Office is to use the Visual Studio tools for creating applications for Office itself (e.g. Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office (VSTO), not to mention VBA and VSTA) and that is separate from this license. From the Q&A at the first link:
Just to be clear, Office is a great platform for developers to build into the application UI, and for this you do not need a license. We provide great tools to do this that leverage this extensibility and for many, this will be all they need. For those that want to build their own UI that takes advantage of our design guidelines, they will need a license.
Microsoft says that partners were clamoring for this licensing option, but it’s sure hard to see why. It’ll be interesting to see how many applications actually appear that are using it.
Hopefully my last catch up item from PDC05 – Visual Studio Tools for Applications was announced in last Wednesday’s Keynote:
VSTA is a .NET version of its Microsoft’s application scripting tool, Visual Basic for Applications, the same programming engine that let you customize Microsoft Office in the pre-.NET era. VBA licensees ranged from commercial vendors who wanted to give developer-users maximum control over manipulating their applications, to in-house applications where the end-user wanted maximum control over how to manipulate the application at run time.
VSTA will ship in the Office 12 timeframe. It relies on the same scripting engine that will power Office, but developers who integrate it will have considerable choice over what aspects of the engine are available to which users. For example, developers might allow end users to take advantage of in-house scripts, but not to alter them once created.
You will see a handful of important differences between VSTA and its VBA predecessor. First, you’ll be able to program against VSTA using Visual Basic and C#; VBA, as its name suggested, could be programmed against only with Visual Basic. Second, implementations you create with VSTA will sit side-by-side with VBA-created solutions; they do not interact in any way. If you have an application that integrates VBA, you need to upgrade the application to VSTA to take advantage of VSTA in that application. KD [Hallman, general manager for Visual Studio Tools for Office] cautioned that the upgrade experience of moving to VSTA from VBA will be considerably easier than moving from VB to VB.NET, saying that Microsoft learned quite a bit from watching customer efforts to migrate their applications to .NET previously, knowledge that will make it easier to make a transition this time around.
VSTA is a “cousin” of Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) which provides similar functionality for Microsoft Office and whose version 3.0 corresponding to Office 12 was also previewed at the PDC.
As for the venerable VBA, Hallman is quoted as saying “Microsoft will continue to support VBA indefinitely.”