VSTO & .NET & Excel

February 10, 2007

Books on VSTO

Filed under: VSTO Books — Dennis M Wallentin @ 3:24 pm

The present VSTO books 

I thought that we this week would take a break from the (“never ending”) VSTO case and instead review a list of available books on VSTO. If I had missed any book on the subject please let me know about it.

VSTO itself can be viewed as a wide and technical complex area. Not only because it target nearly all the softwares in the Office suite but it also target the server side Office solutions. Since it operates on the .NET platform we have the whole .NET environment to consider and we should not forget the deployment aspect of VSTO.

As we already know, the Office suite is also a huge area to cover. So when putting VSTO together with the Office suite (that is 2003 and 2007) we realize that it’s at the same time both a complex and huge area to cover.

Looking on the targeting groups of developers it exist two major groups that per se are interested in the field of VSTO and Office:

  • Office developers who need to know more about using .NET & VSTO together with their developing platform(s) like Excel or/and Word or/and Outlook.
    This group of developers knows well the software’s object models in the Office suite but usually very little when it comes to .NET platform in general and VSTO in particular.
  • Corporate developers who need to know more about using the tools included in the Office suite together with .NET & VSTO.
    This group of developers know well .NET platform and do understand the basic underlying technical premises for VSTO. But at the same time they lack knowledge about the software’s objectmodels in the Office suite and also how to fully leverage the Office suite’s components.

The above summarize “what” and “who” when it comes to the framework for reviewing the available VSTO books.

People who know me also know that I prefer books that cover small and specific areas.

Title: Microsoft .NET Development for Microsoft Office
Author: Andrew Whitechapel (Microsoft Corp)
Publishing year: 2005

This book has a strong focus on COM Add-ins and VSTO. It provides deep technical information and it does assume that the readers knows .NET and are experienced programmers. VSTO is covered in three chapters and it gives an excellent description of VSTO’s load sequence. It uses C# examples for Excel and Word but does not explicit trying to cover the object models. Deployment is discussed but not in detailed.

The present edition of the book is targeting Visual Studio.NET 2003 and version 97 to 2003 of the Office suite.

In view of “what” and also “who” the book does not really fit in in the above general classification scheme.

If You, like me, is interesting in “plumbing” and to get a deeper understanding of the technical framework then this book is highly recommended. I like the strong focus and also the technical level. If You’re interested then it should be possible to buy an used copy of it.

I hope that Andrew Whitechapel will find the time to update the book so it cover VSTO 2005, VSTO 2005 SE (or even better version 3.0!) and also Office 2007. 

Title: Professional Excel Development
Authors: Stephen Bullen, Rob Bovey and John Green
Publishing year: 2005

I have previously made a review of it which is available at VBAExpress but not explicit about the VSTO chapter.

The VSTO chapter is very good and it explicit targeting the Excel developers. It discusses managed workbooks and managed COM add-ins which also include the shortcoming with version 1.0 of VSTO.

The book is per se not about VSTO and therefore VSTO is only covered in one chapter. On the other hand this is the best available introduction to managed workbooks.

Title: Visual Studio Tools for Office (Using Visual Basic 2005 with Excel, Word, Outlook, and InfoPath)
Authors: Eric Carter and Eric Lippert (Microsoft)
Publishing year: 2006

This book explicit target corporate developers and it’s also trying to cover all the mentioned programs named in the title. The outcome of it is rather good but it does not offer any possibilities to dig deeper into the central subjects.

The book gives a good introduction to security (one chapter) and deployment (one chapter) but does not explicit discuss any troubleshooting. It also discusses managed COM Add-ins but only in terms of Outlook add-ins as the VSTO 2005 SE was not available when the book was written. The Server side of VSTO is also introduced in one chapter. For obvious reason the book does not cover Office 2007.

If we have basic knowledge of .NET platform and also have basic knowledge of all the softwares in the Office suite then this book is of high interest.

In my opinion this is the best VSTO book available although it does not gives an introduction to .NET platform and more or less only discuss event programming.

Title: Professional VSTO 2005
Author: Alvin Bruney (MVP ASP.NET)
Publishing year: 2006

In general this book gives hands on examples for working with VSTO and with Excel, Word and Outlook. Most examples are targeting Excel and it offer both VB.NET and C# code for all the examples. This is only the second book which discuss the shortcoming of VSTO compared with VBA. 

I find it extremely remarkable that a VSTO book can both avoid discussing security and also deployment in more detail. I also find the coding technique to be of low standard.

All in all, don’t buy this book.

Title: VSTO for Mere Mortals
Authors: Mathleen McGrath and Paul Stubbs (Microsoft Corp)
Publishing year: 2007

This book explicit targets the group of Office developers and the softwares Excel, Word and Outlook. It gives a light weighted introduction to the .NET platform and it also gives a light weighted introduction to VSTO. All the examples are light weighted and it appears that it there exist no issues at all. The discussions about security and deployment are also light weighted and apparently there exist no problems in these two fields. The discussion about the server side of VSTO is also light weighted.

The book is the latest available and was written during the time when VSTO 2005 SE was shipped and also when Office 2007 was shipped. I expected that the book would give us more about managed COM Add-ins and about VSTO & Office 2007 but unfortunately not. Instead we are offered a light weighted chapter about Office 2007.

If You want a well written light weighted book about VSTO and find review questions that end each chapter to be of high interest then this book is for You.

I find it disappointing that the two authors, who claim to have been real world VBA developers before they joined Microsoft, present and discuss VSTO in terms of what it can do instead of how to apply it in real world developing.

Final words

From a strictly professional point of view I really like VSTO. The more I work with VSTO the more I also realize its great potential. However, we still face big issues when it comes to the areas of security and deployment. It also needs some additional versions before its bullet proof and fully developed, i e ready for real world developing.

The books on VSTO are mainly written by co-workers at Microsoft and I have the impression that the books, in the first place, are used as marketing channels for VSTO.

If Microsoft wants the Office developers to port themselves to VSTO then it’s a must that all books written by Microsoft explicit help the Office developers in terms of real world developing.

In general I find the ” VSTO and Office” approach to be too wide as it don’t provide the readers with a depth and with a focus on specific issues for the individual softwares, i e troubleshootings.  

I hope that the well known book authors of Excel, Word and Outlook will include chapters about VSTO with real world aspects in their upcoming books. In that way VSTO will get a better platform to be reviewed from and the book buyers can get knowledge and solutions to add to their development knowledge toolbox.Kind regards,
Dennis

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12 Comments »

  1. Hi Dennis,

    It’s nice to see a collection of reviews by a third party in one place. Good work!

    While it’s obvious that there is still room to go with the field, I’m curious on one thing. You identified two streams into VSTO. The VB programmer trying to learn VSTO and the Excel OM, and the Excel programmer trying to learn VSTO and VB.Net. I’d be curious to see you rank the books from those perspectives… obviously the VB’er and VBA’ers needs are different.

    So as a VBA’er, which book is the best buck to start with to get a VSTO solution up and running? And vice versa for the VB person with no Excel OM experience?

    Kind regards,

    Ken

    Comment by Ken Puls — February 11, 2007 @ 5:31 am

  2. Ken,

    Thanks for Your input 🙂

    In my experience the group of corporate developers use C# and are used to work with XML (application and deployment manifests), .NET security as well as with MSI packages.

    In view of this my ranking would be:
    1. Visual Studio Tools for Office
    2. VSTO for Mere Mortal

    Corporate developers don’t need so much basic support as they have been using .NET since 2002 (the year and the first version of VS.NET).

    Since Office 2007 is the first suite that fully use XML the group of Office developers has not yet the experience to work with XML. VSTO is based on .NET security which is also something new for this group. Creating and distributing MSI-packages is also something new.

    This group needs more basic help and support in order to start to use VSTO.

    The book VSTO for Mere Mortals mention Application and Deployment manifests but don’t cover it. The tool Manifest Generating and editing tool (MAGE) for editing the XML based manifests is not mentioned at all. This tool is a great help for the Office developers. Security is mentioned as well but don’t provide deeper necessary knowledge. A common thing like Strong Names is left out.

    In view of the above I would rank it as the following:
    1. Visual Studio Tools for Office
    2. VSTO for Mere Mortal

    In general I hope that MSFT will provide more and updated/better online help for this group of Office developers.

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

    Comment by Dennis Wallentin — February 11, 2007 @ 1:38 pm

  3. Hey Dennis,

    A really nice overview. I was unaware of a few of these. I have the Carter & Lippert book as well as the Whitechapel book. I think they are both execellent, although, I’m embarressed to say that I’ve not read either of them all that much, I should do though!

    I’ll have to check out the VSTO for Mere Mortals book at some point, it sounds interesting…

    Mike

    Comment by Mike Rosenblum — February 12, 2007 @ 8:53 pm

  4. Mike,

    Thanks and please start to read the books before they get too obsolete 😉

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

    Comment by Dennis Wallentin — February 12, 2007 @ 9:04 pm

  5. Hi Dennis!

    I have Whitchaple and Bullen et all, I think both are really good.

    I agree with this though!

    “I have the impression that the books, in the first place, are used as marketing channels for VSTO.”
    (not foe PED though!)

    Keep up the good work Dennis, hope things are ok.
    Ross

    Comment by Ross — February 13, 2007 @ 11:56 am

  6. Ross,

    Thanks my friend 🙂

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

    Comment by Dennis Wallentin — February 13, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

  7. Hi Dennis
    Thanks for the reviews, I have some of these and agree with everything you say. Sadly that includes the VSTO marketing issues, often at the expense of criticism of VBA. In fairness though the authors are the VSTO developers, so its good they are enthusiastic.
    I still can’t belive there isn’t a decent specific .net and Excel book.
    cheers
    Simon

    Comment by Simon Murphy — February 19, 2007 @ 6:41 am

  8. Simon,

    >>I still can’t belive there isn’t a decent specific .net
    >>and Excel book.

    I have had a discussion with one specific publisher about it and it turned out to be the following “issues”:

    Visual Studio .NET is too expensive for the average Excel developer.
    COM Add-ins is less frequent used among the targeting group as add-ins can be created with VBA.
    Automation of Excel is not interesting enough.
    Unknown authors sell less then the well known authors.

    Instead we see a flood of Excel books that provide the same content with a focus on the built-in toolbox and VBA…

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

    Comment by Dennis Wallentin — February 19, 2007 @ 3:15 pm

  9. Thanks for the publishing insight Dennis – very interesting indeed. And it explains a lot.
    Sadly I think they are probably pretty much right. But it becomes a circular argument doesn’t it – do people only write xlas because they can’t find decent resources on COM add-ins or other alternatives? I’ve certainly been contacted by several people in that position.
    The author thing surprises me, I dont think I ever bought an IT book on the strength of the authors name, so would never have considered it a factor. Obviously other buying habits are available.
    cheers
    Simon

    Comment by Simon — February 20, 2007 @ 3:56 am

  10. Nowadays the number of publishers are less then during the 90’s and they behave in a similar way in that they only set focus on ‘hot’ markets. Excel had its peak in the mid 90’s and is no longer considered as being ‘hot’.

    Today .NET, Web (Ajax, PHP and ASP.NET) and databases are in focus and in this areas the publishers can take some risk with new writers.

    Of course it’s a circular argument and those individuals that only seek new knowledge via printed sources don’t get the whole value of the money they spend.

    However, we should also be aware of that we are also part of the explanation why it is as it is.

    By making knowledge available for free on sites and public forums the need to cover some areas in books are limited.

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

    Comment by Dennis Wallentin — February 20, 2007 @ 11:23 am

  11. Dennis
    Looks like Andrew Whitechapel has no current plans for a 2007 update to his book:
    http://blogs.msdn.com/andreww/default.aspx
    cheers
    Simon

    Comment by Simon Murphy — February 26, 2007 @ 4:03 am

  12. Simon,

    Thanks for the info although I’m the first to regret it.

    Kind regards,
    Dennis

    Comment by Dennis Wallentin — February 28, 2007 @ 9:12 pm


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