The senseless panic over Microsoft Office 15

Microsoft is likely to add HTML5 and JavaScript to its programming options -- but there's no reason to believe VBA, VSTO, and .Net are out

Once again, the blogosphere is atwitter over something stupid. Early last week it was over the "report" that Internet Explorer users had lower IQs than users of other browsers -- which turned out to be a hoax that produced endless pontificating. Then as the week progressed it was the shocking "news" that Microsoft Office 15 will switch to HTML5 and JavaScript, making all your line-of-business applications obsolete.

Wrong again!

Old news shocks the blogosphere
First, Microsoft's plans to include HTML5 and JavaScript in Office 15 isn't news. Way back in May -- back before Steve Sinofsky and Julie Larson-Green announced that HTML5 and JavaScript would become the favorite sons of Windows 8 development -- a couple of folks on MSDN Channel 9 had already sussed out that Microsoft intended to bring HTML5 and JavaScript into the next Office release. Citing three separate help-wanted ads on the Microsoft Careers website seeking developers who could help make HTML5 and JavaScript development platforms for Office 15, they surmised that Office 15 add-ins could be written with HTML5 and/or JavaScript.

Microsoft was hardly hiding anything: "In Office 15," one of Microsoft's ads said, "we are focusing on building a modern application model centered around Web technologies like HTML and JavaScript, as we adapt to trends in the industry." Again, that was back in May.

Another Microsoft help-wanted ad said, "One of our key goals is to enable professional developers to contribute to the Office platform by making development for Office as easy and fun as building applications for the next version of Windows. Integration of JavaScript/HTML5 will enable developers to create rich applications that span clients and server, integrate with Office 365, enhance the SharePoint experience, and unlock new scenarios that unleash the great potential that lies in the combination of Office and the cloud."

It's pretty clear where Microsoft is going with Office 15 programming, wouldn't you say?

But for some strange reason, a handful of bloggers "discovered" what's been obvious for months: Office 15, like Windows 8, will include built-in support for programming in HTML5 and JavaScript.

Bringing HTML5 and JavaScript into Office won't likely orphan VBA and VSTO
Second, the addition of HTML5 and JavaScript isn't a dire development. At least, it doesn't have to be. To start, let's be clear that Microsoft hasn't announced a single detail about Office 15 -- much less anything about Office 15 programmability. So the whole notion that the sky is falling is silly -- or it would be, if people weren't joining in on the panic.

Microsoft has already promised what amounts to Windows 7 compatibility inside "Windows 8," its code name for the next Windows version. Why wouldn't that include support for VBA and VSTO (Visual Studio for Office Applications), and thus for Office applications built with any of the current Visual Studio tools? Yes, we know that legacy apps (I love it when somebody calls a Windows 7 app "legacy") won't work on Windows 8 tablets. But on the desktop, where's the beef?

We've been through Office programming shifts before: WordBasic and Excel macros to VBA, then VBA to, and on to Visual Studio and VSTO. Each of these changes has been met with hand-wringing and botches galore, but somehow we managed to muddle through. VBA is still an integral part of Word and Excel, after more than a decade. So it's hard to believe Microsoft would kill it off. Likewise, those VSTO apps you have right now will no doubt work just fine in the Windows 7 compatibility part of Windows 8. Sure, they probably won't get into the UI in the Live Tile world -- but then, would you really want them to? (Just kidding.)

It seems obvious to me that Microsoft will have to provide hooks for HTML5 and JavaScript to get into .Net on the local machine. Whether they'll be minimally functional hacks or full APIs remains to be seen. Certainly, VBA, Visual Basic, C#, and C++ will have some way to interact with Windows 8, if only in the Windows 7 compatibility box. What the ascendancy of HTML5 and JavaScript in the Office world says about the long-term viability of .Net (and Silverlight, by extension) is anybody's guess.

Before you join the blogosphere's panicfest, let's see what Microsoft says at its Build conference next month. Assuming we hear even one little peep about Office 15 -- by no means a given -- we'll be in a much better position to gauge whether the sky is falling a little bit, a lot, or even at all. 

In the meantime, you devs who are waiting with bated breath for the answer -- it could't hurt to learn a bit of HTML5, eh?

This story, "The senseless panic over Microsoft Office 15," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.