How does that old Chinese proverb go? “May you live in interesting times!” I have no idea how accurate it is, or whether it is a positive blessing or a curse, but I really do live (and work) in interesting times.
Almost two years ago, back at WWDC in August 2006, the MacBU announced that Office 2008 would not have support for Visual Basic. I blogged about it at the time, and that one post has proven to be my 15 minutes of Internet fame. It continues to be the most popular post on my site — 21 months later, it still accounts for almost half of all the hits I get each week. While most of our customers don’t require the cross-platform scripting enabled by VBA, a section of the Mac community spoke out very vocally against our decision, and I still hear echos of it to this day. At the time, I wrote about the challenges we faced in bringing it forward with the rest of Mac Office 2008 and why we ended up deciding to remove the feature, but while some people understood or at least accepted the details, some in the community did not. I’ve been told that we must have cut VB to intentionally drive users to use virtualization and Windows Office 2007 on Macs, or that we were ordered by upper Microsoft management to slowly kill the Mac, or any one of a zillion other “Microsoft is evil” conspiracy theories. None of these theories are true, but it’s rather hard to prove that, except by deeds.
This isn’t a done deed yet, but I’ve got a new commitment for you. Quoting from a press release that went out from the MacBU at 12:01am PST today:
VBA Returns to Future Versions of Office for Mac
The Mac BU also announced it is bringing VBA-language support back to the next version of Office for Mac. Sharing information with customers as early as possible continues to be a priority for the Mac BU to allow customers to plan for their software needs. Although the Mac BU increased support in Office 2008 with alternate scripting tools such as Automator and AppleScript — and also worked with MacTech Magazine to create a reference guide, available at http://www.mactech.com/vba-transition-guide — the team recognizes that VBA-language support is important to a select group of customers who rely on sharing macros across platforms. The Mac BU is always working to meet customers’ needs and already is hard at work on the next version of Office for Mac.
Yep, you read that right. VB is (well, will be) back, baby! When we came to the realization in 2006 that there was no way for us to keep VB in the product and still ship Office 2008 on any semblance of the schedule we wanted, we announced its removal, but kept looking at how to bring it back into the suite even before we shipped. Many of the technical challenges I wrote about then still remain, but for a while now I and several others have been working with a group of people who know a heck of a lot about the internals of VB, and once we determined that we could achieve the revival VB in the new schedule for the next version of Mac Office, we locked it into place on the feature list.
Personally, I think it’s really cool that we’re announcing this now. For all the wringing-of-hands and gnashing-of-teeth in the Mac community over the lack of VB, Mac Office 2008 has been selling really well (Craig Eisler, our General Manager and all around cool-boss-guy, said “The response has been amazing — since we launched in January, the velocity of sales for Office 2008 is nearly three times what we saw after the launch of Office 2004″ in that same press release) which seems to indicate that most of our users don’t find the lack of VB to be a major issue. I think our management is confident enough in our ongoing sales of Office 2008 to tell you about something very significant in the next version, even if that defers some sales to that next version. Based my own experiences talking with people in various Internet forums, I don’t think too much of that will happen, though. And if you were wondering, the delta between Office 2004 and 2008 was longer than we normally expect between versions, so my understanding is that this next version will be available somewhat sooner than 2012 (I can’t give any specifics at this time, however.)
So, if you have a dire need for Visual Basic, you can continue to run Mac Office 2004 (it will even run side-by-side with Office 2008) and we’re publicly committing to VB as good (maybe even better, if things go well) in the next version. My team is responsible for that reintegration, and I’ve been meeting frequently with a number of people as we’ve planned exactly what we’re doing and how we’re bringing VB back. This seems to me to be a strong example for the MacBU naysayers that we’re really listening to what all of our users want, and that we’re most definitely not slow-marching to some bagpiper’s funereal drone!
I’m excited to be able to blog about this now, after almost two years of keeping my lips zipped, and I can’t wait until we reveal everything else about the next version of Mac Office. In the meantime, let me ask you something. What parts of the Visual Basic experience are most important to you? The IDE? Macro UI, such as dialogs? Object model parity between Mac Office and Windows Office? (and if so, which features in the Windows object model do you most want brought to the Mac?) Or something else altogether? I can’t promise to achieve anything in particular, but I’d love to hear how we might be able to improve upon the 2004 VB experience for you.
(Made a few edits this morning, and added a link to the press release.)