Microsoft will bring back macros to Mac Office in 2011

Visual Basic for Applications due to return with next version

Microsoft will add its Visual Basic for Applications scripting language back into Office for the Mac, although probably not until 2011, a company manager said yesterday.

VBA will return in the next version of Office, said Kurt Schmucker, group product manager in Microsoft's Mac business unit. Schmucker also defended the decision made in August 2006 to drop the macro language from what would become Office 2008 for Mac.

"Moving VBA was a much bigger project than anyone anticipated," Schmucker said. "The VBA in Office 2004 was really tightly tied to PowerPC. It wasn't a matter of just moving the code, but would have required rearchitecting. And we couldn't do that with the resources we had."

At the time the decision was announced, Erik Schwiebert, the software design lead of Microsoft's Mac team, called moving VBA to Intel-based Macs "incredibly difficult."

He also estimated that the work would take two years, which would push back the release of a Mac upgrade. "[Porting VBA to Intel] would mean two more years before the next version of Mac Office made its way to consumers. In the meantime, Leopard will ship and Mac Office 2004 would still be running in Rosetta," Schwiebert said in August 2006. "Win Office 2007 and the new XML file formats will be ever more common. All Mac Office users would still be stuck with the old formats, unable to share in or use the great expansion of capabilities these new file formats bring."

As it turned out, Office 2008 for Mac launched 18 months later, delayed by Microsoft when it decided that the quality of the Office code wasn't up to par.

Even as it made the decision in 2006, Microsoft knew it would hear from users. "The Mac [business unit] is very aware of the pain this decision will cause," Schwiebert said then.

Tuesday, Schmucker echoed that. "We knew it was going to be an issue with some people," he said.

That may have been an understatement. When Schwiebert blogged about VBA's demise, his post accumulated nearly 200 comments, some from distressed users. "What this decision to drop VB will do is prevent our company from upgrading to the next version of Office," said a user identified only as "Richard."

Schmucker acknowledged that the users affected by the removal of VBA from Office 2008 — and the ones who convinced Microsoft to rethink its decision — were almost exclusively business users who rely on the language for cross-platform macros that work not only in Office on the Mac, but on Windows as well. "Home users wouldn't be complaining about the lack of VBA," he said. "It was more from the enterprise."

Microsoft consistently heard from corporate customers who wanted macros in Office on the Mac, said Schmucker. "This was painful to some of them," he added.

Schmucker said VBA's return was now feasible because of the time available until the next version, and because the Mac business unit would be adding developers to handle the additional work. "It's both. We'll be staffing up, too," he said.

Although Schmucker wouldn't set a date for the next edition of Office on the Mac, he noted that Microsoft typically updates Office on the Mac about every three years. Office 2008's successor would "probably be in that same time frame," he said. By that timetable — Microsoft launched Office 2008 in January — VBA should reappear in 2011.

Also on Tuesday, Schmucker reiterated Microsoft's promise to issue its oft-delayed Open XML file converters for Office 2004 next month. The converters, which were to ship by mid-March at the latest, were postponed the month before because developers had been shifted to work on a stability and security update for Office 2008.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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