Monday, July 21, 2008

Packaging Outlook Scripts in Word Documents

Microsoft Office includes (unless you exclude it at install time) a flavor of ye olde Visual Basic (i.e. VB-COM not VB.Net) that is designed to facilitate Office automation.

If you're willing to put up with the VB syntax and conventions, you can put together mini-programs (including GUIs, menu options, toolbar buttons, etc. if you like) in even less time than it would take to boot up Visual Studio and run the Office add-in wizard or add some Office .Net assembly references.

Interestingly, distributing the resultant "macros" can be tricky... especially for Outlook. There are all sorts of suggestions depending on how widely you want to deploy your script, and how many "Are you really really sure you want to run this script?" dialogs you expect your end users to click through. Some of the approaches are quite hokey... for example copying over a client script file that will delete any other macros your user has. Eeesh.

It's possible that .vbs files and Windows Scripting Host are actually the "right" answer ... but here's another I used:

  1. Write and debug your Outlook scripts in Outlook using the built-in VBS IDE.
  2. Copy the bits you need into the dev environment in Word (this assumes your user has Word, and I'm guessing if they run Outlook they probably run Word as well).
  3. Save the word document as a word-doc-with-executable-content (*.docm). Even if you haven't defined any GUI elements, any quick and dirty VB procedures you've written will show up as macros in the View->Macro dialog.
  4. Bonus: write any instructions you'd like to pass along right in the word doc.
  5. Give the file to your users.
  6. COM-based scripting is COM-based scripting, so even though a user runs the macro in a Word doc, it can find and manipulate their Outlook items.

Not to worry, Word (and Outlook) prompt the heck out of the users when they open and try to run the code. And saying yes to your file will not require the user to grant access to any other script-bearing files.

It's not the slickest procedure in the world, but it's wicked fast and it serves the basic scripting purpose: Here's a doc with a script I wrote to convert Outlook notes into a single Task item for syncing with my Windows Mobile notes app.

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