I am happy to announce that Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Microsoft Office now includes support for developing managed code add-ins for Outlook. Steve Ballmer announced the news at TechEd early this morning in his keynote speech, which also included a demo of a cool solution that integrates CRM functionality into Outlook – a key scenario that exemplifies the many benefits of integrating a smart client solution into Outlook.

I have been working on the VSTO team for the last 3 or 4 months to help add this exciting new feature to VSTO. This is an important milestone for our smart client vision because Outlook provides a rich and natural environment for many smart client solutions. Smart clients are all about bringing the application to the user (rather than making them go to the application) and providing them with a streamlined, task-oriented user experience.

For example, integrating line-of-business functionality into Outlook can very effectively bridge the gap between the user’s Outlook activities and their interaction with the LOB application. The user typically experiences a large impedance at the user interaction layer so by bringing the application into Outlook you increase the user’s effectiveness (by reducing the need for cut-copy-paste or swivel chair integration), reduce user training, increase accuracy by integrating more up-to-date and relevant information, and can provide a contextual user experience.

VSTO’s support for Outlook builds on the infrastructure that VSTO 2005 provides for securely deploying, managing and loading managed code extensions for Word and Excel. By leveraging these features and adding specific support for Outlook, it is now possible to write managed code add-ins without having to write a dedicated COM shim or relying on mscoree to create a CCW for your add-in (and having to worry about all of the problems that these approaches entail).

The VSTO Outlook bits are available for download here. You will need to install these on top of Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2. There are also a series of samples, hands-on labs and snippets to get you started! Also, be sure to check out John Durant's getting started article on MSDN...

Now you really don't have any excuse for leaving Outlook :-)