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Microsoft is Storming the Cloud. What’s the Future of VBA? Impressions and Thoughts from a Microsoft Meeting

Last Sunday was our monthly meeting at Microsoft's Offices in Raanana, Israel. We are Israel's Excel Masters - developers and trainers mostly. We meet once a month at Microsoft's office to learn new things and engage in discussions with Microsoft's managers * Below are my key takeaways and predictions from this meeting with Microsoft's Collaboration Customer Success Manager, Maor. Do we know what is the future of Excel VBA?

Cloud Cloud Cloud

Maor, who's leading the Collaboration Customer Success with the Large Enterprises in the local market, presented Microsoft's future (cloud, cloud, cloud) and how Microsoft Teams is making its way into the market.

The business motivation for Microsoft's massive move to the cloud is obvious: migration from legacy, on-premise license model, to a recurring, subscription-based model. In simple terms, instead of purchasing Office (for example) for $195 for life-time use, you now need to subscribe to Office 365 paying $10 per month, or $100 per year. You don't need to be an Excel expert to see where the money is for Microsoft. Multiply that by all Office users world-wide, and you'll understand why the cloud is Microsoft’s new growth engine, BIG TIME! Sitting there listening to Maor explaining how the Cloud is all what matters now for Microsoft, I chuckled with amusement recalling Bill Gates' skepticism on the usefulness of the Internet for "Killer Applications" back in the 1990's (see the 1997 New York Times article, Skeptics Cite Overload Of Useless Information : Internet Arrives At a Crossroads, by Sharon Reier).

Bottom line, as far as Microsoft is concerned, everything is moving to the cloud, from productivity tools for the business user (see Microsoft Teams), down to the professional IT and developers (see Power Platform and Azure). The train has left the station and it is not stopping.

Challenges Ahead: The Current On-Premise DNA of Microsoft

However, while riding to a bright, cloud future, Microsoft has its past to cater for, that is, tens of millions of legacy installations, packages and implementations running the economy used by their current install-base. From self-guided Excel "smart users" running recorded Macros, through professional developers writing MS-Access and Excel VBA solutions, up to high-volume partners selling 6-digit software products. And we haven't mentioned Microsoft's own Dynamics suite, its business applications offering competing head-to-head with the world's leading ERP vendors, such as Oracle and SAP. On top of that, there is the eco-system of developers, educators, freelancers, IT supporting professionals, writers - they are not yet "cloudified", and I'm not sure they will be, before a whole generation elapse.

The challenge for Microsoft is rooted much deeper than the current market situation, though. Microsoft's roots are in Desktop software. From its very first DOS operating system that brought life to the metals and chemicals comprising the hardware, all the way to its vast array of productivity tools, office tools, development tools and enterprise business solutions - they are, by design, a hard-core (pun intended) on-premise beast. Changing the commercial model to subscription does not change all that DNA, upon its engineering roots still heating up those Intel chips. The clear manifestation of that is Excel 365 on the cloud that lacks any scripting solution (or VBA equivalent). Webifying Excel is not enough to support native web-based design-time and run-time powerhouses. To appreciate that, Google Sheets, on the other hand (and on the other end), was designed ground-up as a web-based service, with JavaScript as its base scripting language out-of-the-box. Adding Google's rich objects libraries formed the Google Applications Script which is a foundation service at its core, just as a native web-application environment should be.

Historically, Microsoft had proven time and again they are always the rider on existing innovation created by others, only to make great business on top of it. Examples abound: electronic spreadsheets, web browsers, word processors, application development technologies, ERP solutions, to name a few. However, the cloud delivery and consumption model is in sharp contrast to Microsoft’s on-premise DNA. What will they do?

The Future of VBA

Reducing the discussion to our little world, a valid question would be: what is the future of VBA?

I must say, it did not feel reassuring that Maor came into the discussion with us Excel Masters without a formal, clear statement about the future of VBA. He did promise to work on that in the coming days though, and I am sure to report back on any such update, but all we have to-date is Diego Oppenheimer's famous “Clarification on VBA Support” blog post: “We understand that VBA is a critical capability for large numbers of our customers; accordingly, there is no plan to remove VBA from future versions of Excel”. But that was in 2008, way before the cloud storm closed in. What is the commitment Microsoft is willing to give us in 2020 about VBA?

In the absence of any formal statement, we're left to guesstimate and project based on our best understanding and judgement. Here's my two cents on it.

Technically, Microsoft has a solution for VBA users: Office 365 ProPlus. This is their bridge to the current install-base running VBA-based applications. It is kind of a hybrid: priced as a cloud solution, per subscription, while used as an on-premise solution: installed and run on your machine.

With Office 365 ProPlus you enjoy the full technical capabilities of an on-premise, desktop solution (and your VBA programs will run as expected), periodic software updates (as opposed to Office 2019), a 1TB cloud storage and a tighter integration with Microsoft’s other cloud offerings, such as Microsoft Teams. In return, you will pay subscription for life, set at $144/year as I write these lines.

I will dare to predict that their most recent fully on-premise Office offering, Office 2019, could be the last release in that form. They’re not telling anything yet, but we know it’s not a cloud offering in any sense, therefore may become a “reserved word” in Microsoft’s corridors. The Office 365 ProPlus is poised to be its successor, in my mind. Time will tell.

One way or another, I don’t see any scenario in the short to mid-term range, of VBA disappearing. You know what, I would predict VBA will be with us 30 years from now. At least! If we still have COBOL code running our financial, insurance and public sector industries – we will have VBA 30 years from now. Remind me to verify that when I’m 80.

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