TweetFollow Us on Twitter

The REALbasic-Office secret decoder ring

Volume Number: 20 (2004)
Issue Number: 7
Column Tag: Programming

REALBasic Best Practice

by Guyren G Howe

The REALbasic-Office secret decoder ring

How to control Microsoft Office from REALbasic

Last time, I discussed some ways of "breaking out" of REALbasic, to call on external applications to supplement what your REALbasic application can do. I lamented that I was unable to explore controlling Microsoft Office from RB, because although it can do that really well, the documentation for this feature was both inadequate and horribly, egregiously wrong.

Since that time, things have gotten slightly better. There is now a web page (http://www.realsoftware.com/office2004mac/) from which you can download a small number of actual, correct, working examples. But, there is still no documentation to speak of, and what there is, it would lead you to believe that using Office from REALbasic is harder than it really is.

So in this article, I will present the apparently entirely undocumented, super-secret really easy way to control Office from RB.

But First...

Since I can't find anywhere else to put it, a quick aside: there were some errors in my article on REAL World. I had said I thought there were fifty attendees, but it turns out there were over a hundred. I also mistakenly wrote that there were three seminars per day, but what I meant to say was that there were three or four sessions at a time, and a bunch of sessions each day. It was quite a good seminar program.

Ta-Da! The Big Secret

Microsoft Office, on both Macintosh and Windows, incorporates a fairly sophisticated built-in scripting language called Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). The really super secret of controlling Microsoft Office from REALbasic -- the one I had to offer up my first-born and a handful of magic beans for -- is that REALbasic understands the entire VBA namespace. This means that essentially every term you can see in Word's object inspector (more on that in a moment) can be used in REALbasic. Classes from Word can be used in REALbasic just by sticking the letters Word in front of them (and similarly for Excel and PowerPoint), and method and function calls on those classes can (with one type of exception) be used unmodified. So, for example, you can fetch the text of the front most Word document with the following code:

GetTheFrontDocument()
A function that returns the text of the front most Word document
Sub GetTheFrontDocument() As String
dim w As New WordApplication
dim doc As WordDocument = w.ActiveDocument()
Return doc.Content().Text
End Sub

So the Word Document class becomes the WordDocument class in REALbasic. Also, the global methods and properties in VBA become method calls and properties on WordApplication, ExcelApplication, or PowerPointApplication in REALbasic.

There. The secret's out. Not much to it, really. Now I'll just fill in a few details, and explore some code examples.

Named Arguments

The only major difference between VBA and REALbasic is that VBA supports a nice feature called named arguments. This means that rather than having to remember, and write an ordered list of bare values for the arguments to a method call, you can provide them as assignment statements, like the last line of this code snippet (taken from the REALbasic built-in help for the Office class):

Example of Replace in VBA

Example Visual Basic for Applications code to perform a find and replace

Selection.Find.ClearFormatting
Selection.Find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
With Selection.Find
.Text = "find this"
.Replacement.Text = "replace with"
.Wrap = wdFindContinue
.Format = false
.MatchCase = false
.MatchWholeWord = false
.MatchWildcards = false
.MatchSoundsLike = false
.MatchAllWordForms = false
End With
Selection.Find.Execute Replace:=wdReplaceAll

This is great, but the translation into REALbasic, given in the built-in documentation, doesn't work. Here's how to actually do it:

The previous example, in REALbasic

Using the secret decoder ring, we translate the last example into REALbasic

Dim word as New WordApplication
Dim find As WordFind = word.ActiveDocument.Content.Find

find.ClearFormatting
find.Replacement.ClearFormatting
find.text = "find this"
find.Replacement.Text = "replace with"
find.Wrap = Office.wdFindContinue
find.Format = False
find.MatchCase = false
find.MatchWholeWord = false
find.MatchWildcards = false
find.MatchSoundsLike = false
find.MatchAllWordForms = false

// Now the fun stuff

Dim replaceParam as New OLEParameter
replaceParam.Value = Office.wdReplaceAll

// according to the docs on Find.Execute the Replace parameter is the 11th
replaceParam.Position = 11

find.Execute replaceParam

If you had more than one named parameter, you would use multiple OLEParameter objects, one for each named parameter, and you just pass them all, in any order, to the method call.

A Larger Example

I'm now going to go through a small, entirely artificial piece of code, intended to cram together a variety of techniques. This article is not remotely large enough to attempt even a quick survey of Office's impressive programming features, but I hope I've presented you with just enough to get you up, and going on your own.

The code will search through all the comments in the front most Word document. It will find all the comments that start with the word test followed by two numbers (all separated by spaces). Any such comment will be replaced by a table with the number of rows and columns given by the two numbers, and then the words "Hello, World" will be placed into the cell in the upper, left corner of the table. I'll go through not only the code, but more importantly how I worked out how to write it. I'll be working with Word X, not Word 2004. I don't consider the new version a worthwhile upgrade, so what you see will probably be slightly different in the newer version (although the code should still work the same).

Note that while the example, and my comments refer to Word, the same ideas apply to Excel and PowerPoint (except that, oddly enough, PowerPoint doesn't support macro recording).

Word's Macro Environment

Most of what you need to know, you can learn from within Word itself. In the Tools menu, you'll find a Macro submenu, which provides access to Word's programming features. In this menu, the REALbasic Editor command just launches REALbasic. The Record New Macro... command opens a dialog for you to name a new Macro, which is what Office calls a program written in VBA.


Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1: The Record Macro dialog

After you click OK in this dialog, you can execute a series of actions, and Word will translate those actions into a VBA program to do the same thing again. Note that you can't click to move the insertion point while you're recording a macro. There isn't any way for Word to turn that action, that only makes sense in that document (scrolling to that point, in a window of that size) into a set of actions repeatable anywhere.

While you're recording the macro, Word shows a tiny little window with stop and pause buttons:


Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 2: The Macro recording palette

Now, just carry out the sorts of actions you want REALbasic to control, then hit the stop button in the little window. Next, go back to the Macro submenu and choose Macros.... You will then see a window showing the name of the macro you just recorded, along with any other macros you have previously written or recorded:


Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 3: The Macros window

Click on the name of the macro you just recorded, then click Edit. Here is what I got when I recorded a macro in which I created a table along the lines of our little project:


Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 4: The Word Macro editor

There are also other windows showing at this point, but describing this whole programming environment is outside the scope of this document, so I will stick to only what you need most for your REALbasic work.

The Object Browser

Recording a macro will generally give you a good idea of the kind of commands you need to execute to do something. You can also examine every available command, and class in Word by opening the Object Browser. You can do this by clicking a button on the toolbar you see in the macro editing environment:


Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 5: The Object Browser button

Alternately, you can choose Object Browser from the View menu. Any of these will show Word's Object Browser:


Figure SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 6: The Word Object Browser

Note the search box in the middle, at the top (results appear in the blank area). The business part for our purposes is below the blank area. The list of Classes is comprehensive. <globals>, shown in the screen shot, are the methods, and properties available in the WordApplication class in REALbasic.

When you click on a class, the properties, methods, and constants are shown to the right of the class name. If you click on something shown there, its details are shown below, and it is all hyperlinked. This is actually how I developed the code for the example. Well, that, and examining the one working Word example that REAL Software has published.

There are some books on VBA (I understand the O'Reilly book -- ISBN 1-56592-358-8 -- is quite good), and a lot of material online. A bit of drill-down in the Object Browser, and some experimentation, gave me code to do my little example fairly easily.

The Example

To finish up, the example.

ReplaceCommentsWithTables

An example that finds comments in the front most Word document, replacing those that begin with the word table with a table whose dimensions depend on the rest of the comment

Sub ReplaceCommentsWithTables()
  Dim word as New WordApplication
  Dim c As WordComments
  c = word.ActiveDocument.Comments
  
  Dim counter As Integer
  Dim comment As WordComment
  Dim content() As String
  Dim width, height as Integer
  Dim location As WordRange
  if c.Count > 0 then
    counter = 1
    do
      comment = c.Item(counter)
      content = Split(comment.Range.Text(), " ")
      if content(0) = "table" then
        height = content(1).val
        width = content(2).val
        location = comment.Reference
        location.Tables.Add(comment.Reference, width, height)
        location.Tables.Item(1).Cell(1, 1).Range.Text = "hello, world"
      else
        counter = counter + 1
      end if
    loop until counter >= c.Count
  end if
End Sub

The only things that bear explaining here are that a Range in VBA is any point in the document, or any continuous section of text in the document. A Comment object has several Range properties. The one called Range is the actual content of the comment. The one called Reference is the location of the comment in the main text. Also, adding something (in this case, a table) to a range replaces the range's contents (in this case, the comment) with that table. Finally, collections of things in VBA will usually have an Item() function to fetch the collection's contents.

Apart from that, I hope you find that the mostly clear names for things in VBA, the ready availability of example code online, and the ability to record a macro if you want to know how to do something, will make this very useful feature of REALbasic surprisingly easy to use.

Brief aside: Just before I finished this, REAL Software announced a product called Office Power Pack, based on this feature in REALbasic. And Microsoft themselves have written some of the software that ships with Office (the installer and the query tool) in REALbasic. This is a practical feature indeed, and the market for Office add-ons or applications that can work with Office has to be substantial.

Finally, I will note that REALbasic's Office features are almost perfectly cross-platform, without modification other than to path strings and the like.


Guyren G Howe works in artificial intelligence research, after years of work as a technical write,r and developer. He is married with one child, is an Australian, and lives in Austin, Texas. Guyren has been working with REALbasic for several years. Most notably, he wrote the REALbasic Curriculum Project, an extensive computer science curriculum, for REAL Software (available from the REALbasic website). You can contact Mr. Howe at realbasic@mactech.com

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Kill the Plumber World guide - How to ou...
You already know how to hop around like Mario, but do you know how to defeat him? Those are your marching orders in Kill the Plumber, and it's not always as easy as it looks. Here are some tips to get you started. This is not a seasoned platform... | Read more »
Planar Conquest (Games)
Planar Conquest 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $12.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: IMPORTANT: Planar Conquest is compatible only with iPad 3 & newer devices, iPhone 5 & newer. It’s NOT compatible with... | Read more »
We talk to Cheetah Mobile about its plan...
Piano Tiles 2 is a fast-paced rhythm action high score chaser out now on iOS and Android. You have to tap a series of black tiles that appear on the screen in time to the music, being careful not to accidentally hit anywhere else. Do that and it's... | Read more »
Ultimate Briefcase guide - How to dodge...
Ultimate Briefcase is a simple but tricky game that’s highly dependent on how fast you can react. We can still offer you a few tips and tricks on how to survive though. Guess what? That’s exactly what we’re going to do now. Take it easy [Read more... | Read more »
SoundPrism Link Edition (Music)
SoundPrism Link Edition 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Music Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: ***Introductory price for a the first few days after launch - if you're reading this, get it while it's fresh out of... | Read more »
Pre-register now for hack and slasher An...
Fincon, which won Facebook's Studio to Watch award in 2015, has announced that pre-registration is now open for the massive 3.0 update for its award-winning hack and slasher Angel Stone. Angel Stone is a post-apocalyptic action RPG in which the... | Read more »
Google has named Piano Tiles 2 as its Be...
Google has named Piano Tiles 2, which launched back in August last year, as its Best Game of 2015. If you're yet to play it, now's a good time to do so. It's a sequel to the hugely successful viral hit Piano Tiles (Don't Tap the White Tile) but... | Read more »
Sago Mini Trucks and Diggers (Education...
Sago Mini Trucks and Diggers 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Drive a dump truck with Rosie the hamster! Pile dirt high and dig deep in the ground with diggers, cranes and... | Read more »
Day One 2 Journal + Notes (Lifestyle)
Day One 2 Journal + Notes 2.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Lifestyle Price: $4.99, Version: 2.0 (iTunes) Description: **New Release Sale—50% off for a Limited Time!** Capture life as you live it. From once-in-a-lifetime events to... | Read more »
Pull My Tongue (Games)
Pull My Tongue 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Meet Greg. A hungry little chameleon that loves popcorn! Help feed Greg by pulling his tongue through a series of fun puzzles... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Watch Super Bowl 50 Live On Your iPad For Fre...
Watch Super Bowl 50 LIVE on the CBS Sports app for iPad and Apple TV. Get the app and then tune in Sunday, February 7, 2016 at 6:30 PM ET to catch every moment of the big game. The CBS Sports app is... Read more
Two-thirds Of All Smart Watches Shipped In 20...
Apple dominated the smart watch market in 2015, accounting for over 12 million units and two-thirds of all shipments according to Canalys market research analysts’ estimates. Samsung returned to... Read more
12-inch 1.2GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for up...
B&H Photo has 12″ 1.2GHz Retina MacBooks on sale for $180 off MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY tax only: - 12″ 1.2GHz Gray Retina MacBook: $1499 $100 off MSRP - 12″ 1.2GHz Silver... Read more
12-inch 1.1GHz Gray Retina MacBook on sale fo...
B&H Photo has the 12″ 1.1GHz Gray Retina MacBook on sale for $1199 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model... Read more
Apple now offering full line of Certified Ref...
Apple now has a full line of Certified Refurbished 2015 21″ & 27″ iMacs available for up to $350 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. The following models are... Read more
Free GUI Speedometer – The Ultimate Digital D...
Miami, Florida based RMKapps has announced the official release of GUI Speedometer 1.0, their digital dashboard display developed for iOS devices. GUI Speedometer allows users to track their precise... Read more
FutureCalc: Ergonomic iOS Calculator App For...
London, United Kingdom based Independent software developer and entrepreneur, Hovik Melikyan has announced the release and immediate availability of FutureCalc 1.0, his new ergonomic calculator app... Read more
Save up to $600 with Apple refurbished Mac Pr...
Apple has Certified Refurbished Mac Pros available for up to $600 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each Mac Pro, and shipping is free. The following... Read more
Apple’s ‘Next Big Thing’ Drought And Mature M...
Apple’s first fiscal quarter 2016 financial results yielded both good news and bad news. In the positive column, Apple made another boatload of money, reporting record quarterly revenue of $75.9... Read more
Lifeproof NUUD For iPhone 6S, iPhone 6S Plus...
LifeProof NUUD was designed to defy more than the elements. It defies logic itself by combining legendary four-proof protection and screenless technology to survive mountaintop missions and seaside... Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Macintosh OSX - Net2Source Inc. (Uni...
…: * Work Authorization : * Contact Number(Best time to reach you) : Skills : Apple Macintosh OSX Location : New York, New York. Duartion : 6+ Months The associate would Read more
Computer Operations Technician ll - *Apple*...
# Web Announcement** Apple Technical Liaison**The George Mason University, Information Technology Services (ITS), Technology Support Services, Desktop Support Read more
Restaurant Manager - Apple Gilroy Inc./Apple...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Simply Mac *Apple* Specialist- Service Repa...
Simply Mac is the largest premier retailer of Apple products in the nation. In order to support our growing customer base, we are currently looking for a driven Read more
*Apple* IOS / OS X Level 3 Support Analyst -...
Needed: Apple Support Analyst (OS X / IOS); 50k-60k/yr +…Horizon Technology Partners has an immediate opening for an Apple IOS / OS X LEVEL 3 Support Analyst. Your Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.