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Martin LaMonica

Staff Writer, CNET launched a program on Wednesday to entice Microsoft Office developers to write applications that tap into data stored in its hosted sales applications.

The Sforce Developer Program for Microsoft Office includes free tools and technical information targeted at developers. executives are scheduled to more fully detail the program at the Microsoft Office System Developer conference. The three-day conference started Wednesday at the company’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash. already sells an edition of its sales software that feeds information, such as customer reports, into Microsoft Office desktop applications such as Excel. Its latest tie-up with Microsoft is geared specifically to get programmers to create custom applications that use’s software services. has built add-ons to Visual Basic for Office to simplify the task of getting data from the company’s hosted sales applications. It also has created sample code for Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft System and will host a directory of Office add-on applications.

The tools draw on Sforce,’s integration service that moves data between the company’s hosted sales application and other systems.

“We know the community of Microsoft developers has all kinds of interesting ideas that we can’t even dream up,” said Adam Gross, director of product marketing at “We want those applications to leverage that sales and market data in (our service).”

Microsoft, too, is encouraging developers to build applications on top of Office. By creating more custom programs around Office, Microsoft hopes to drive potential upgrades to Office System 2003, which supports XML-based Web services protocols that simplify the process of getting data from other applications. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates plans to address conference attendees on Friday.

Microsoft is also looking to improve links between Office and its own sales force application, called Microsoft CRM.