The official name of the beta release is the Visual Studio 2005 Tools for Office Second Edition Beta; the product is being referred to as a second edition because the existing edition works with Office 2003.

The beta serves as an add-in for Visual Studio available for free to all Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition and Visual Studio Tools for Office 2005 users. This beta is being unveiled in coordination with a refresh of the beta for the 2007 Office System.

"VSTO 2005 SE (Visual Studio Tools for Office 2005 Second Edition) gives developers the power to take advantage of the 2007 Office System as a development platform and create scalable Office-based solutions," said KD Hallman, general manager, Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System, in her blog.

Developers using the beta get add-in support for building Office applications that use Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Visio and InfoPath, as well as support for 2007 Office System features. PowerPoint and Visio are new inclusions in this release.

A developer, for example, could build an application that leverages database information to create a chart in Visio, said Jaye Roxe, group product manager for Visual Studio.

Other features in the beta release include runtime support for the Ribbon UI, custom task panes and InfoPath regions. The Ribbon UI in 2007 Office replaces the current system of layered menus, toolbars and task panes with a simpler system of interfaces, according to Microsoft. The interfaces are optimised for efficiency and discoverability.

The general release of Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the 2007 Office System is expected to coincide with the release of the 2007 Office release itself at the end of this year.