Exam Reviews

Office Savvy

Proving you can create Office 2000 solutions for this exam requires thinking outside the product box.

The official title of this exam suggests that it tests your knowledge of Office 2000 and VBA. That’s both too inclusive and too narrow. On the narrow side, the Office knowledge is focused on Excel and Word; you need not have more than a passing acquaintance with Access or Outlook, and PowerPoint, FrontPage, Publisher, and PhotoDraw (all members of Office Premier) aren’t covered at all. You also don’t have to worry too much about your VBA skills. This exam continues the trend of MCSD exams concentrating on high-level skills rather than language syntax. What that means is that you don’t need to know much about the actual nuts and bolts of the language. You won’t find any items testing your knowledge of looping and branching constructs, string and date functions, data types, or many other core language features.

On the other hand, if all you know is Office, you’re in trouble. You should interpret “Solutions with Microsoft Office 2000” to mean solutions that use components from Office 2000, but not necessarily only components from Office 2000. You need to have at least a basic understanding of the capabilities of SQL Server, Index Server, and Internet Information Server to pass this exam.

Office VBA (70-091)
Reviewers’ Rating: “Be prepared for an exam that goes well beyond its title and requires more reading than usual.”

Title: Designing and Implementing Solutions with Microsoft Office 2000 and Microsoft Visual Basic for Applications.

Number of questions: 100 on beta; fewer on actual exam.

Time allowed: 3 hours and 30 minutes for beta; expect around 2 hours for the live exam.

Current Status: Live as of December 1999.

Who should take it? This exam counts as an elective toward the MCSD certification. If you’re an Office or VB developer pursuing your MCSD, this is an obvious elective.

What classes prepare you? Self-paced courses 1013, “Mastering Microsoft Visual Basic 6 Development,” and 1301, “Microsoft Mastering: Microsoft Office 2000 Development.”

Lots of Reading

The case study questions present a business situation, a list of goals, and a list of actions. You’re expected to pick out which goals are satisfied by the listed actions. These (and some other items on the exam) are “pick all that apply,” so the scope for guessing is considerably lessened over the old “pick exactly two answers” items. With some items having up to seven possible answers, it will be interesting to see which ones survive the beta process. Particularly with the high-level analysis items, the answers seemed to me to be very subjective. You’ll want to read the exam preparation guide carefully to make sure you understand how terms such as “maintainability” and “security” are defined in the context of this exam.

Know Data Access

Not surprisingly, data access technologies play a relatively large part in the test, since most solutions involve storing data somewhere. This doesn’t mean you need to know how Access and SQL Server work in detail. But you should have an understanding of how to select a proper data engine for a solution, and of the APIs to use to retrieve data from it. Active Data Objects (ADO) is clearly the most important data access API these days, but make sure you know what the alternatives are.

You’ll also want to know something about the parts of a database. Make sure you understand the differences between tables, views, and stored procedures. Give some thought, too, to ways to move data around between different Office applications. When would you want to use a method of a Word or Excel object? When would you want to use an Active Server Page?

A Useful Resource, But Not For This Exam

Microsoft Office 2000 Visual Basic for Applications Fundamentals
By David Boctor
Microsoft Press, 1999, $39.99, ISBN 0735605947

From the title of this book you might think it’s the perfect study guide for the Office VBA exam. Unfortunately for this notion, the book (unlike the exam) is actually about Office VBA. Boctor introduces all of the key VBA language concepts and shows how to use them in the context of Office solutions. He’s especially strong in showing the parallels between operations in different Office applications. For example, selecting content in Word, Excel, and Outlook is fundamentally similar, and by exposing these similarities, this book makes it easier to build a mental model of the way Office works.

Another strong point of the book is in its attention to user interface design. Boctor does a good job of explaining UserForms and event-driven programming, but he also delves into programming the Office Assistant, creating and using custom menus and toolbars, and building Wizards and COM Add-Ins to simplify everyday tasks. Since the author is a program manager on the Office team, it’s not surprising that his approach leads to solutions that look and feel like part of Office itself.

As far as a study guide goes, the mastering of this book will help you with the exam topics on Excel, Word, the Assistant, and COM Add-Ins—perhaps a third of the exam. For the rest, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Mike Gunderloy

Deploy That Solution

Office 2000 solutions don’t end with design, development, and debugging. Deployment is an important component of this exam. If you haven’t looked at the Package and Deployment Wizard in Microsoft Office 2000 Developer, you’d better remedy that lack before trying to pass. You should understand the choices to be made when running the Wizard, as well as what will happen on the end user’s computer when your setup program is run.

Also remember that computing environments are getting more varied. There are two ways to look at this variation. One is to consider what components you need to include with your solution to make sure it works for the user. The other is to look at what functionality will be available to a user who’s installed, say, Internet Explorer 3 and doesn’t want to upgrade to Internet Explorer 5. Understanding what the Office Server Extensions offer for intranets and what they require of end users is a key piece of this puzzle as well.

You should also be familiar with setting up the components of Office 2000 itself. There’s more to this than just running the setup program for Office. Be sure you know what’s in the Microsoft Office Developer box and what you have to do to configure the various add-ins it makes available. Do you know how to use source code control with Office 2000? Do you know how to create COM Add-Ins? Microsoft apparently wants to make sure you’re familiar with both of these topics.

Finally, make sure you can set up the Microsoft Database Engine (MSDE). Given a requirement for particular behavior on the part of this piece of software, what choices should you make during its setup?

A Few Good Objects

Office 2000 contains 30 or so object models. Fortunately, you can ignore most of them for the exam. Almost all of the object model questions concern Word or Excel objects. The only other object model you need to be familiar with at all is the one exposed by the Office Assistant, which figures in several items about providing user assistance.

As far as Word and Excel go, you can concentrate on the most important objects. Know the differences between the Workbook, Worksheet, and Chart objects in Excel, and the Section and Range objects in Word. Know when AutoNew macros run and when you want to declare an Application object WithEvents. The exam preparation guide is, again, your friend here, as it narrows down the hundreds of programming tasks involving Word and Excel objects to just a few that you’re expected to know.

On the Server Side

You won’t have to answer detailed syntax questions about non-Office software. But you’re definitely expected to know how various pieces of Microsoft server software fit into an Office solution. You should understand the process of using Microsoft Index Server to index Office documents, and know how users can use this index to find particular documents. You should understand the interactions between Microsoft SQL Server and ADO, Windows NT, and client software. You should also be familiar with the basic capabilities of IIS and Active Server Pages. All of these topics could come up during the exam’s case studies.

You’ll find some helpful information on how Office 2000 interacts with these other technologies in the Office 2000 Developer documentation that ships with Microsoft Office Developer, and in the Office Resource Kit. All of this documentation is included on the quarterly MSDN CDs starting in July 1999.

User Interfaces and Add-Ins

Certification exams tend to focus on new technologies, and this one is no exception. For example, the new COM Add-In feature that lets you write one add-in for multiple Office hosts comes in for major use here. Understanding how to create such an add-in, how to deploy it, and what you can do with it will definitely make your test-taking experience easier.

And while you’re thinking about those add-ins, think about their user interface. You’ll be expected to understand the basics of using UserForms, including what events will happen in various circumstances. As I’ve already mentioned, you should know what the Office Assistant can do for your solutions, and when and how to implement part of your user interface in a Web browser.

The Best Way To Pass

Although the exam preparation guide states that the exam may include adaptive testing and simulation items, there were no simulations on the beta. I’m not positive, but common sense would indicate that this means there won’t be any on the live exam either, unless they’re being tested in some other fashion. As for adaptive questions, that has to wait until sufficient people have taken the exam to give the certification folks a good baseline for which items have the most predictive value.

Additional Information

One thing to note about this exam is that it’s getting harder than it used to be to get enough information to pass the exam without knowing the material. When exam items were along the lines of, “How many miles is it from Detroit to Cleveland?” someone could take the exam, then tell you the exact question and answer. Rewritten as a case study, the same item would bury the city names in three pages of text along with information about the speed limit, model of automobile, phase of the moon, and brand of gasoline used—more than anyone can remember when they leave the testing center.

So don’t count on waiting a few months and then asking around to figure out what you need to know to pass. As always, the best way to pass the exam is to have actual real-world knowledge of the technologies it tests on. In this case, that means your best preparation would be to deploy a solution that makes heavy use of Word and Excel on your corporate intranet. Failing that, you should at least use the Microsoft Office Developer Edition enough to understand the wide variety of powerful software that it contains.

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