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InfoPath and XForms - initial thoughts

From: <AndrewWatt2001@aol.com>
Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2003 06:34:22 EDT
Message-ID: <1c3.873159f.2bd5232e@aol.com>
To: XForms@yahoogroups.com, www-forms@w3.org

I thought that some on list might be interested in my initial impressions of 
Microsoft's InfoPath beta and some aspects of how it relates to the dynamic 
XML-Forms space generally and XForms in particular.

Basically, looking at InfoPath as a forms design tool, I am very impressed. 
It just seems very nicely put together and in my initial exploration, at 
least, it does the simple things simply. More than once I had the words 
"really nice touch" echoing through my brain.

InfoPath is a proprietary client. It reminds me of a combination of Lotus 
Notes and Domino Designer. And, clearly, aims to address a similar problem 
space - that of collecting business data and squirting it to a back-end.

By squirting XML to the back-end InfoPath (as will XForms) open up new 
possibilities for data re-use. If only it were that simple! :)

The end-user will (mostly) use InfoPath as a forms-filling tool. The 
designer/developer will design the form and code the back-end, as necessary. 
It surprises me slightly that Microsoft didn't split InfoPath in a way 
similar to the way Lotus/IBM split Notes and Domino Designer. It seems to me 
that many who use InfoPath to fill in forms will never seriously use InfoPath 
to design/create/code forms. Two uses -> two clients, was my thought.

InfoPath will, not surprisingly, likely work best with Microsoft data sources 
and servers. But the scripting facility provides scope to go beyond that. For 
many uses the scripting facility will be used extensively, I suspect.

As I explored forms design with InfoPath I salivated thinking of how a tool 
as nice as this could be used with XForms. The mental models are just so 
similar, or so it seemed to me.

<aside>
XForms design tool makers, if you have a design tool as good as InfoPath 
initially looks to be please get in touch. :)
</aside>

One thing that struck me was that the model that InfoPath is using might very 
readily be snapped out and XForms slotted in. Of course the commercial 
incentives might work in the opposite direction.

I see the arrival of InfoPath as a boost to the dynamic XML Forms space.

InfoPath is a competitor, at least in version 1.0, to XForms in the off-Web 
space. InfoPath forms can't be filled in using a browser.

The battle between a paid-for InfoPath client and a range of in-browser free 
XForms clients and a range of paid-for XForms clients looks to be a space to 
watch closely. Will a proprietary client add enough business value to justify 
its price?

But I see the impending arrival of InfoPath (not the beta) as being a useful 
boost for interest in XForms. InfoPath and XForms, at least seen from my 
viewpoint, address the same business problem - how to capture business data 
efficiently in a way which facilitates relevant re-use of data.

I suspect there is a lot more thinking to be done before many aspects of that 
problem will be cracked, but the emergence of InfoPath and XForms will 
certainly be focussing the mind of executives on how they can achieve real 
business benefits.

Dynamic XML-based forms is going to be a very, very interesting space over 
the next few years.

Any comments/rebuttals/agreements from anyone else who has played with both 
technologies would be welcome.

Andrew Watt
Received on Monday, 21 April 2003 06:34:33 GMT

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