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[media] Newfangled Forms from the W3C

From: Kathleen Anderson <kathleen.anderson@po.state.ct.us>
Date: Tue, 18 Apr 2000 21:12:24 -0400
Message-ID: <38FD07F8.E3F6821C@po.state.ct.us>
To: wai-ig list <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>
Tuesday, April 18, 2000
Vol. 2, Issue 75
Newfangled Forms from the W3C
By Nate Zelnick

It's been seven years since forms were added to the Hypertext 
Markup Language and, in the interim, a few things have

For instance, in 1993 it was simply astounding to be able to 
collect user-supplied data from within a Web page itself
through generic little widgets like text boxes, drop-down
combo boxes, and Boolean radio buttons. The fact that doing
anything with that data in the stateless Web meant submitting 
the form back up to the server and handing it off to some CGI 
script or other ancillary system -- which meant you could
have one form per page that could be processed -- was a small 
price to pay. Later, client-side scripting helped relieve some of
the tedium of this approach, but only by requiring a
completely different development paradigm that would work
only in the presence of the right version of JavaScript. In
other words, a hack. 

This week the World Wide Web Consortium 
( http://www.w3.org ) published the first public view of 
where it wants to take the forms of the future. As with nearly 
everything coming out of the Consortium, the new XForms proposal 
( http://http://www.w3.org/TR/2000/WD-xhtml-forms-req-20000329 ) 
begins and ends with the core value it's been promulgating since 
its founding: If the Internet is going to work everywhere, on 
every kind of device for every type of person, then information 
needs strict barriers between its structure, its content, and how 
it looks. 

This meant that the HTML Activity Group that built the XForm 
outline had to think about what a form is and what it does in 
the most generic sense. Dave Ragget, one of the editors of
the XForm Data Modeling Draft and the XForm Requirements
document and a participant in the development of HTML from
nearly the beginning, stressed that XForms is a much larger
concept than merely the Web. It needs to encompass archaic
media like paper, as well. A form that requires a human
signature needs to exist as more than electrons, but the
minute it's printed or faxed, it loses the ability for filled 
field values to be extracted. 

But because XForms defines its data model as separate from
its presentation, the position of a named field's answers can 
be extracted by Optical Character Recognition systems even
after the electronic life has been squeezed out of it. More
familiar Web-expansion problems -- like how to present a form 
on a cell phone, television screen, or Web-enabled blender -- 
are less hairy variations of the same problem. 

Tuesday's XForm announcement includes only the broad
definition of the problem that needs to be solved -- the
Requirements doc -- and a first draft of an XForm Data Model. 
Possible collisions with XML Schemas -- an evolving spec
that deals with defining data types for XML vocabularies --
may create some intraconsortium grumbling, but the XForm
group was careful to make distinctions between its model and
that ongoing work. 

Early backing for the work thus far came from form-centered
companies like Xerox, JetForm, and Cardiff Software. The long 
road to consensus -- required for something to become a W3C
recommendation -- means predicting a done date is impossible.

Copyright (c) 2000 by Internet World Media,
A Penton Media, Inc. Company.
Received on Tuesday, 18 April 2000 21:13:48 UTC

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