Thursday, October 28, 2004

Musings about InfoPath

I presented some workshops around SharePoint technologies the last couple of months and one of the things that I always include is a quick overview and some demos of InfoPath . It seems that this is still one of Microsofts best kept secrets - both developers and IT decision makers seem to have little or no knowledge about this tool. For those of you who haven't heard about it, InfoPath is a tool for designing electronic forms and the coolest thing is that underlying it uses nothing but XML.

I demo it in SharePoint workshops because of the excellent way it integrates with SharePoint through form libraries but you can also use it without SharePoint. Mostly I start off with the Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 HL7 CDA Demo. It is easy and understandable, just as a demo should be.
One of the major downsides of this product is however that every user needs a complete installed version. I think it would be much more popular if there would be a developer edition (to actually create the forms) and a freely distributable runtime for users who only use InfoPath to fill out forms. The InfoPath Viewer application that Mark Bower created is a good start but it is not enough especially because InfoPath is not standard available in all Office 2003 versions, only in the Professional Enterprise version.

Yesterday I saw another Technet presentation - this time about InfoPath and SharePoint, the presentation was done by Jelle Druyts and Yves Kerwyn. Microsoft positions InfoPath as "The smart client for webservices". Well it seems that it is still lacking some features to be a really smart client. The first missing feature is support for different devices - there's for example no InfoPath for Pocket PC. The other feature is missing Offline support. Microsoft says that InfoPath supports offline scenarios through the use of Outlook outbox but this is not really an ideal scenario. Jelle Druyts presented a solution for supporting offline usage by showing us some code. I can't wait until we can download this code, must be very interesting.

Interesting links:

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