InfoPath gives insights into the future
I have always looked upon InfoPath as a example of a product that needs to be part of the infrastructure of the Longhorn platform. At its simplest it’s a product to render forms defined in XML, allow them to be completed offline, validated, and then submitted them to web services.
If you think of WinFS as effectively an XML store, which manages sometimes connected interactions with server side data sources (especially web services) then InfoPath type capabilities are a natural part of the WinFS shell. So I was interested to see this MSDN paper on Submitting forms in InfoPath 2003 because of the potential implications on how Microsoft is thinking about WinFS and Synchronisation and sometimes connected operation. These new adaptors allow:
- Submitting to a Web Service
- Submitting to a SharePoint Site
- Submitting through E-Mail
- Submitting to a Database
These new capabilities are interesting but the ability to complete the form off-line and then, when connected, send it to the server is still way to clunky (but likely to be a key area the Longhorn team will need to make slick).
I was also disappointed that they did not include submitting via email to a SharePoint Site. This to me would be a fabulous feature, allowing business to business transfer of XML data from a rich client, to a (fairly) rich XML store right through firewalls with no need to establish an internet facing web application. As anyone within a typical enterprise who has tried to get a new application hosted on an Internet facing web site will tell you, it’s HARD WORK! So this email adaptor would be especially powerful for short lived collaboration scenarios, or to support high value transactions between relatively small companies who don’t want the overhead of building web applications.
Of course the real draw back right now is that InfoPath is part of Office Enterprise and Office Enterprise costs money. Built into the platform however you can just image how this sort of technology could transform the ease with which structured and semi-structured data would flow between companies.