Last week's DCNUG meeting was pretty good. IBM brought the dog and pony show into town and displayed their latest addition to the Lotus family of products. This was my first real look at the IBM Workplace Forms. Prior to the meeting, I didn't quite understand what the uproar around XForms was all about, but I think I get it now. For me, I see XForms as what Notes and Domino might have grown up to be one day. The beauty of the product is that the design of the form and the data users enter into it is contained within a relatively small XML file. Although you might need the Viewer to see the "pixel perfect" form, the data in the file is nothing more than ASCII text, so it will most certainly be readable by anyone in the future. I am not sure that Adobe's Acrobat eForms or Microsoft's Infopath will be able to say the same thing. I can almost envision a day in the future where this product, or a simpler version, is a part of Domino out of the box.
Along with the paper like forms that it can create, the designer can also create front end wizards to give users a friendlier UI for entering data onto the form. The configurability of the form and the elements on it is very robust. The choices were almost dizzying as they were demonstrated, but no more than the IBM R.A.D. tool.
So, big deal. It's another XML file format with a server and design tool. Well, in my mind, this XML file is akin to a Notes document that has a stored form attached, but it's contained within a single file. The file is encrypted and able to be digitally signed (and resigned without significantly increasing the file size: See Adobe!) and can easily be transported to any other system. Any workflow or scripting is contained within the file itself, so it does not require a back-end server farm to process it. The file can then be entered into your favorite document management system or the data can be extracted and transferred to a back-end RDBMS system before being archived like any other business record. The documents are able to be viewed or edited using either the Viewer software loaded on a local machine or via a browser when being served up by the Workplace Forms Server without installing a plug-in. One of the coolest features is that a user can save an incomplete form locally to be finished later, even anonymous users. No more setting cookies or saving documents in your database in case the user might come back. And this
From what we heard, the next version, 2.6, will be compliant with the recently ratified XForms 1.0 specifications. They are also working on separating the design of the form from the underlying data and workflow so they can better serve a variety of client platforms. This sounds strikingly familiar to the way Notes and Domino works. In my mind, I have always seen Notes documents as a genetically modified XML document. It contains all the data while the form contains the schema necessary for displaying it to the user. I am not sure of the costs of an implementation of the product, but I hear it's not cheap.
Hopefully, I will be able to play with this technology sometime in the near future. Mauri ce, if you're out there, I am still waiting on that email!