To InfoPath or not to InfoPath… that’s the question these days

Disclaimer: The following information is just humble opinions derived from available information publicly and in chatting with fellow SharePoint-ers. Treat them as opinions of a fellow SharePoint guy and nothing more please. It is true that I am a SharePoint MVP, however, I never have been and am not a Microsoft employee.

I still remember the first time I started teaching courses involving instruction on InfoPath 2003 (back in early 2005). It was a product way ahead of it’s time – completely built to be based on and handle XML like no other Office application. A great way to create and manage dynamic forms with or without SharePoint. No one knew where it was headed, but it had a special feel about it. Not many companies adopted it at that time due to its lack of support for web forms, but with the release of forms services (to serve web forms using SharePoint Server Enterprise), it took off like wildfire. Companies were formed solely focusing on InfoPath support, products and training (like my good buddies at Qdabra and Texcel systems ) and loads of companies were using it to replace their everyday business forms.

Present day InfoPath story
Fast forward 8 years and today the future of InfoPath seems uncertain once again. Almost no new functionality was put in InfoPath 2013.

People started whispering a while back regarding the longevity of this product. Will Microsoft make InfoPath vNext or is this the last version..? No one knows for sure to be honest (at least not that I have heard of). All we can do is look at the evidence at hand and take our best guess. So that’s what I would like to present to you today. Take it for its face value and don’t read into it too much because I am not trying to lean heavily on either side of the argument.

Evidence at hand
The last time anything was posted on the InfoPath blog was about 2 years ago:

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/infopath/

It seems that the InfoPath Tips guy has also stopped writing about the product since October, 2012.
http://infopathtips.com/

I guess there just isn’t anything new and exciting to write about, right..!?

 

For Developers
On the other hand, when you look at the InfoPath story for developers, it has gotten much better . I’m not a developer anymore for many years now, but here’s some information that even I can understand regarding how this is a major improvement for developers: “The Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Applications IDE that was integrated with InfoPath 2010 has been removed in InfoPath 2013. To write or edit form code in InfoPath 2013 now requires Visual Studio 2012 with the Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Applications 2012 add-on installed.” So there definitely has been some investment in the InfoPath realm which makes it easier to for developers to code around it.

The remainder of the information on that page pretty much talks about the same thing that InfoPath 2010 could do as well – so nothing new there

Workflow forms
When you create a new workflow form in SharePoint Designer 2013, it doesn’t generate InfoPath forms anymore like it did in 2010. It instead creates aspx forms like workflows did back in SharePoint 2007:
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/help/sharepoint-server-2013-known-issues-HA102919021.aspx
(look for the following text on the page: “Workflow form changed from InfoPath form to ASPX form”)

Well… actually you still can edit workflow forms with InfoPath if you were creating SharePoint 2010 type of workflows (which you can still make in SharePoint 2013) and not the SharePoint 2013 ones. The 2013 ones have the newer, cooler functionality of course such as looping, staging, calling web services etc. All of that is based on the Workflow Manager which must be installed on a separate server and provides the awesome workflow services to SharePoint 2013. For these workflows, the forms are back to being ASP.NET forms.

Look and feel
The interface for InfoPath 2013 matches the other Office 2013 applications. So Microsoft did spend time making that happen. Also, now you know who you are signed in as when designing the form since just like every other Office app, InfoPath has the account login info displayed on the top right. There is also another small addition under the Insert tab. You can now add online pictures (clip arts and such) in addition to uploading pictures from your machine. Small, but very useful addition.

Managed Metadata
What about Managed Metadata support you ask? This is one thing that has bothered a lot of folks. When you have a list with a column of type Managed Metadata, you can’t customize it’s list form with InfoPath since it doesn’t support that type of column. A bunch of us were hoping we would get that in this release, but no luck there. Check out the following thread for some info on this and the response by Patrick Halstead, InfoPath MVP, who talks about a new REST API endpoint for Managed Metadata that can be queried without the need for programming:
http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/sharepointitpropreview/thread/5a5372d2-017c-4edf-93a2-a7b98e2f57eb/
Definitely sounds promising if you are willing to dig into it.

 

 

InfoPath 2013 is still a supported product by Microsoft. However, Microsoft acknowledges that “In this release, InfoPath 2013 has not introduced new functionality or scenarios.”
http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/jj229830%28v=office.15%29.aspx#odc_off15_ta_WhatsNewforO15Developers_InfoPath

We, at SharePoint-Videos.com, have had an InfoPath 2010 DVD for a long time now, but decided not to produce the 2013 version. What would be the point? We don’t focus on programming InfoPath anyway so it would be the same exact information that’s in the 2010 DVD (aside from the newer looking interface and the cool new online pictures button 😉 ).

 

So you must be thinking: “what does this all mean and what should I do?”
InfoPath has not been deprecated in this release and it’s still a great tool for creating powerful forms to be used in SharePoint. Your 2010 based forms will continue to work in 2013.

I wish I could guarantee the path for you going forward with this tool, but I can’t. I doubt if anyone can at this time. This is the ‘wait and see’ period. I can definitely guarantee that Microsoft is looking to enhance the overall forms strategy for future releases. That’s for sure! Whether InfoPath will be part of that plan… I don’t know to be honest. The only fact I do know is that thousands of companies out there are using InfoPath currently. Many in a smaller capacity with a couple of forms and others who have created some business critical processes around their forms. So the hope is that if you are already using InfoPath, there will be a clear strategy to migrate them to whatever the new strategy produces. Maybe it’s simply an all powerful InfoPath vNext or maybe something else…

If you wish to dig deeper into InfoPath and ask questions or simply browse through the wealth of info out there, check out these online forums:
InfoPath Dev
Microsoft’s forum

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Publishing InfoPath 2010 form to a Form Library – video tutorial

An InfoPath form template can be submitted and hosted at a form library in SharePoint 2010. The net effect then is that users can fill out the form by directly going to that library and clicking on New Document. If you don’t have SharePoint Server Enterprise running, the users will be prompted to open the form in the InfoPath client application. With SharePoint Server Enterprise running (and Forms Services properly configured in Central Administration), the form will open up directly in the browser. You can read more on the licensing requirements here:

http://blog.visualsp.com/licensing-requirements-for-infopath-forms-on-sharepoint/

The complete InfoPath course is available here

The following video tutorial demonstrates the process of submitting InfoPath form templates to a form library:

Publish an InfoPath form to a form library in SharePoint 2010
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Spotlight on SharePoint Video Tutorial DVDs

Do you learn best by watching examples/demonstrations? Do you want the ability to be able to watch the videos anywhere you are regardless of presence of an internet connection? If the answers to these are yes and yes then you might find that our DVD-ROM based video tutorials are just what you need! We are dedicating this newsletter to highlight our top DVDs and provide you with some more information on what you should expect to find inside of each video tutorial package.
 
SharePoint 2010 Business Connectivity Services
Business Connectivity Services (BCS) is one of the Most powerful features in SharePoint 2010. You can use BCS to easily integrate data from your external systems into your SharePoint environment. The videos in this tutorial show you how to take advantage of this functionality in your SharePoint environment. Create lists in SharePoint which show your line of business application data (such as from custom databases, SAP, PeopleSoft and more) or show that information using pre-built BCS web parts. You will also learn about how to make BCS associations to relate two different connections. All of this and a whole lot more is all taught in this video tutorial package.
 
Reporting Services using SharePoint 2010
The introduction of Reporting Services 2008 R2, using the SharePoint 2010 add-in with the free Report Builder 3.0 authoring tool, provides an excellent way to create powerful reports for your business needs. These video tutorials show you how to take advantage of Report Builder’s design concepts to create reusable datasets and report parts from multiple sources. Also, easily create visualizations of your data such as sparklines, databars, charts, indicators and more. The end result is transformation of live data from multiple sources into powerful and meaningful reports inserted right within your SharePoint sites.
 
SharePoint 2010 Fundamentals
If you need to start out with the basics of SharePoint, this is the video tutorial to pick up. However, even if you are an intermediate SharePoint user already, you are guaranteed to pick up other tricks and tips along the way. It covers topics such as customizing sites, navigation, document management, list management and more.
 
SharePoint Designer 2010 Fundamentals
Once you have mastered the fundamentals of SharePoint 2010, it’s time to dive into this video tutorial which will present you with all of the opportunities you have to create no-code customizations and solutions on top of SharePoint using SharePoint Designer 2010 (a free product). SharePoint Designer lets you create views of your data (fetched from lists, libraries, databases, web services and more) directly on any page within your site. In addition, you can automate processes using workflows, customize site metadata, security, list/library schema and a whole lot more.
 
SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflows
Ready to dive deeper into all that SharePoint Designer 2010 Workflow capability has to offer? Pick up this DVD for demonstrations of various opportunities you have to produce workflows in SharePoint Designer. Learn how to create list based, reusable or site workflows and what the difference is between the three. Also, you will see how to package these workflows and transport them from one site collection to another when needed.
 
InfoPath 2010 Fundamentals
InfoPath is ‘the recommended tool’ to create and modify forms in SharePoint. Learn how to create form library, list and workflow forms using InfoPath designer. Already have forms created using Microsoft Word or Excel? The videos in this DVD will guide you on how to migrate those forms into InfoPath. You will also see how easy it is to fetch information from your data repositories like lists, libraries and even databases into your InfoPath forms to present to your users.
 
Check out our complete collection of video tutorials on DVDs. Have an idea on a subject area we should consider for our next batch of DVDs? Just comments on this post or fill out our contact form to let us know and we’ll definitely consider it!

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Free Chapter from Real World SharePoint 2010 book

Our Real World SharePoint 2010 book is finally available now. One chapter each from 22 MVPs. That’s a lot of ‘expert’ content and hopefully will be beneficial for folks looking to get deep into SharePoint 2010 (this book is also available on the Kindle).

The chapter that I wrote in the book focused on ‘Automating Business Processes using InfoPath 2010 and SharePoint Designer 2010’. Wrox publishing has decided to make this chapter available to download for free here. Enjoy!

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Licensing requirements for InfoPath forms on SharePoint

I have been asked enough times now about the licensing requirements of SharePoint to be able to show InfoPath forms in the browser that I’m finally putting together this blog entry about it :-). With InfoPath 2010, you can create SharePoint Form Library Forms, SharePoint List Forms and SharePoint Workflow Forms. Let me try to break down each of these briefly and talk about the licensing requirements.

SharePoint Form Library Forms

InfoPath’s ability to create form templates that can be posted to a form library in SharePoint dates back to to 2003 when InfoPath 2003 first came out. Once the form is published to that library, your users can click on the New Document link/button and that will open up the form. This form can only be opened in the browser if you have SharePoint Enterprise license. No exceptions here. If you don’t have enterprise licensing on your server then your users will require at least the InfoPath filler application (or InfoPath Designer application) on their machine to open up the form. If that’s not the case either, they will get an error saying that no compatible application can be found to open up the form (just like the error you would get if you didn’t have MS Word installed and you tried to open up a .doc document).

SharePoint List Forms

This functionality is new in 2010 products. SharePoint lists (such as Tasks, Announcements, Links etc.) come out of the box with ASP.NET forms that let you take actions on the list (viewing a list item, editing an item, creating a new item). You can see these forms in the browser or through SharePoint Designer 2010. If your SharePoint server has SharePoint Enterprise license, you can modify these out of the box forms or create new forms (recommended) using InfoPath 2010. If you don’t have enterprise licensing, you can still customize or create new list forms without code. However, you will need to use SharePoint Designer 2010 to do that and the resulting forms will be ASP.NET forms as well.

SharePoint Workflow Forms

This functionality is also new in 2010 products. When you create a workflow using SharePoint Designer 2010, it creates forms that users interact with as needed (for example task forms, initiation forms, association forms, forms to collect data from users etc.). If your SharePoint server has SharePoint Enterprise or Standard license applied to it, you can use InfoPath 2010 to modify these forms. If you are instead running SharePoint Foundation, you can still modify these forms, but that would have to be done using SharePoint Designer 2010 and the forms will be ASP.NET forms.

I hope this breakdown eliminates some confusion. InfoPath 2010 is an Awesome product! If you have the proper licensing, I would definitely recommend using it!

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InfoPath 2010 Training DVD

The InfoPath 2010 video tutorials DVD contains all of our video tutorials on InfoPath 2010. This DVD contains demonstrations showing you exactly how you can build form solutions using InfoPath 2010 by itself or on SharePoint 2010… without using any programming! Here are some of the topics you will learn by watching the videos on this DVD:

  • Introduction to InfoPath 2010
  • Convert Word and Excel forms to InfoPath
  • Enhance forms using Validation and Formatting
  • Fetch data from SharePoint Lists and Databases into your forms
  • Publish form templates to form library
  • Publish forms using content type
  • Create SharePoint list forms using InfoPath
  • and more…

Note: Just in case there is any confusion – this is a DVD to be played on a computer and not your DVD player.

You can use the following coupon code to get 10% off the price of the single user license DVD: SPVideos10.

The complete list of all videos and purchase information are available on the site: https://www.visualsp.com/products/

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