Why use InfoPath?


Update 1/31/14: InfoPath 2013 is the last InfoPath!


I'm surprised how often people in my SharePoint end user and developer classes don't know what InfoPath is, or if they do, where it can be used in SharePoint. Any discussion of InfoPath leads to a discussion of the future of InfoPath and if it is going away, what the alternatives are. What follows are some of my class notes…

A brief history of InfoPath

  • Formally named XDocs and NetDocs (*)
  • A patented way of authoring XML using DHTML views and XSLT (*)
  • Released in 2003 as part of Microsoft Office Professional 2003
  • Versions: 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013 (matching the releases of Office)
  • Started getting a lot of attention with the release of InfoPath Forms Services with the Enterprise Edition of MOSS 2007


InfoPath can be used:

  • To create custom stand alone forms. InfoPath templates can used as library or Content Type templates. When the user submits the form the data can be saved back to a SharePoint library as an XML file or to other destinations such as email or network shares. In SharePoint, saved data is often then processed using workflows to approve the content or to use the data to update other lists or external systems. (The XML format is easy for developers to work with.)
  • To create custom forms for lists. These forms save their data back into a SharePoint list, not as an XML file, but as a list item with the data saved as item properties/columns.
  • To create workflow forms in both SharePoint Designer and Visual Studio workflows. (But SharePoint 2013 workflows only create ASPX forms.)


Reasons to use InfoPath:

  • Rich editor to create a form that can look like anything you want.
  • Rules based business logic to hide, show, format and validate fields.
  • External connectivity to offer dropdown lists populated from SharePoint lists, SQL server and many other sources.
  • While a forms designer needs a licensed copy of InfoPath, the end user only needs a web browser. Users do not need any InfoPath product or version if the forms are hosted in the Enterprise Edition of SharePoint 2007, 2010 or 2013.
  • Lots of resources are available: classes, books, blog articles, videos
  • No knowledge of JavaScript, jQuery, XML HTML or CSS needed to create custom forms and custom validation.
  • Multiple views of data. Example: A user might see 50 fields when filling out the form. The approvers might see a 10 field summary and after approval or rejection the user might only see 2 fields and a comments field.
  • Optional bidirectional data (edit a property in the InfoPath form and it updates in the library metadata, edit library metadata and it updates in the InfoPath form - great for workflows!)


Reasons not to use InfoPath

  • Yet another tool to learn
  • Unknown future - InfoPath 2013 is largely unchanged from 2010 and SharePoint Designer 2013 workflows only create ASPX forms.
  • There are 3rd party solutions for forms design in SharePoint
  • You must have the Enterprise Edition of SharePoint, otherwise every user must own InfoPath


Benefits unique to developers:

  • Much less work to create Initiation, Association and Task forms for Visual Studio workflows
  • Much less work to customize SharePoint Designer workflow forms
  • Everything is XML!
  • No JavaScript, HTML, etc...


Disadvantages to developers:

  • We like to write code!
  • There's always something that we want to do that InfoPath can't do but we can do by writing more code.
  • Yet another tool to learn.
  • There's always a better tool somewhere.
  • Need to buy at least one copy of InfoPath.


Interesting comments by others…

Andrew Connell says "I do not use InfoPath any more & I do not recommend people use InfoPath going forward." http://www.andrewconnell.com/blog/my-thoughts-infopath-2013-the-future-of-infopath Read all of the comments!

The Office SharePoint blog: "InfoPath is our integrated forms solution for the foreseeable future"
Options to Create Forms in SharePoint 2013 http://blogs.office.com/b/sharepoint/archive/2013/03/04/options-to-create-forms-in-sharepoint-2013.aspx 

MSDN: "In this release, InfoPath 2013 has not introduced new functionality or scenarios."

Glen Furnas at sharepoint-community.net: "Simply put, InfoPath is a multi-purpose product that’s been put to use in a wide variety of ways, and no single alternative will ever replace it in all its roles."

Owen Runnals: "In the end I feel custom ASPX pages are the safest bet since they've worked since SharePoint 2007."


Alternatives to InfoPath?

ASPX Forms

maybe Microsoft LightSwitch: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/vstudio/jj969620.aspx

Microsoft Access 2013 / Access Apps (but no workflow support)

Nintex Forms: http://www.nintex.com/en-US/Products/Pages/NintexForms.aspx

K2 smartforms: http://www.k2.com/platform/formshttp://www.k2.com/blog/k2-smartforms-vs-microsoft-infopath


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mike, I've been using Infopath for years and feel it is a valuable tool. I'm curious to see what the path forward for the product is though. Great article!

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