Chris’s SharePoint Reflections

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  • Chris Zhong

    IT consultant Australia








Archive for October, 2008

Make your InfoPath investment worthwhile- Part2 Integrate InfoPath with SharePoint

Posted by chrissyz on October 10, 2008

 

Here’re a few popular places where you can employ InfoPath forms for enterprise content management in SharePoint Server 2007:

·         Form Library

One of the ways you can use InfoPath with SharePoint is by creating a Form library on your SharePoint site. The InfoPath form library is the main integration point between WSS and InfoPath. All the documents stored within it are based on a specific InfoPath form template.

Pros:

Ø  Quick form development (reference part 1)

Ø  Property promotion and demotion – Not get schema validated though

Ø  User has the flexibility of working with documents in their native client application or online through browser interface. Properties easily bound into document and visible/editable offline.

Ø  Lookup data can be brought from simple xml file to any LOB applications and databases.

Cons:

Ø  Direct communication from a web form to a database is not supported. If you want the forms data to be saved to a database, the InfoPath client has to be installed on your computer. Or you’d have to construct a web service, which InfoPath can use indirectly communicate with the database.

Ø  The data source for lookup can’t be cross domain

Ø  Form service is hard to deploy a standard dev-test- production promotion deployment in an automated fashion. It is almost impossible to automatically publish the forms to a different environment without manual process

  • Document Information Panel (DIP)

A document information panel is a form that is displayed within the client application, and contains fields for the document metadata. .

Pros:

Ø  Enable users to specify all the properties on a document at once, in one place, at any point when they are working without having to leave the Office client application

Ø  For SharePoint documents – 2007 Office client application auto generate the DIP based on the metadata schema of the content type assigned to the document

Ø  For document stored in WSS- the values are promoted back to the document library as columns. Users can edit document column values either at the Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 document library level, or from within the Office system client application for the document

Ø  User can have same DIP template for multiple office applications

Ø  User can either create DIP through MOSS 2007 interface or through InfoPath Client

Cons:

Ø  Office 2007 only (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)

Ø  InfoPath client need to be installed on the machine

Ø  DIP template with restricted security will not work. You have to provide Domain or Full Trust Security to DIP form template

Ø  Can have code behind DIP but the deployment process is not that straight forward

 

·         Workflow.

 Pros:

Ø  Browser enabled InfoPath form hosted in custom .aspx page

Ø  Custom workflow design in SPD or VSTO

Ø  Browser enabled view for mobile device

Ø  Driven by column value (Two way promotion, demotion)

Ø  Information Right Management. IRF protect for both form template and form content  (smart client only)

Ø  Digital Signature.

 Cons:

Ø  Hard to debug

Ø  Can’t handle very complex scenarios, need to incorporate with BizTalk

If you are putting together an enterprise content management solution in Office SharePoint Server, and you’d like your user to be able to interact with your custom forms in the client application and the browser, it might be worth your while to take a look at InfoPath 2007 and Office Forms Services.

 

 

 

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Make your InfoPath investment worthwhile – Part 1 Why use InfoPath

Posted by chrissyz on October 6, 2008

In Microsoft office suite, the trend is:

·         Document-> word

·         Spreadsheet-> Excel

·         Forms-> InfoPath

InfoPath is designed for efficient forms management and becoming more mature. It is now a great idea for organizations to use InfoPath 2007 for their form development.

The strong points of InfoPath:

1.       Build on Xml, easy for organization to reuse data and connect to LOB

The data stored in InfoPath can be easily separated from the form and reformatted or reused in a variety of ways. This enables form designer to integrate form data into existing business process. For example, look at the use the form in SharePoint. InfoPath’s views and formatting elements are self-contained in the XSN file, which makes the InfoPath form very portable. On the other hand, if you use SP Designer to design a form in SharePoint library and submit it to a list item, the forms used here are very much tied to the lists they depend on, thus, are not very portable.

 

2.       Rapidly develop forms

InfoPath’s OOTB drag and drop support for form controls, table layouts etc allow the power user create a flexible form that is designed to accommodate the users. However, InfoPath does not support the following advanced scenarios like: tabs, custom AJAX/DHTML, multiple/nested forms. Meanwhile, InfoPath has a lot of features like rules, formulas, data validation, data connections, conditional formatting etc, which makes most form development does not need code. It out-weighted other form designing tools on this point.

As for developer experience, InfoPath2007 has strong capabilities allowing developers to efficiently develop and deploy form solutions. It has new object model which is based on .NET 2.0 and incorporate with System.xml. The code is written in common develop platforms (VSTO, VSTA). The coding experience is much more familiar and handy.

 

3.       Form services  VS Smart Client

The core concept in 2007 release is “design once”. It means you only need to design one form and it will work on both the smart client and form services.  You only need to compile once, deploy once, and send customer one URL, and InfoPath will work for them whether or not they have InfoPath.

An InfoPath form can be opened in:

1) Any browser (e.g. IE, Firefox, Safar etc.)

2) Desktop App

 

Most of the features are still available in both smart client and form services like most controls, business logic (rules, data validation, conditional formatting), new object model etc.  However, you can optimize for Desktop, but you cannot optimize for a specific browser or an environment. This is a limitation with any form tools which support variety of tools. The choice of controls is limited as well. The following table is a comparison between form services & smart client

No

InfoPath Form Services

InfoPath 2007 Smart Client

1

It support cross platform like (Unix/Linux.)

It doesn’t support 

2

Don’t require InfoPath Installed in all User Machine

Required to have InfoPath Installed in all User Machine

3

Form accessible through web browser.

Form accessible through Office InfoPath 2007

4

Browser form relies on the server for a variety of form processing operations, require more communication to exchange data between the browser and the form server

InfoPath client doesn’t need to communicate with the form server as frequently. This is because the InfoPath client processes most forms locally on the user’s computer.

6

Does not support all features of InfoPath2007

Like Design & Compatibility checker

It support full features

7

Does not support all the controls of InfoPath2007

it support full controls

 

As far as which method is best, it depends on your situation.  Is the InfoPath client readily deployed to all users?   If the client has Forms Server already, and they are unsure about the availability of the InfoPath client for all users, I would recommend browser forms. The biggest selling point to clients for using Forms Services is that it doesn’t require a client app to be installed on users’ machines. From a client’s perspective, despite the fact that you do lose some functionality using Form Services, allowing the end-user to view forms through a browser far out-weighs any Form Services limitations. I have found the limitations in Forms Services to be minimal. You still get the majority of the OOTB conditional formatting, field validation and submit functionality.

 

4.       Automate data-driven business process

InfoPath 2007 has a very deep integration with the rest of MS office suite, especially SharePoint and Outlook. For example, you can integrate forms in outlook and promote fields and properties in Outlook folder. As for SharePoint, InfoPath can be used in workflow, form library, publishing content type, archiving, document information panel etc. I will talk more about it in the second part.

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