John Day | 15 January 2013
Since the first release in 2003, Microsoft has pushed InfoPath further with each new version. I take a look at InfoPath 2013 to see how much further it has come.
In a way InfoPath opened my eyes to exactly
what XML is and its benefits.
Its powerful form designing ability along with
XML structure under the hood allows you to create excellent data
forms for managing information in a precise way and produce the
results you need.
Microsoft continued to push InfoPath with great pace. Even the differences between InfoPath 2003 to 2003 Service Pack 1 were a warm welcome to form designers. InfoPath 2010 pushed us closer to SharePoint allowing users to modify the built in SharePoint list forms and properties with considerable ease. So with the release of InfoPath 2013 I had anticipated a number of improvements that would further increase InfoPath's flexibility and compatibility with Office and with SharePoint.
I installed Office 2013 professional onto my Windows 8 based laptop, I opened up the application and started to play. After 30 minutes of playing I was getting a bit frustrated trying to find something new and positive about the application.
After about an hour of playing I found very little if nothing at all has been added to InfoPath 2013 and a significant amount had been removed.
The InfoPath 2013 interface within Windows 8
Apart from the
Developer Tab (explained later) that stood out like a sore thumb to
a familiar InfoPath designer, the other ribbon tabs are the same
with pretty much the same arrangement of commands. The only
new feature is the Online Pictures command on the Insert
tab. Online Pictures is pretty much the new clipart for Office
2013. However, the online pictures is nothing more than a neat
and tidy way of connecting to online locations for images which you
can in fact do from the normal Pictures command.
Feature 2: It took a while but eventually my eyes were drawn to the top right corner of the application window where you will see your account login. One nice little feature of this allows you to change login accounts whilst you are designing your form templates; this allows you to publish form templates with the right permissions, and test rules properly where the conditions and actions are based on the user and their role and not just preview under a chosen role. This feature is in the other Microsoft Office Word applications so it is not specifically a new InfoPath feature.
Feature 3: So the Developer tab, what is on it? Well, nothing as far as the InfoPath interface is concerned. That is because any development behind the InfoPath regular interface has now been removed. To write or edit form code in InfoPath Designer 2013, you need Visual Studio 2012 and the Visual Studio Tools for Applications 11 add-on.
The programming experience itself has not changed but you can now use the full Visual Studio development experience when writing managed code for your InfoPath forms. This was kind of expected because InfoPath 2010 was limited to using .Net 2.0 framework whereas InfoPath 2013 creates the form code in .Net 4.0 allowing you greater power of API while writing code into InfoPath. So the removal is to allow greater power and ability to InfoPath forms.
I've always thought of InfoPath the same way I thought of any office application or web application. The interface only provides so much, but with the programming/development tools behind it you are given a much greater range of power. InfoPath seems to now focus on providing that power to the developers and concentrating less on expanding the end-users abilities through the interface.
In short, it seems Microsoft has not pushed the InfoPath experience for end-users any further. Instead their goal of bringing Office closer to the web has been directed at the lower development aspect. Personally I believe the interface had a lot more to offer, Managed Metadata, easier access to SharePoint SOAP services, think Maybe Info has been taken as far as it can to information workers creating codeless form templates.
Microsoft have endeavoured to push office and the web closer together which for InfoPath includes bring it closer to SharePoint and Cloud solutions. It seems their focus is to provide the closest bond by focusing on the developer's ability and less on improving the actual interface for give better functionality for end-users. Office is moving forwards and upwards in terms of solution development, only time will tell if this is sufficient for the investing businesses.
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