Microsofts InfoPath Is on the Warpath

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2003-03-10 Print this article Print

It's clear that the system strategy is evolving faster than the apps themselves.

First it was NetDocs, then it was XDocs and now its InfoPath. Microsoft envisions that someday InfoPath and the rest of the dominant Office suite will not only be ideal word processors and spreadsheets but will also be the leaders for connecting desktop clients to back-end business applications, no matter where those applications reside.

This is the strategy that has led Microsoft to flaunt Office as a "system." Its clear, though, that the system strategy is evolving faster than the applications themselves. That said, Microsoft is getting close to adding real value to the ubiquitous Office, and InfoPath is the cornerstone of the strategy.

To be clear, Office isnt a system at all. Many of its components still operate independently. For example, OneNote is a nifty note-taking application that doesnt share the data store in the note-taking application in Outlook. InfoPath, when used as an offline client, adds another store. Word and Excel are moving to XML, but Outlook doesnt use XML. This doesnt mean Im not impressed with Office 2003 (see the review). It is clearly the best office suite out there, despite real competition (in the form of price) from Suns StarOffice and from OpenOffice.

InfoPath, meanwhile, is the slickest piece of software Ive seen in a long time. The ability to create custom dynamic forms is going to be a core part of many organizations futures. In comparison with browser-based applications, which are difficult to develop and lack the functionality of rich client interfaces, InfoPath applications are easy to develop and only moderately more difficult to deploy.

But Microsoft may not fully understand the market for InfoPath. For example, company officials claimed that government tax forms would be easier to use if they were dynamic and based on InfoPath. Unfortunately, tax forms typically must remain static to conform to legal standards—InfoPaths dynamic form capability in this case is an inherently bad idea.

Highly structured forms that contain electronic signatures are a good play for Adobe and PDF. Adobe, however, needs to come up with a strategy for more dynamic client-based forms. Well see evidence to this effect fairly soon, I predict. In the meantime, there is InfoPath—which will change how users interact with business systems.

In what year do you predict InfoPath will be relevant? Write to me at

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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