The great Office Server smorgasbord, part 3: Forms and flexibility with Office Forms Server 2007
For businesses reliant on forms processing or wanting internal business intelligence capability, the combination of InfoPath 2007 and Forms Server 2007 is unbeatableFollow @infoworld
The great Office Server smorgasbord is back and ready to tackle forms processing, possibly the most powerful use case for SharePoint and Office we’ve seen until now. To get through this one, we’ll need to start with a discussion of InfoPath 2007, then look at the basic Forms Services included with Office SharePoint Server and finally check out what else you get once you spring for the full-on form power of Forms Server 2007.
InfoPath begins as a good attempt to turn potential reams of paper into a more organized electronic format, but with the 2007 version you’ll be able to extend that concept quite a bit further. Instead of merely “electronifying” paper-based forms, InfoPath can turn those forms into living documents, information gatherers, and even business intelligence tools. You get access to those capabilities by tying InfoPath forms into existing back-end data resources, something InfoPath 2007 can do on its own with user toil, but is made much easier with the addition of SharePoint.
Working with InfoPath is a little like working with a visual Web page editor such as FrontPage. The InfoPath forms development environment presents options for look and feel, cell type, and back-end data sources, and users put them together into a usable form. That said, this can be much harder than it looks. Microsoft has tried to make it easier, first by including a few basic forms with InfoPath 2007, including meeting agendas and expense reports, and then offering the Microsoft Forms Template Library, which InfoPath users can access from Microsoft’s Web site.
Head to the library and you can download a wide variety of form templates, including invoices, purchase orders, project reports, time sheets and more. Downloading one of these templates and editing to suit your needs is undoubtedly easier than creating a form from scratch. InfoPath also supports converting forms from Word 2007 and Excel 2007 simply using Office 2007’s new XML-based file format.
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If we had a wish list for InfoPath 2007, the first item would be that Microsoft relax the enterprise orientation of InfoPath. Although you can bolt Forms Server 2007 onto a small or midsize business’ SharePoint infrastructure, InfoPath is part of only the Enterprise version of Microsoft Office. And there’s no special SMB version or pricing. That’s an oversight when you consider how many smaller businesses would like to make use of InfoPath as a homegrown business intelligence tool.