Forms Processing Emergence - JavaScripted | WebReference

Forms Processing Emergence - JavaScripted

Forms Processing Emergence - JavaScripted

2004 has already been dubbed the Year of Linux, the Year of the Portlet, and the Year of Home PC media centers. However, Web and JavaScript developers in particular will want to pay attention to form processing because developments are coming fast and furious into the Web world.

In this regard we track three major technologies - Adobe's new Acrobat XML Architecture which uses JavaScript as its scripting agent and a combination of PDF and XML (but notably not XForms); Microsoft's InfoPath uses XML+XSLT+XHTML (but again not XForms) to deliver a powerful Windows-desktop solution for forms processing; InfoPath uses JScript extensively but can also use VBScript and eventually VB.NET or C#.NET. Finally, on October 14, 2003, the recommended XForms 1.0. This event had been long anticipated by a host of vendors large and small, meaning that companies (such as MobilForm, Mozquito, IBM, Novell, and Oracle) have a variety of XForms tools available. The common thread among all these solutions is some XML base and JavaScript as macro programming or scripting agent.

The importance of Forms Processing cannot be understated. Enterprise Application Integration is the marching orders of the day (and have been a top CEO/CIO priority for the past ten years - according to Forrester and Cambridge Technology Partners). This integration is being seen in ERP, SCM, CRM, and other unifying enterprise applications. But even those silos of information are being interconnected with Web-based Portal interfaces or Digital DashBoards and Forms-based messaging workflows and services. Portals combined with Forms-based messaging will be the essential glue that helps unite processes and data at the front-end just as CORBA, J2EE, and Web Services unites them on the back end in the server space.

The contest is now open as to whether that front end will be a Web-based solution, a Windows-desktop, or an XML-driven, any device solution. Many apologies to other EAI solution vendors; but as in the Democratic presidential contest one has to highlight the leading contenders. What now follows is a look at Adobe Acrobat XML Architecture, Microsoft's InfoPath and the various XForms software flavors with an eye towards integration and the role of JavaScript in each.

Adobe Acrobat/XML Architecture

Adobe Acrobat has become the preferred delivery vehicle for cross platform high quality document publishing. While Microsoft's Excel, PowerPoint, and Word formats have greater market volume, their lack of cross platform delivery capability and overlapping functionality cut off their appeal in data integration settings. The move to an XML file format in Office 2003 might have changed things; but proprietary extensions, no cross document integration and a confused VBA/VSA scripting model continue to cripple the Microsoft Office entry. However, there is a significant challenge with Macromedia's FlashPaper and RoboHelp's FlashHelp with their embedded ActionScript and cross platform delivery coupled with an efficient storage of the many elements of a document, including many multimedia types. But Acrobat still has the lead because Acrobat files not only carry bitmap images, vector graphics, audio, animation, and highly formatted text with fonts; but also increasing access control functionality - encryption, signatures, partial or complete access privileges, etc. Add to this the ability to control whether users can or cannot copy, markup and/or review content; plus advanced forms display, entry and handling including import and export from a variety of flat file, database, and Soap/Web Services connectors - and suddenly Acrobat can be seen as having a major role in forms as well as document management.

All of Acrobat's functionality, which can be deployed in offline and online environs, is enabled by a JavaScript stored internally in the PDF. This JavaScript is like Macromedia's ActionScript for Flash. For example, Acrobat's JavaScript follows the ECMAScript 262 standard while employing over two dozen special objects ranging from App and Certificate objects through Form and Link objects to Security Handler and Soap objects. In short, JavaScript is crucial to both the internal/offline operation as well as the online/external data integration of PDFs.

In the current Acrobat 6.0, Adobe supports XMP-XML Metadata Platform for storing, archiving, searching and content management information. XFDF allows for import and export of Acrobat form information from/to flat files. Adobe server-side products are geared towards XML+XSchema based generation of forms plus data integration through XML Web Services. By mid-2004, Adobe will have further enhanced this capability with an IDE-based Forms Designer and Debugger tied into its new XML enhanced XDP for compound documents. XDP links PDF with XML. This XML-based super-container uses XSLT, XSL-FO, XSD, and SVG for document management; JavaScript, XSLT, and XSD for forms management, and XMP and RDF for document metadata. The key feature here is that Acrobat will be able to read and write any XML-based document or form. In addition, PDF functionality is now imbedded in XML.

The bottom line is that Adobe Acrobat has become a front runner not only in completed document distribution (through its PDF-extended position), but also with cross platform forms processing. While there are still issues with cost/licensing, performance, and efficient deployment, Acrobat with XML has become a major player position with forms as well as document processing.

Microsoft InfoPath 2003

At its core, InfoPath 2003 is a forms designer and filler application that is part of the Office 2003 professional edition (as well as a standalone product - about $200US). InfoPath is heavily committed to XML using XML 2, XML Namespaces, and XSD for basic XML data access and validation operations. XPath and XSLT is used to format and transform both internal and external data to and from forms and persistent datastores. DOM, CSS, and XHTML is used for data form display and entry, while XSD, DOM, and JScript is used for data validations and error control. XML DSig is used for data signatures tied in with Windows security services; and SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI is used for Web Services read/write access to external datasources. The only major XML technologies that InfoPath is not using are XACL for access control, XML Encryption for security, XML Query for accessing data from XML files, SVG and SMIL for graphics display, and XForms for forms design.

Created: March 27, 2003
Revised: March 10, 2004