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What are InfoPath and InfoPath Forms Services?
Together with Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010, InfoPath 2010 facilitates creation of end-to-end solutions on SharePoint Server 2010 that feature powerful forms together with enterprise scale workflow and access to key business data. InfoPath was designed, at its core, as a powerful XML editing engine that enables end users to interface easily with data.
Together with the powerful collaboration features of SharePoint, InfoPath 2010 is a key part of the toolset you need to rapidly create applications that meet your enterprise application needs. InfoPath 2010 and InfoPath Forms Services in SharePoint Server 2010 empower business users to automate their own business processes that collect, manage and share information. IT departments, developers, and power users can create powerful business applications on the SharePoint platform using InfoPath forms to interact with external data, to drive workflow, and to enhance web pages. User's familiarity with the Microsoft Office and SharePoint experience makes creating, using, and improving business processes with InfoPath 2010 forms quicker and easier.
Microsoft InfoPath 2010 enables you to design and fill out electronic forms, such as expense reports, time cards, surveys, and insurance forms. You can do this by using standard form controls, such as text boxes or list boxes, or insert controls that offer users the flexibility to add, remove, replace, or hide sections of a form to make a richer user experience. The forms that you design can range from simple forms for collecting data from your immediate team to complex forms that are part of a much larger business process. InfoPath forms can be used on their own, or you can design them to work with existing databases or Web services. Forms can be published to and accessed from a common location on a company network, such as a shared folder, a Web server, or a library located on a Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 or Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 site.
When filling out a form in InfoPath 2010, users can use familiar, document-like features. For example, they can check spelling in their form or insert formatted text and graphics into certain fields. Depending on the design of the form template, users may also be able to merge the data from multiple forms into a single form or export the data to other programs. If a form template is browser-enabled, users who don't have InfoPath installed on their computer can fill out the form in a Web browser or on a mobile device instead.
If you use InfoPath 2010 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 running InfoPath Forms Services, you can design browser-compatible form templates in InfoPath and enable them for use on internal and external Web sites. This lets you share business forms with a variety of users, including employees, customers, suppliers, and partners. Users aren't required to have InfoPath installed on their computers to fill out a form, nor are they required to download anything extra from the Web. All users need is access to a browser, such as Windows Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, or Mozilla Firefox. If users do have InfoPath installed on their computers, they can display and fill out the form in InfoPath rather than a browser.
What are the components of InfoPath?
InfoPath consists of the following components: InfoPath Designer 2010, InfoPath Filler 2010, and SharePoint Server 2010 running InfoPath Forms Services. InfoPath Designer and InfoPath Filler are installed on client computers as part of Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010. If you want to publish InfoPath forms as browser-compatible forms, you must have access to an installation of SharePoint Server 2010 running InfoPath Forms Services.
InfoPath Designer 2010 To create and publish an InfoPath form template (.xsn), you use InfoPath Designer 2010. When you design a form template (.xsn) file, you create a single file that contains the supporting files that implement the layout, views, and logic upon which a particular InfoPath form solution depends. When users fill out a form, they are actually filling out a form (.xml) file instance, which is based on the associated form template. Using InfoPath Designer you can quickly create forms that include pre-built layout sections, out-of-the-box rules, improved rules management, and varied styles. In addition, InfoPath Designer now includes a number of different form templates, so you don't need to define all parts of the form from scratch.
InfoPath Filler 2010 With InfoPath Filler, people who are filling out forms have a simple and easy-to-use UI and can choose to save a draft, save a local copy, or save as a PDF and have a local record of the form. All the unnecessary functionality for designing forms has been removed for people who just want to open and fill out a form.
InfoPath Forms Services Improved parity between InfoPath Filler 2010 forms and InfoPath browser forms in SharePoint Server 2010 ensures greater consistency for users who are filling out forms. For example, functionality available in both environments includes: Bulleted, numbered, and plain lists; Multiple selection list boxes; Combo boxes; Picture buttons; Hyperlink capabilities; Choice group and section; Filtering functionality; Date and time controls; and People pickers.
Additionally, InfoPath 2010 is integrated with SharePoint Designer 2010 to enable you to create and customize the forms associated with Business Connectivity Services (BCS) external lists and workflow solutions.
How can InfoPath be used?
You can use InfoPath to collect business data from the people you work with, including your colleagues, partners, suppliers, and customers. InfoPath forms can be straightforward, simple forms that are used by several people in a small workgroup. For example, a 10-person sales team can use an InfoPath form to informally collect and share information about sales calls. The data in those forms can be merged into a single summary report that is sent to management each month.
Alternatively, organizations can design highly sophisticated forms that are connected to existing corporate databases or integrated into existing business systems. For example, the developers in your information technology (IT) department can design an InfoPath form template to manage the expense reporting process for your organization. The form template can include views and business logic features that enable different categories of users to submit the expense report, review it, approve it, and reimburse the submitter.
New features introduced in InfoPath 2010 and InfoPath Forms Services make it easy to build more powerful SharePoint applications quickly, such as:
Customizing the forms used to create, view, and edit SharePoint list items
Creating workflow applications together with SharePoint Designer 2010
The InfoPath Form Web part, which allows you to create powerful web parts without writing code, and to connect them with other web parts to create data mashups.
The following list outlines some of the benefits of using InfoPath:
Office system integration InfoPath works with a number of other programs and servers in the Microsoft Office system, including Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Access. For example, you can design and fill out InfoPath forms in e-mail messages, export form data to worksheets, submit form data to a database, or query data from a SharePoint list. In addition, developers can embed InfoPath forms — without menus, toolbars, or other aspects of the user interface — into custom applications.
Reusable data The data that users enter in an InfoPath form doesn't have to remain locked inside that form forever; it can be reformatted or reused in a variety of ways. This flexibility enables the developers in your organization to integrate the form data into existing business processes. For example, the data collected in sales reports forms can be used to update your company's Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. This allows people throughout the company to access the data when and where they need it, so that they can make better-informed decisions. With more timely updates on sales numbers, it is easier for other groups, such as operations and finance, to make accurate forecasts of production and costs.
Consistent, accurate data InfoPath includes a number of features that help users avoid data-entry errors and fill out forms more quickly. For example, you can use formulas to automatically calculate mathematical values for users, use conditional formatting to draw the user's attention to data, or enable the spelling checker so that users can check for spelling errors before submitting their forms. In addition, when users fill out a form, the data that they enter can be checked for data validation errors. If your form template is connected to a database or Web service, users won't be able to submit data until they correct these errors. This helps you ensure that the data that you collect is accurate and error-free, and that it conforms to whatever standards you specify.
Low overhead Unlike paper forms, which have to be reprinted when a change occurs, InfoPath form templates can easily be modified and republished. In addition, InfoPath automatically detects when a form template has been updated so that users always have the latest version.
Offline support InfoPath forms don't have to be filled out while a user is connected to a network. Users can save forms to their computer, work on them offline, and then submit them to the corporate network when they are reconnected. This is especially useful for people who have intermittent or limited access to network resources, such as employees who travel frequently.
Fewer forms Instead of distributing and maintaining multiple paper forms for the same business process, you can create a single form template in InfoPath that includes multiple views. For example, in a form template for expense reports, you can create one view for employees who enter expenses, a second view for managers who approve expenses, and a third view for employees who process reimbursements. By default, users can switch views by selecting a view from the Current View drop-down list on the Home tab. You can also create rules that automatically switch views when users open the form, submit the form, or click a button on the form.
Flexible controls In addition to standard controls, such as text boxes and list boxes, InfoPath includes a number of controls such as repeating tables, choice groups, and optional sections. These types of controls let you design a flexible form template that accommodates your users. For example, in a form template for expense reports, you can use a repeating table to allow users to enter only as many expense items as they need.
You can also create template parts, which are portions of a form template that can be saved and reused in multiple form templates. A typical template part consists of controls and a data source and may also include features such as data connections, data validation, and rules. Using template parts can save you time and help ensure that the form templates in your organization are consistent in tone, structure, and behavior.
What is the target audience for InfoPath?
InfoPath 2010 is designed for both advanced business users and IT pros and developers, depending on the type of forms-based solution a user or organization wants to create. Users of all levels, however, can fill out forms.
For Advanced Business Users
With InfoPath 2010, you can design sophisticated electronic forms to quickly and cost-effectively gather information required for an immediate business need. You can customize forms with features such as calculated fields, setting default values, conditional formatting, and ScreenTips, all without writing code. If your organization also uses SharePoint Server 2010, you can create these forms for information stored in SharePoint lists. Storing information in a shared location (such as a SharePoint list) makes it easy for team members to use the information, facilitating collaboration.
In addition, with improvements to the form-filling experience in InfoPath Filler and interoperability with other Microsoft Office 2010 applications, including Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010 (formerly known as Microsoft Office Groove), you can give users more options when filling out forms, including completion online, offline, and on mobile devices. You can also use InfoPath 2010 to customize document information panels in Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft Excel applications to collect metadata about documents.
For IT Pros and Developers
InfoPath 2010 provides a complete environment for the design, development, deployment, hosting (together with SharePoint Server), collection, aggregation, and integration of electronic forms. Built from the ground up using World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) XML recommendations, InfoPath 2010 is designed to work with your existing infrastructure and process management environment.
For advanced forms for departmental and enterprise business processes, you can create composite applications and workflow sequences with InfoPath 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 — using little or no code. InfoPath 2010 can be fully integrated with SharePoint Server 2010.
You can connect InfoPath forms with other data sources and line-of-business systems such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, and SAP using SharePoint Server 2010 Business Connectivity Services, Web services, and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and REST (representational state transfer) Web services. Your InfoPath solutions can also be portable using SharePoint Foundation 2010 solutions file (.wsp) and SharePoint site template (.stp) formats, so you can easily move the application from site to site and server to server. In addition, InfoPath now stores URLs as relative (instead of absolute) to enable portability.
These are just a few examples of InfoPath 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 capabilities to help you create powerful forms-driven business process automation solutions.
How InfoPath works with other programs and technologies
To get the most out of InfoPath, you will likely want to use it with other programs, servers, and technologies, including the ones listed in the following table.