SharePoint Conference 2014 aftermath – Customizing Forms

As a blog primarily focused on the technical aspects of building applications in SharePoint, I won’t drone on about the far-reaching impacts of “The End of the InfoPath Era” – this was already announced in the weeks leading up this year’s SharePoint Conference, and then (sort of, but more on that later) given more clarity during the Conference itself. In short, although end-of-life support for InfoPath will extend until 2023, last year’s release will remain the final one to include any new features or functionality, while fixes & patches will be at the pace you’d expect from a Microsoft product on its way to sunset.

Sitting in the room at SPC14 with hundreds of my fellow SharePoint developers, users & executives, I got a first-hand glimpse of what Microsoft sees as its path, or really paths, forward. We knew Microsoft meant business when the session was given a primo time slot & 3 Microsoft employees to present; in the end, what we got was a scatter shot of four possible options for replacing custom InfoPath forms:

  1. Using Excel Surveys, an apparently little known feature for creating custom forms directly inside an Excel document & that write to a worksheet therein.
  2. Using a new, yet to be released “Forms Over SharePoint Lists” web-based designer for creating custom forms in SharePoint 2013 (and yes, that acronym is FOSL, pronounced ‘fossil’ by the MS reps themselves – insert irony joke here).
  3. Possibly using Word for structured document forms – this I say “possibly” because MS committed only to providing a roadmap for this option by the end of 2014; no actual product yet.
  4. Using Access Apps, which if you used them in SP2010, seem reminiscent of the Office Business Apps (OBAs) that were touted then.

With such a wide range of choices, and comparatively little guidance on when to use which & where, I couldn’t help but think the flexibility & power of the CorasWorks Actions Framework provides a much-needed alternative. In the coming months, I suspect more vendors will try to fill the “custom forms” gap with new products – but we’ve been building apps with & improving our Actions Framework, including our web-based designer (the Actions Wizard) for more than 8 years now; this is a feature set CorasWorks knows well!

And as an architect that’s designed & implemented 100+ custom applications on SharePoint, I also know just creating a custom form a solution does not make; what if you want to apply a custom form to more than one list, across multiple sites, site collections or web apps, with a single centralized definition – none of the MS approaches facilitate this, while the CorasWorks platform has for years. Or how about custom forms that are exposed depending on the current values or stage an item is in, can trigger Workflows anywhere in the SharePoint farm, or are security trimmed based on the currently logged in user? All core features of the CorasWorks Actions.

Plus, in the coming months, while others are just starting to explore the world of InfoPath alternatives, CorasWorks will be expanding our Action framework further to include integration with other data sources & providing greater flexibility & customizability in the form UI.

So while the InfoPath announcement and SPC14 have put the topic of custom forms for SharePoint at the forefront, CorasWorks has been building & improving our platform – which includes this key feature – since the SharePoint 2003 days.

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