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Visual Studio 2005 Gets Its Own Toolkit for InfoPath Forms

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  1. Visual Studio 2005 Gets Its Own Toolkit for InfoPath Forms
  2. Should You Bother with This Beta?
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Visual Studio 2005 includes a toolkit for building XML-based InfoPath form templates. Learn what it's all about, and what it might help you achieve.
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Visual Studio 2005 Gets Its Own Toolkit for InfoPath Forms

Maybe you haven't checked this out yet, but Beta 2 of Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 offers more than just revised builds of Beta 1 components. One added attraction comes as a surprise to many developers: a new toolkit for building rich, XML-based InfoPath forms.

In keeping with the rather clunky nomenclature applied to other ingredients in the beta, the new addition is called the "InfoPath Toolkit 2003 for Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2." Wow. Try saying that three times, fast.

Anyway, released in early April of this year, along with the rest of Beta 2, the InfoPath kit in Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2 is the first set of InfoPath tools to be included as part of a larger toolkit for .NET developers, a plan that Microsoft's been eyeing for a while now.

Beta 2 is available to both Universal MSDN subscribers and non-subscribers, but at this point, non-subscribers aren't able to download the software. If you're not shelling out subscription money to MSDN, you'll need to rely on postal mail instead.

Of course, you can also design InfoPath form templates – such as travel expense reports and vacation requests - from directly inside an already shipping product, dubbed InfoPath 2003.

An earlier edition of the InfoPath toolkit is still kicking around, on the Web, too, complicating decisions further. The older kit, the InfoPath 2003 Toolkit for Visual Studio .NET 2003, lets you create form templates in the VS.NET 2003 environment, taking advantage of the .NET framework, encryption, and ASP.NET. Also with the earlier kit, you can add custom business and rules with managed code in either Visual Basic or C#.

Then, how's the InfoPath kit in VS 2005 Beta 2 any different? Is it worth your time, and maybe a little of your money?

If you develop applications that use form templates, the answer to the second question is probably "yes." Essentially, the kit in Beta 2 gives you integration features and documentation that let you create InfoPath projects – also using either VB or C# code managed code — from directly inside VS 2005.

While you're at it, you can do some experimenting with the new capabilities of the Visual Studio 2005 environment.

Conversely, if you haven't yet jumped on the InfoPath bandwagon, you could be in for an interesting treat with the InfoPath tools in Beta 2.

Background Info on InfoPath

Originally codenamed "XDocs," the InfoPath 2003 environment aims to make it easier for collaborative teams within an organization to collect, access, and share information.

Instead of pulling from a potpourri of forms in different document formats, end users can work with a a consistent set of XML-based docs, all created with InfoPath.

As Microsoft sees it, the use of XML allows for easy integration between InfoPath forms and all of the following:

  • Web services based on custom XSD schemas.
  • ADO relational data sources such as MS Access and SQL Server.
  • MS application servers like BizTalk server.

InfoPath is supposed to allow for development of "rich and dynamic" forms, too. For instance, InfoPath supports layout options such as tables and optional sections, along with associated form controls.

InfoPath also includes IntelliSense, a kind of code view functionality that supports auto-completion of commands, plus context-sensitive lists containing code and scripting elements. For instance, you can have IntelliSense automatically display a list of tags by typing the HTML delimiter <.

You can also incorporate data validation into your forms without writing code. In a travel request form, for example, you can make sure the end date occurs on or after the start date of the vacation.

Forms can be published to a SharePoint forms library, on a Web server, or to a shared network folder. They can be saved in .MHT format for viewing inside a Web browser. Multiple forms can be merged into a single form.

Also, with the InfoPath 2003 Service Pack 1 Preview, MS introduced a number of enhancements to InfoPath, including digital signatures, lockdown of form design, and – among other new expanded controls – the ability to specify whether a document can be saved in offline mode.

What Else is in VS 2005 Beta 2?

As you probably know, Microsoft released the initial beta of Visual Studio 2005 during the summer of 2004. The Beta 2 release of VS 2005 didn't come until April of this year, two weeks later than initially expected.

Aside from the InfoPath Toolkit 2003 for VS 2005, other elements of Beta 2 include SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition CTP and Beta 2 editions of all of the following:

  • Visual Studio 2005 Team Suite.
  • Visual Studio 2005 Team Foundation Server.
  • Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition.
  • Visual Studio 2005 Team Edition Test Load Agent.
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