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InfoPath 2010

The next wave of Office products, Office 2010, includes InfoPath 2010. Unlike the previous versions, the InfoPath client is split into two programs in this release—InfoPath Designer and InfoPath Filler. This creates a clearer distinction between the process of creating a form and the process of filling one out. There is also a change in focus from InfoPath being a standalone product to being the primary design tool for SharePoint forms. This builds on the browser-based forms capabilities that were introduced in the 2007 release with easier customization of SharePoint data collection elements for lists and workflows.

When opening either product, those familiar with earlier versions of InfoPath will notice instantly the change in user interface. The fluent user interface, sometimes referred to as the ribbon UI, which was introduced in many Office 2007 products, has now extended to InfoPath. The idea of the ribbon UI is to make it easier to find features by grouping them into contextual tabs that appear when relevant, such as the Table Layout tab (see Figure 1.7), appearing when you start to edit a table.

Figure 1.7

Figure 1.7 The Table Layout tab

When the ribbon UI was first introduced, a strong piece of customer feedback was regarding the lack of a File menu. So, in the 2010 release of Office, a new backstage tab was introduced, which allows access to those functions traditionally associated with the File menu, such as Save and Open, as well as functionality around publishing and compatibility of the form. When InfoPath Designer is first opened, it opens in this backstage view, automatically selecting the section for designing a new form. This replaces the Design a Form Template dialog from InfoPath 2007, but many of the template types, such as Blank Form and Web Service, remain the same. The main differences in form template types are around the tighter integration with Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. There are the options to create forms based on a SharePoint List, a SharePoint Form Library, and a form that sets the document properties of files in a SharePoint document library.

The integration improvements between InfoPath and SharePoint include the ability to customize the SharePoint list entry form using InfoPath and more easily create forms to initialize workflows and execute workflow tasks. One of the improvements around browser-enabled forms is the introduction of an InfoPath Form Web Part to SharePoint, which makes it much easier to include an InfoPath form as part of a SharePoint page. Combining InfoPath with SharePoint will be discussed in more detail in later chapters of this book.

The 2010 release of InfoPath improves the browser-enabled form capabilities provided by InfoPath Forms Services. The gap of functionality has narrowed between what is possible in the InfoPath client and what is possible in the browser. The majority of features and controls now work exactly the same in the browser as the client. When designing a new form, the default setting is for a Web browser form, whereas in InfoPath 2007 the default was for a client form.

InfoPath 2010 has introduced some new controls—Person/Group Picker, External Item Picker, Picture Button, Hyperlink, and Signature Line.

There are other significant improvements around the management of rules. There is now a Rules task pane (see Figure 1.8), which can be used to organize the rules associated with the controls on the form. This makes it easier to add and manage multiple rules—for example, conditional formatting or setting field values—to an individual control. There is also a new option, which is to copy a rule or rules from one control and paste them on another. If you have two text fields and want to create the same multiple conditional formatting rules on both, you can now create the rules once, use the Copy All button, and then simply select the other field and select to Paste Rules. In previous versions of InfoPath, you would have been forced to create the rules separately for each control.

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8 The Rules task pane prior to rules being created

The developer experience for InfoPath 2010 has had a few changes. As with InfoPath 2007, you can use Visual Studio Tools for Applications to add small pieces of code to a form. The ribbon UI includes a Developer tab. This allows you to choose from a selection of event templates to easily associate your code to specific actions within the form. For example, selecting Form Loading Event allows you to write code when the form is loaded and Changed Event creates code associated to a selected field that will run when that field changes. This makes it easier to organize small pieces of code attached to a form.

There are other improvements that are less obvious around performance. Some processes that used to take many dialog boxes now involve less. There is one significant improvement around form publishing, which is the introduction of the Quick Publish button. As with earlier versions, when you have finished designing your form, you must publish it before it can be filled out. The various options for publishing will be discussed in Chapter 9. In InfoPath 2007, every time a change is made, the form must be republished by going through the whole publishing process. In InfoPath 2010, the Quick Publish button allows you to publish your updated form template while keeping the rest of the settings the same.

As you can probably tell just from this introduction, InfoPath contains a very rich set of features for creating forms for SharePoint Server 2010. In addition, InfoPath remains a powerful tool for creating standalone forms.

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