RealTime IT News
W3C XForms 1.0 Hailed as Standard
By Clint Boulton
October 14, 2003

It's official.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Tuesday announced XForms 1.0 as an official recommendation, paving the way for a new way to present information via the Web as an improvement over Hypertext Markup Language (HTML).

Web-based, or electronic forms such as XForms 1.0, combine the ability to separate purpose, presentation and results with the Extensible Markup Language (XML). They were created as the next generation of rendering information and performing tasks on the Web because HTML is limited to simple tasks, such as Web page creation.

For example, Web consumers today want to be able to access the Web through smartphones and handheld devices, which require more functionality forms and non-Web-based forms technologies.

By the same token, enterprises want to be able to conduct more complex transactions such as e-commerce and Web-enable business processes, such as supply chain management systems. XForms will improve these functions.

As the complexity of applications and sophistication of devices has increased, HTML has become increasingly limiting for developers. The W3C sees XForms as the answer and as open standard alternative to proprietary Web forms technologies from Microsoft and Adobe.

Forms authors are looking to cut down on the amount of scripting and reuse form components, integrate them into Web services, and deliver functionality to users and devices previously not possible, said Steven Pemberton, Chair of the W3C XForms Working Group. It also separates the lines of function and presentation markup, which are so convoluted in HTML.

Redmonk Senior Analyst Stephen O'Grady said X-Forms is a technology that will become increasingly important in enterprise-based implementations and consumer-facing applications, noting that a standards-based approach to forms generation, delivery and consumption is likely to be of considerable interest to most verticals, particularly government and financial services.

"And as with any standard, one of the most important considerations in its evaluation is its vendor support, and X-Forms doesn't disappoint there with firms like Adobe, IBM, Novell, Oracle, and Sun on the working group," O'Grady told internetnews.com. "Not a bad place to start. Notably absent, of course, is Microsoft as it's pursuing a different course with XDocs [now called, InfoPath], but we're of the opinion that with the vendors it has backing it now X-Forms has a bright future ahead of it."

While XForms has been in progress for a few years, Microsoft's InfoPath and Adobe's PDF Reader have come on strong in the last several months. Microsoft will package InfoPath, aimed squarely at the knowledge worker and small group collaboration, with Office.

Adobe is using its portable document format (PDF) as the foundation to create electronic forms, allowing users to deploy forms in Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF) or in an XML Data Package (XDP) as desired.

Meta Group's Thomas Murphy said he will remain a bit skeptical about XForms until he sees how the market takes to it.

"The question for XForms will be how it gets packaged and how this will market vs. Microsoft," he told internetnews.com. "Since InfoPath is already available (of course Microsoft has to convince people to upgrade) and XForms is just a recommendation with a bunch of more minor players involved. All of the development community is pretty focused specifically around Java and .NET and .NET does has a story that is more willing to support something like XForms/Infopath. Certainly people are looking for ways to build richer user interfaces and this is a potential way to do it but I wonder who is the real target audience and how does this effectively compete."

W3C spokesperson Janet Daly told internetnews.com government organizations are highly interested in this technology to move services and functionality to the Web. She also noted that InfoPath has been cobbled together as a forms technology with standards employed by the W3C.

In practical terms, Daly said that unlike HTML, technologies based on XForms make it possible to offer the same form to a PDA, a cell phone, or desktop without loss of functionality for the user.

It functions by allowing developers to specify the properties and relationships of values being collected. For example, it asserts that a particular field must be an e-mail address, that the total amount field is the sum of the individual line items, or that a credit card number isn't required if payment is by cash. The Web browser can always warn the user of any incorrectly filled fields before the form is submitted.

The XForms Working Group includes W3C Members and invited experts from Adobe; CWI; Cardiff; Helsinki University of Technology; IBM; Mozquito Technologies; Novell; Oracle Corporation; Origo Services; PureEdge; SAP; Sun Microsystems; and x-port.net Ltd.