I’m sure it comes as no surprise that Office InfoPath 2007 is the forms designer of choice for Office SharePoint Server 2007. But the average SharePoint developer, used to reaching for ASP.NET when he needs to create a form for SharePoint, might be surprised at all the places you can employ InfoPath to quickly create forms for enterprise management functions.
The main reason for this is the fact that in InfoPath 2007 you can create what the InfoPath guys are calling symmetrical forms. Symmetrical forms are InfoPath forms that can be hosted either in the Office client applications like Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, as well as in the SharePoint Server browser interface. So you can create a single form, and know it’ll look and work the same whether the user sees it in an Office application or in the browser interface.
(How is this possible? Short version: SharePoint Server 2007 uses Office Forms Services, a server-based run-time environment for InfoPath 2007 forms, to host the forms in the browser. Office Forms Services consumes the forms you create in the InfoPath client and renders them in an ASP.NET framework, which acts as a run-time environment for the form. This environment presents a form editing experience that matches the InfoPath 2007 client application. The Office client applications, on the other hand, include the ability to host the native InfoPath forms. )
So naturally, symmetrical forms are very handy for enterprise content management areas, where the user might be working with documents in their native client application, or online through the SharePoint Server browser interface.
Here’re a couple of the places where you can employ InfoPath forms for enterprise content management in SharePoint Server 2007:
A document information panel is a form that is displayed within the client application, and which contains fields for the document metadata. Document information panels enable users to enter important metadata about a file anytime they want, without having to leave the Microsoft Office system client application. For files stored in document libraries, the document information is actually the columns of the content type assigned to that file. The document information panel displays a field for each content type property, or column, the user can edit.
You can create document information panels either from within SharePoint Server, or directly from InfoPath 2007.
You can create InfoPath forms for use with workflows in SharePoint Server 2007. That way, the user can interact with the workflow form from within the Office client application, and not just through the browser.
SharePoint Server 2007 uses Office Forms Services to display workflow forms, be they association, initiation, modification, or edit task forms. The only difference is that there’s a different .aspx page hosting the Office Forms Services control for each type of workflow form. Initiation forms are hosted by a different .aspx page than modification forms, for example. Each different hosting page knows how to submit the information from its type of form to SharePoint Server (and hence, to the workflow engine).
The .aspx pages that contain the Office Forms Services web part are included as part of SharePoint Server, of course.
So if your putting together an enterprise content management solution in Office SharePoint Server, and you’d like your user to be able to interact with your custom forms in the client application and the browser, it might be worth your while to take a look at InfoPath 2007 and Office Forms Services.