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Some Straight Talk about the future of InfoPath and Forms

02/18/2015

There’s been a lot of buzz about the future of forms in SharePoint and, frankly little clarity. This is such a contentious topic and social media has been swirling with rumors and misinformation. Sonya Koptyev (Senior Product Marketing Manager on the Office 365 Developer Program) bravely participated in an “ask me anything” session hosted by IT Unity. If you weren’t able to join, here are some of the key points that were made.

Sonya did not make any new announcements, but clarity on recent announcements.

Disclaimer: These are my notes that I managed to scribble down during the session – any inaccuracies are my own. All questions and answers are paraphrased by me. There will be an official FAQ list eventually, and I’ll update this post with that link, but I wanted to share my notes from this event in the meantime for those that couldn’t attend.

SK: First some clarity on terminology:

  • InfoPath Client, InfoPath 2013, InfoPath Client 2013 all refer to the desktop client. Used to create and fill out forms
  • InfoPath Forms Services, IPFS is the service inside of SharePoint Server used to render forms in browser (and other behind the scenes stuff)

Q: Will the InfoPath client be updated for 2016? What is experience if we have to use 2013 client with 2016?

SK: Client is not changing at all. Will not be a new client. 2013 is the last one. If you have it now, that’s the latest and greatest. It will not be in 2016 click-to-run. If you don’t have it already, MSFT is figuring out how to get it to customers.

They’ve extended the IPFS roadmap into 2016 release. No changes in experience.

They’re still working on licensing.

Q: Lots of fears with using different versions of office clients simultaneously. How will this existing client work together with newer versions of office?

SK: MSFT will be testing it heavily to make sure it works.

Q: Will new features be included? Support for enterprise keywords? Support for PDFs? Any new features or just as-is?

SK: Only as-is. No changes to client or IPFS other than bug fixes.

Q: What about support?

SK: Client will be supported until 2023. IPFS support will be dicted by SharePoint 2016 support roadmap.

Q: Why was Forms on SharePoint Lists (FOSL) killed?

SK: It was supposed to replace forms. A way to edit new and edit list forms. They tackled this subset of the forms functionality because it was the easiest to get out of the door. However as they did usability studies it was clear that it  wasn’t as useful as hoped. In grand scheme of things they prefer to work on next gen of forms (not InfoPath, but whatever vNext will be). They’d rather just have one solid approach to all things forms instead of piece meal.

Q: Is the same team that was working on FOSL working on this or a different one?

SK: There have been changes across the board.

Q: Office 365 vs. on-prem? How does story change?

SK: MSFT will maintain forms services for SPO for at least a year (maybe more) after next on prem release. Functionality should be identical.

Q: Is it still going to allow same functionality? Lists and form libraries? Or restricted to just form libraries in 2016?

SK: Same functionality will still work in 2016.

Q: What’s roadmap for structured document forms? Does that fall into roadmap still? Or new roadmap?

SK: It hasn’t fallen off the roadmap – still something that’s top-of–mind when considering the overall forms story. Hasn’t seen it come up too much.

SK: Infopath was interesting in that it straddles info workers and devs. Form futures may have to split that. No-code, in-browser, mobile friendly vs. a more dev focused version. But not sorted out yet.

SK: Product will probably come in waves. Minimally viable product (MVP) will get out the door first. No longer the 3-year cycles. Interested users should add suggestions to User Voice (Officeforms.uservoice.com). The team is very heavily relying on that to gather requirements and prioritize features.

Q: In design for vNext, will there be an upgrade path?

SK: It depends. If you really have complex forms with code-behind, there’s no migration path (as with other products). For less complex (no-code-behind), they hope to have a migration path. But they don’t have the “target” yet so don’t know what that will look like.

Q: Is MSFT Looking at combining products? Pulling forms into SPD? And will features be added back?

SK: She doesn’t know. Wouldn’t think so.

Q: Will there be a design tool as part of the solution?

SK: Yes, for sure.

Q: Will submit to REST service be available?

SK: Add things like this to user voice. Then people can vote and influence priority.

Q: Access Services – is this part of the story?

SK: They are part of the same team. So trying to rationalize what will happen there.

Q: If doing a green-field project, should we look at other tools?

SK: Need to assess the requirements. If they know there’s going to be custom-code and custom biz processes, look at ASP.NET, AZURE, partner solutions (Nintex, K2, etc.).

Q: For orgs that want to stay codeless – what’s their best bet?

SK: They should look at partner products. K2, Nintex, etc. If it’s something small that needs to be implemented quickly, no reason not to use InfoPath to get it out the door quickly if it’s a no-code form.

Q: Concept of Infopath with XML base. Sticking with that or moving to different model?

SK: Looking at multiple back-ends. Don’t know yet.

Q: Seems like timing has been off with the announcement. When did you know it wasn’t going to happen? Can you be transparent?

SK: At SPC got up on stage and said “we’re killing infopath and client. Won’t have another version. Working on FOSL.”

As they continued to work thru kinks, bugs they did usability testing and throughout sets of feedback that said it wasn’t ready. Pushed out a few times by a month each. Got into fall and larger convos about larger forms strategy began. It was more reasonable to include this in larger set of features. In Jan, she was working on an update – feeling pressure. Trying to get something out the door. Power of social media took over. Someone posted that they were at an event and mistakenly said client 2016 was going to be released. Perfect storm. They said there’s enough swirl in the community – need to put an end to the speculation and rumors. Not helping anything on this contentious topic. That’s what precipitated the latest update and ultimately this talk.

Q: What has MSFT learned thru InfoPath process. It’s a new world where MSFT is more open and transparent. Did it backfire?

SK: If you’ve been following along, opening up layers of transparency. What she hopes we’ve seen are frequent blog posts (2 a day) way more active on social. Updating the roadmap as quickly as possible. What we’ve learned is that if we’re completely committed to level of transparency, need to communicate changes to the plan as soon as they’re confident they’ll stick. Not feasible to provide updates for every engineering change, but when there are significant changes to the plan of record, need to communicate those quickly.

Q: How has handover to Satya impacting your work?

SK: Really inspiring and motivating to see someone who wants us to be front-and-center. Wants us to be relevant to folks again and have our hands in latest/greatest. Seen lots of red-tape and obstacles fall away. Letting folks do what they think is right and innovate. Change has been massive and positive.

Many thanks to Sonya for participating in the session and to IT Unity for hosting it!

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