Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What You Need to Know to Get Started with InfoPath 2010

Before I dive into sample electronic forms solutions with InfoPath 2010, there are some things that you should know.

InfoPath 2010 is a Microsoft Office product. InfoPath 2010 is included with Office 2010 Professional Plus, or it can be purchased as a standalone product. There are two icons included with the program: InfoPath Designer 2010 and InfoPath Filler 2010. Designer is used to create form templates (.xsn files) that can be filled out using Filler, or published to a SharePoint server and filled out online. Filler is used to fill out an InfoPath form on your desktop (similar to filling out an PDF form in Adobe Acrobat Reader). When you fill out a form using Filler or SharePoint’s forms services, the form is saved as an XML document and contains a reference to the template from which it was created.

You do not have to have SharePoint 2010, but it does work better. If you do not have SharePoint, InfoPath forms can be created using the desktop Filler, saved to a network share, emailed, and so forth. If you have SharePoint Foundation 2010 (often referred to as the “free” edition of SharePoint), you can publish your form templates to a form library and save your form data (XML) to a form library. You can also take advantage of SharePoint’s workflows to route the forms, but the forms must be filled out using the desktop Filler. If you have SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition, you get all of the same benefits as Foundation, but you may also publish your forms as Web forms – which means that each user in your organization does not need to have the desktop Filler installed to fill out a form. There is an Enterprise CAL license required for each user that will access the SharePoint 2010 Enterprise server. Of course, the license also grants you rights to the other SharePoint Enterprise features, and the cost is offset by the fact that you do not need to purchase the Filler product for every desktop. It is worth mentioning, that some of the Office 365 plans also allow for InfoPath forms to be published as Web forms.

There are two types of forms on SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition. Form Library Forms allow for one or many related forms to be served from and stored in a single document library on SharePoint. These forms are often used in conjunction with SharePoint workflows for routing and approval. List Forms, new to SharePoint 2010 Enterprise Edition, allow an InfoPath designer to customize the look and behavior of the data entry forms of any SharePoint list. Using InfoPath to brush up these forms allows a non-developer to do more creative and robust things that were previously only possible for developers.

That is enough background to get us started. I will provide more helpful tips as we work through some of the solutions. I will introduce the first form solution in my next post.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Focus on InfoPath

Thirty-three months ago I first covered SharePoint on our blog. Since then I have presented InfoPath 2007 and 2010 sessions at a few regional technical conferences. Yesterday, I presented InfoPath to around seventy local professionals at an invitation-only event. As the product has evolved, so has the interest, so has the local user base, and so has the number and variety of our projects. InfoPath is one of the driving forces behind SharePoint’s unprecedented growth.

InfoPath brings to the table:

  • Rapid development of electronic forms for non-developers
  • Rules based business process automation
  • The ability to extend the forms using .NET programming if required
  • The inherent ability to gather data to SharePoint for detailed analysis

There are definitely some caveats to keep in mind when implementing InfoPath forms. For your run-of-the-mill, rules-based forms for automating internal business processes, you will find InfoPath is a great fit and a piece of cake. For programmer-enhanced forms, you will need to manage trust levels and get an administrator’s help with publishing the form. And anonymous forms, well, they present numerous challenges that I will guide you through in upcoming posts. What if you want to create a form that gathers data to two separate SharePoint lists? InfoPath does not do that out of the box, but it is possible.

Because of the growing demand for InfoPath, and because of the new InfoPath 2010 capabilities in SharePoint 2010 Enterprise and Office365, I am going to spend some time focusing on InfoPath solutions for SharePoint. I personally believe that this is one of the more valuable, but often overlooked features of SharePoint. My goal with this upcoming series of posts is to hear you say “I wish I had known that sooner!”

Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Big Week for SharePoint

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced the release of SharePoint 2010 Service Pack 1. Visit the Update Center on TechNet to learn more about this update and to keep up with updates for other Microsoft products. If you have SharePoint 2010 Foundation, you will want to install SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Foundation, then SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Foundation Language Pack if applicable.  If you have SharePoint 2010 Server (Standard or Enterprise), you will want to install SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Foundation, the SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Foundation Language Pack (if applicable), SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Server, and SP1 for SharePoint 2010 Server Language Pack (if applicable).  After you install SP1, you should also Install the June 2011 Cumulative Updates. (Also see http://blogs.technet.com/b/office_sustained_engineering/archive/2011/06/29/sharepoint-2010-sp1-and-the-june-cumulative-update-for-sharepoint-2010.aspx)

As usual, the Office 2010 updates were released in conjunction with the SharePoint 2010 updates. It’s a great idea to update Office, too, especially if you use the SharePoint 2010 desktop products that are contained in the Office 2010 suites.

Last Friday (June 24), our Evansville SharePoint Users Group co-sponsored a Windows 7 Phone “Hackathon.”  It was a great time and there were some interesting app ideas.  I bring it up, because it was great to see the integration included with SharePoint, Office, Dynamics CRM, and Office 365 in the upcoming Windows Phone 7 update code-named “Mango.”

Speaking of Office 365, it was officially launched to the public this week! It is not a bad deal for individuals and companies of all sizes. It is all written on SharePoint, so you can customize it using familiar SharePoint tools. Take a look at Office 365.  What a week!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SharePoint 2010 Service Pack 1 Coming in June

Microsoft's SharePoint Team has announced the release date of Service Pack 1 for SharePoint 2010. Look for the release in late June of 2011. A couple of my favorite features: Site Recycle Bin and the return of StorMan.aspx. With Site Recycle Bin, administrators will be able to recover sites and site collections that were accidentally deleted by authorized users much like the way documents and lists are recovered. StorMan.aspx (Storage Space Allocation) will allow you to see which large documents and document libraries are consuming your disk space. You can read more about the service pack on the SharePoint team's blog at http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/blog/Pages/BlogPost.aspx?pID=973.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

IE 9 Pinned Sites With SharePoint

After I started using Internet Explorer 9, I quickly noticed how powerful the pinned site feature was with sites like Bing and Twitter. If you haven’t seen the feature yet install IE9, pin one of the sites to your Windows 7 task bar, and right-click on the pinned site.


I starting thinking about how this could be used with SharePoint to improve site navigation and it turned out to be a lot easier than I expected.

To add pinned site customization to your site, open up your site’s master page in SharePoint designer. The following meta tags can then be added to the page header section.

<meta name="application-name" content="SharePoint"/>

<meta name="msapplication-tooltip" content="Launch SharePoint Site"/>

<meta name="msapplication-starturl" content="http://pcemaurer/SitePages/Home.aspx">

<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=Search;action- uri=/SitePages/Search.aspx;icon-uri=/search.ico" />

<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=Calendar;action-uri=/Lists/Calendar/calendar.aspx;icon-uri=/calendar.ico" />

<meta name="msapplication-navbutton-color" content="#ffa812"/>

<link rel="shortcut icon" href="/_layouts/images/favicon.ico" />

Once the meta tags have been added, save the master page and then pin the site to your task bar to view the changes.


In the example I am adding a Jump List with links to a Search page and a Calendar on my SharePoint site. I am also setting the navigation buttons’ color for the site. With this quick customization you and your users can now easily navigate to different parts of your site directly from their taskbar.

Learn more about Pinned Sites from Microsoft

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Happy Birthday SharePoint

This month, SharePoint turned 10 years old. Where has the time gone? Aside from making me feel old, it makes me excited about what is next. Having been involved with SharePoint since SharePoint Services 2/SharePoint Portal Server 2003, I have seen countless improvements with each release. With SharePoint 2010, the improvements have been seemingly exponential in terms of customization, administration, and integration.

If we compare SharePoint to a child, as Dan Holmes points out, SharePoint is now a “tweener”. In my experience as a father, that means that SharePoint now has a personality that clearly sets it apart from others. And now SharePoint, like a teenager, has some tough decisions to make that will shape the rest of its life. SharePoint has the full support of its parent (Microsoft) and has a solid support structure (the community). It is selling at a reported rate of 20,000 licenses per day for the last five years without enjoying all of the mainstream advertising that Windows, Office and Xbox enjoy.

But ultimately, it is going to be up to SharePoint (the product team) to determine its own success. Businesses are definitely adopting the product – probably even faster than what the product team can support. The documentation is starting to catch up and more training is becoming available, but from my vantage point it is the community that is responsible for the success SharePoint has had to date. When faced with technical challenges to business problems, SharePoint professionals often have to turn to each other to solve them – and thankfully they are usually willing and able to help.

As businesses continue to invest in SharePoint and start to leverage it in ways they were not before, it is going to be key for the product team to stay on top of that. It is a shame that some of the limitations I noticed my first week with SharePoint almost seven years ago are still limitations. For example, parent-child data relationships are a fundamental need in developing business applications. SharePoint 2010 introduced a few new features in this regard, but there is much work still to be done. I would hope that in the next release, one would still not need to use SharePoint Designer and XSL coding to develop forms that relate. I would hope that in the near future InfoPath would be able to do simple things like write to two related SharePoint lists without the need for code-behind or third party components.

More and more functionality has been added to SharePoint over the years (CMS, Performance Point, etc.), but more emphasis needs to be placed on making that functionality align with business needs. In my opinion, there are two critical success factors for the future of SharePoint:

1) The product team needs to continue to understand the fundamental needs of its customers and respond to them.

2) Training needs to go deeper than the surface level and deeper into solving problems that are more like those businesses face.

We will do what we can about the latter. Until then, Happy Birthday SharePoint!!!