MICROSOFT FORMS - WHERE ARE WE AT?
Microsoft has a number of current forms handling options other than coding a form directly in .Net or C. Here we review some of some of the options Microsoft currently provides for data handling with forms.
Outlook Forms was introduced in Office 2007 and focuses mainly on customising the existing options available to Exchange such as appointments, notes, and contacts. Forms only tend to be used in Outlook for organisational data gathering. With the move to Outlook in the browser for Office 365 , where this type of customising is not available, it is much better to use another option such as Office 365 Staffhub or a custom SharePoint site.
Word and Excel can be used create form layouts to input data and are useful for small offline operations. They can have forms controls like drop down boxes, dates fields, and choice boxes and mandatory fields with input checking using regular expresisons. But you do need to enable macros, which is a security issue for many customers, and be proficient in VBA programming. We have used Excel to create input forms that on completion are emailed to a specific user. The problems arise when multiple users access the same Excel file and in making the process secure and not easily broken.
InfoPath is a less well known module that comes with some of the higher priced Office suites and has been around since Office 2003. The excellent IDE allows competent ICT staff, rather than developers, to create and work with forms and workflows. It's main function is to work with SharePoint but can also integrate with flat files, XML, Excel, and SQL databases. InfoPath has two modes of operation, one for use on Windows in offline mode, with some additional features, and an online version typically used with SharePoint Forms. The Windows client has two versions, Filler to fill in forms, and Designer to create the forms. Designer is very much a WYSIWYG.
Microsoft announced that InfoPath was no longer part of the Office client set so the Office 2013 version is the last. The announcement did note support on SharePoint for a few years but only the InfoPath online version and now EOL has been set for 2022.
We have used InfoPath for online forms in SharePoint on-line but these are rapidly being replaced by PowerApps.
Office 365 Forms
Part of Office 365 is a simple, lightweight application called Forms where you can create surveys, quizzes, and polls, and easily see results as they come but there is a maximum of 5,000 responses. There is an tile on O365 online that is used to create the form, preview it on PC and mobile, get a link to send the form round users and collate answers. You can also set a few options on the form.
PowerApps and Flow
Microsoft PowerApps is Microsoft's official replacement for InfoPath and is available in many Office 365 bundles. We will expand more on PowerApps in other blog entries along with its two related applications Flow, to handle workflow, and PowerBI to deliver reporting. PowerApps is a service for building and using custom business apps that connect to your data and work across the web and mobile - without the time and expense of custom software development. You code once and run many - Windows 10 PC and mobile, Android, IOS but not Mac yet. Coding once does give a few limitations but not that many to justify the expense of a developer to design an app using say Xamarin Forms. PowerApps is designed that non code users should be able to use it.
We have worked with Powerapps for over two years and it looks like a good tool. Even though it is a released product it still feels like it's in development and to get the best out of it you really need to have some core programming experience. In addition it has from time to time experienced performance issues.
Microsoft Flow is a cloud-based software tool that allows employees to create and automate workflows across multiple applications and services without the need for developer help. Workflows are called flows that automate time-consuming business tasks and processes across applications and services using the likes of actions and triggers. Microsoft provide a range of templates to get you started such as sending automated emails when a form is complete, pushing files to OneDrive, and updating SharePoint Lists.
PowerApps Guided learning videos
Flow introduction video
Other web and mobile based forms solutions we have used or reviewed: