XForms & LiveCycle

Lately when I talk to customers about forms, i get the odd question about what Adobe is doing with XForms. W3C’s definition of XForms is “XForms” is W3C’s name for a specification of Web forms that can be used with a wide variety of platforms including desktop computers, hand helds, information appliances, and even paper. XForms started life as a subgroup of the HTML Working Group, but has now been spun off as an independent Activity.”

The trouble for most of our customers is that XForms doesn’t hold the presentation description of how the form should appear, which is why many use Adobe’s XFA format inconjuntion with Adobe LiveCycle and LiveCycle Designer. When rendered as PDF, you get a form that you can confidently distribute knowing that the form will appear as intended, will print well, and have accessibility and legal layout parameters maintained.  This is quite important for both Financial industries and government alike (go have a look at your mortgage application form or ABN registration)
The good news is that today Adobe released an alpha version of its new XForms to XFA conversion tool that will in future become part of the LiveCycle Designer tool for forms (also sold as part of Adobe Acrobat)

The nice thing about this is that now you can live in an XForms world if you choose (ColdFusion users have been doing this for some time), then move across to XFA where you truly need that combination of data, business logic and presentation in the one document.

Read more from the LiveCycle Product Blog and Marcel Boucher’s Blog 

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  1. First of all, congratulations on getting some XForms support in the Adobe LiveCycle products. However, I am quite irritated by your statements, Marcel Boucher and you seem to be re-writing history here. Adobe has a long history and heritage in XForms. Gavin McKenzie and Rob McDougall of JetForm, later Accelio, now Adobe, architects of XFA, were founding members of the W3C XForms project. In fact, JetForm’s XFA, PureEgde’s XFDL (now IBM) and Mozquito’s FML where the three initial specifications that led to the initial XForms design, with great participation from XFA’s architects. I get the impression from Marcel’s and your post that XFA is superior to XForms, which is actually quite offensive, since one could even argue that XForms is a successor to XFA, taking the best ideas and concepts from XFA to the next level, done so by the XFA architects themselves. Technically, it is not true that keeping the combination of data, business logic and presentation in one document mandates a ‘superior’ proprietary XFA approach. XFDL has already replaced its model part entirely with XForms, and the layout and presentation side could absolutely be implemented with other W3C standards, including XHTML and CSS. Its about how you implement these standards and you could implement them in a way that emphasizes single-document integrity in presentation and style, data and business logic without breaking the standards, just using a different interpretation of these technologies, e.g. as opposed to implementing those technologies in a web-browser context where exact presentation and that combination of data, business logic and presentation in one document is not so important or even not desired. Finally, I do not find it ‘odd’ at all that your customers are rightfully asking for XForms, but on the contrary I find it odd that Adobe management seems to be neglecting its own history and heritage in XForms, trying to simply distract from the problem of being stuck with its own proprietary legacy format (XFA) by stating that the XForms/standards approach is technically inferior, which is just not true and quite irritating…

  2. February 20, 2007

    Hi Sebastian, appreciate your comments, and yes, although i’m not overly familar with the history, Adobe (Jetform, Accelio) were involved in xforms history.

    The intent of my post is not to steer people towards XFA over Xforms, but merely announcing that there now exists a method for the two to coexist. Our customers have asked for a portable format that can be distributed and viewed with confidence of presentation and logic without the need for extra downloads of specialized software. Adobe Reader & PDF Forms achieve this goal, and allowing XForms into this process is surely a good thing? Finally, the “odd question” comment was perhaps my Australian way of saying i get the “occasional question” – i hardly think asking about xforms  is “odd”, so sorry for the confusion.

  3. Mark, thanks for your reply, and yes, that sounds a lot better, and of course ‘allowing XForms into this process is a good thing’. Regard my comment as an encouragement to continue with the XForms path, since apart from many other good reasons XForms is also very much an Adobe child, so nothing to feel alienated about at all. Feel free to contact your colleague Larry Masinter (http://larry.masinter.net/) to catch up with the history and get more of the picture, since he has been very much involved with XForms in the very beginning and is now working for Adobe, and if you do so, please say hi to him from me… thanks.

  4. February 21, 2007

    Sebastian, please let me start by saying I am well aware of the roots of XFA and xForms. Gavin and Rob are good friends of mine since I too come from the JetForm/Accelio acquisition.

    I appreciate the comments you have made above and I am sorry you are irritated by our posts. As Mark stated, the intent is not to steer people away from xForms. In certain implementations, xForms makes total sense. However, it is important to keep in mind what business problems you are trying to solve when you wish to adopt a particular technology. XFA was developed to address much broader set of issues than xForms, it’s ambition is to take on a wide range of problems; from paper to electronic to hybrid. So, it is not a question of XFA being superior to xForms or vice versa. I think the question that begs asking is what is the business problem you are trying to solve? xForms has served and continue to serve many people well in many applications, look at other technologies that Adobe has acquired – QLink and Macromedia ColdFusion. For pure on-line data capture, xForms is a valid choice. However, for the business workflows that require electronic, paper and/or hybrid solutions, the combination of LiveCycle document services and XFA is the solution of choice.

    The bottom line is that Adobe’s xForms Importer is not a statement that people should drop xForms and move to XFA, it’s basically providing a bridge for people that wish to address different business problems while leveraging their existing investments in xForms.

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