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Emailing Links To InfoPath Forms- Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sometimes you want your users to be able to open forms without having to navigate to SharePoint and open the associated form library. Sometimes you want them to do it without even having to log into the SharePoint site: maybe your end users don’t even have SharePoint accounts! Today’s blog post will give you a few tips on how to accomplish these and other goals.

To give your end users the ability to open a form from outside the SharePoint library, you need to know the syntax of an InfoPath form link. Let’s look at a sample link in detail. Suppose you have SharePoint site called http://www.myshpsite.com/, with a sub-site called MySubsite, and an InfoPath form library called MyLibrary. There are many different query parameters for an InfoPath form link, most of them are optional so we’ll only cover the necessary ones; XsnLocation and XmlLocation - in this post. (You can read more about the other query parameters here.)

New Form Link: http://www.MyShPSite.com/MySubsite/_layouts/FormServer.aspx?XsnLocation=https://MyShPSite.com/MySubsite/MyLibrary/Forms/template.xsn

Existing Form Link:

http://www.MyShPSite.com/MySubsite/_layouts/FormServer.aspx?XmlLocation=/MySubsite/MyLibrary/MyFormName.xml

(Note: to open existing forms, you’re going to need to make sure you’re using a unique naming convention for your forms! Otherwise if you have three forms all named 2016-12-25.xml, how will InfoPath know which form to open?)

Ok, now that you have your link, how do you get it to your users? Well, the easiest way is to send them an email with the link. To do this, you’ll need to download a nifty tool called SharePoint Designer – it exists in both 2010 and 2013 varieties, download the one for whichever flavor of SharePoint your site is running on.

Now that you have downloaded your designer tool, switch back to InfoPath. Whatever naming convention you’re using for your forms, store that value in a text field in your schema. I’d suggest calling this field FormName or something similar.

(Note: if you only want to send links to new forms, you can skip this FormName stuff and go straight to the FormLink part down below.)

 

Now add another text field called FormLink, and set the default value of that field to the following hardcoded value for a new form:

http://www.MyShPSite.com/MySubsite/_layouts/FormServer.aspx?XsnLocation=https://MyShPSite.com/MySubsite/MyLibrary/Forms/template.xsn

…or this formula for an existing form:

Now promote that FormLink field by going to File-->Form Options-->Property Promotion and adding FormLink to the list:

Republish your form to your form library, then open your site in SharePoint Designer. (If you don’t have SharePoint Designer, you can download it for free here.) Navigate to the Workflows page then add a new List Workflow. Select the name of your form library, then name your workflow (mine is called Send Email).

  

Now you need to create the email template. In the WORKFLOW ribbon at the top of SharePoint Designer, select Action--> Send an Email. Open the Email Designer, select a recipient, type a subject heading and body text, then type the text you want to describe your form link. Highlight this text, then click the Hyperlink icon to bring up the Edit Hyperlink popup menu. Click the fx button on the Address line, then select the Form Link promoted property from the source field dropdown in the String Lookup popup window. Click OK to close out these windows.

We’re almost done: go back to the Workflow Settings page (Workflows-->Click the name of your workflow) and edit the Start Options. Select the checkboxes that correspond to your particular use case. In mine, I want the email workflow to run when a new form is submitted and when an existing form is resubmitted, so I have both bottom boxes checked.

Finally, make sure to Publish your workflow to your SharePoint site by clicking the Publish icon at the top left of SharePoint Designer.

That’s it! Now each time your workflow runs, and email will be sent with a link to your form (or to open a new form, if that’s the option you selected way back at the beginning of this tutorial).


Emailing Links to FormsViewer Forms

FormsViewer is a great alternative to InfoPath. You can open links from mobile devices and submit anonymously. You can also send links to FormsViewer forms, but because those links are slightly longer you’ll need to make a few adjustments to the above process.

If you have FormsViewer installed on your SharePoint site, you can copy the link to open a new form by right-clicking on either the Open Form button or the Open Form (anonymous) button.

 

Once you have copied your link, you will go through the same process described above to promote your Form Link field, with one special modification: you need to first create a Site Column on SharePoint, and then promote the Form Link field to that specific column.

Here is a tutorial on how to create a SharePoint site column (make sure the one you create allows multiple lines of text).

Once your site column is created, you will need to associate the FormLink field with that site column by re-publishing your form the long way (do NOT edit the Promoted Properties menu in InfoPath – that way won’t work!).  Go to File -->
Publish --> SharePoint Server to bring up the Publishing Wizard, then Next-click your way through the wizard without changing anything until you get to the promoted columns list. Click the Add button, select your FormsViewer FormLink field from the list of schema fields in the popup window, then select the Custom Columns site column group, and select the name of the site column you created in the previous step (I named mine FormsViewer Link). Click OK, Next and then Publish.

 The steps to create an email workflow are the same for FormsViewer, so that’s it for configuring an email workflow to send a link to open a FormsViewer form!

About the Author

Jennifer Lindsay

Jennifer holds a BS in Mathematics from Harvey Mudd College and a MS in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University. She has several years of experience as a QA tester and programmer for the US Department of Defense, and most recently she was a systems engineering team lead at The Aerospace Corporation. Jennifer specializes in mobile form development for Qdabra.

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qAlert: SharePoint Online No Longer Playing in the Sandbox- Monday, August 01, 2016

Microsoft to remove sandbox code service

What is happening?

Last week, Microsoft announced that they were removing the sandbox code service. Marc Anderson’s blog post is also worth reading.

Who does this affect?

Anyone who has InfoPath forms with code on Office 365. Those forms will stop working in the browser. This includes forms using Qdabra’s qRules. No impact for SharePoint On Premises.

What should you do?

The two simple options are:

  1. Change the form library to open in the InfoPath Filler client. Users must have InfoPath 2013 installed
  2. Install Qdabra’s FormsViewer app and configure your form library to use it. FormsViewer has been a migration option for over two years now. FormsViewer replaces InfoPath browser forms. It works on top of existing InfoPath form templates and forms, *and* it includes support for qRules commands without relying on the sandbox. Most migrations will require minimal work to reconfigure the form libraries. Learn more: http://www.qdabra.com/en/products/FormsViewer.aspx


Need Help? 

Qdabra is here to help you. If you have an active qRules license, simply email support@qdabra.com and attach your form’s XSN file. We will quickly analyze your form and provide specific steps to take to migrate to FormsViewer. We have many customers using this solution and plan to extend and support it for many years to come. We also provide On Prem installs. The FormsViewer app is free, there is no commitment for low bandwidth users, and we have support plans to ensure you’re covered.

Tags :  SandboxMicrosoftInfoPath
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Viva La InfoPath!- Tuesday, February 02, 2016

For Ten More Years…

On Wednesday, 1/20/2016, Microsoft announced SharePoint Server 2016 was almost ready for release. The announcement shed light on the InfoPath and SharePoint Designer support stories.
Is Microsoft now listening to the overwhelming concern in the community? Yes. Support will be extended for both from 2023 to 2026, to match the support lifecycle for SharePoint Server 2016.

So, that’s good news. InfoPath Designer will be supported for another ten years. Your solutions are safe for now. Qdabra is here to help you maintain your investment today and plan a low cost migration path for tomorrow.

Mary Foley summarizes here. For all of the details, you can dig through the Microsoft FAQs included with the SharePoint Server 2016 announcement.

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Future Proofing your InfoPath Investment- Saturday, July 11, 2015

In January of 2015, Microsoft announced that they were cancelling the Forms On SharePoint List (FOSL) technology that they had announced with great fanfare in March of 2014 at the SharePoint conference. They said they were going to ship InfoPath Forms Services again in SharePoint 2016, and push back the end-of-support date to 2025. Now, given the rate of technological change in today’s society, when I look forward to the year 2025, I’m not so sure Microsoft will even exist in its present form, not to mention SharePoint. But, we will likely still have HTML, XML, JSON, and the other standards which are instrumental in formatting the Web that we experience today. So, we will still have XML forms.

Qdabra has spent tens of thousands of dollars developing an alternative XML forms technology called FormsViewer. This is meant to provide a backup option (insurance) to organizations worried about InfoPath going away. FormsViewer is open source and free. It’s an app that you install in SharePoint 2013 or Office 365 that parses InfoPath templates and allows you to view, edit, and submit existing InfoPath forms (but without InfoPath technology). We are very close to releasing version 1.1 of this tool. For more information, you can go here: http://www.qdabra.com/en/products/FormsViewer.aspx. Version 1.1 will include Web service data connections, and a limited number of qRules extension commands (mapping to SharePoint lists, insert/delete, generate GUID etc.)

Please let me know how we can serve you. While we still believe in InfoPath and are committed to the future of electronic forms, we are also technology-agnostic and have professionals certified in Microsoft Access, K2 Smart Forms, Nintex, Ardevia, PDF ShareForms, etc. We’re here to help you complete your business automation mission, regardless of which path you choose to take.

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Evaluating Alternatives to InfoPath – Six Criteria- Tuesday, September 02, 2014

There is currently no complete Microsoft alternative to InfoPath. Microsoft’s article states that customers should continue using InfoPath for now and that it will be supported for 10 years. We’re waiting to hear if Forms on SharePoint Lists or other technologies like Siena will fill the gaps.

A good replacement technology will have the following:

  1. Support for XML – document centric forms are key to enabling Web 2.0 biz processes, and customers want to own their own data format (which XML allows); they also need to connect to Web services
  2. Support for HTML – good looking Web forms are critical and HTML is the Web standard for that. PDF is another option but doesn’t handle XML as well.
  3. Support for Business Logic – no-code smart forms are less costly to maintain and build since business process experts don’t need to communicate to developers; they can create the forms themselves.
  4. Low Cost Licensing – InfoPath is installed for many people today and the licensing cost is therefore minimal. A new technology to InfoPath must provide a cost effective migration path.
  5. Reliable and Stable – InfoPath has been around since 2003 and is backed by a leading enterprise software company that has proven to be reliable; the new technology must come from a solid company and Microsoft is committed to supporting customers – that’s why they’re supporting InfoPath through 2023.
  6. App Ready – smart forms running on devices need integration with GPS, finger signatures, camera, etc. Browsers can’t currently do those things, but Formotus forms using InfoPath format can.

There is no one-size fits-all solution out there but I do think the above 6 criteria will hold strong for the technology that eventually replaces InfoPath. We created a new beta web site called FormsQuo to help people get a handle on the different migration paths.

Another important note: if you’re using InfoPath today, you have lots of options because it’s easy to take the data stored in XML and map it to other technologies. So, there’s no need to make a drastic change anytime soon. I would wait and see what MS comes up with.

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Electronic Forms for Today’s Web- Sunday, July 06, 2014

What is Web 2.0?

Back in the ‘90s we had Web 1.0 – static HTML pages and client-server solutions. That was twenty years ago. Nowadays, the Web is more dynamic. Electronic forms push and pull data to and from multiple sources, and they must look good on mobile devices and work well offline. HTML was the standard for static Web 1.0 and XML is the standard for Web 2.0 because it enables offline document storage, and speaks the same language of the many Web services supporting the dynamic Web 2.0 world of today.

How do Smart Apps Integrate with Web 2.0?

Smart mobile and Web browser apps no longer rely on server-side validation to submit. Why is that?

  • End users do not want to fill out a form and see an error on submit (it’s a disappointing user experience)
  • Submit connection may be asynchronous which means the confirmation may not come for minutes
  • The app client does not know how to act on the server’s error result (requires custom coding which creates a brittle tight coupling preventing quick change)

For those reasons, smart apps do validation before submitting. They ensure their data meets the requirements of an XML schema. Submits do not fail. This architecture is called a “loosely-coupling” architecture because there are no constraints on the server. The server simply extracts information in a passive way from the client. No errors. Of course, the app designer is responsible for creating a data source that matches the business process. The server is only responsible for storing the data and extracting details from it. This simplifies solution architectures while allowing change-management flexibility. Server logic goes away. When the app changes the server just updates the mapping it uses to extract data. No system downtime.  XML is the key in enabling this loosely-coupled integration model because it provides client-side schemas. The NoSQL movement is a key in enabling the no-code server-side piece of this puzzle.

Why InfoPath?

In spite of Microsoft’s recent deprecation, InfoPath is still the best technology to use for forms projects:

  • Layout is industry standard (HTML) – good-looking, structured forms can be created
  • Data format is open (XML) – supports loosely-coupled architecture and enables easy migration of data to new solutions down the road
  • No code required – supports rich client-side validation with rules; Web service queries or submits can be done without code
  • Mature, feature-rich technology – InfoPath handles millions of forms in production today
  • Low Cost – no new software licenses needed for Microsoft SA customers
  • Reliable Support – Microsoft will continue supporting the filler until 2023

Who is Qdabra?

Qdabra is a customer-focused company. We build electronic forms and have helped thousands. We are technology agnostic and we always listen to the unique needs of the business before proposing a solution. As a small boutique consulting services company, we specialize in electronic forms but we have also developed many tools to accelerate projects and empower our customers to get the most value out of their existing software investments. Qdabra’s Web Service Suite (DBXL) and qRules plugin are two of the many tools available from our web site.

What is DBXL?

Qdabra developed DBXL in 2004 to fill a glaring gap in the InfoPath and SharePoint landscape. Customers could not report on the repeating data in their forms and 95% of all business process eForms have repeating data. To solve this problem, DBXL supports submitting XML data to any SQL database. DBXL is a loosely-coupled Web service that enables other smart app scenarios. It is not specific to InfoPath and, in fact, can be used to reduce the development cost and improve the architecture for Web development (since it enables a loosely-coupled design). After 10 years of development, DBXL no exists a suite of Web services to reduce the cost of integrating apps with SQL. It provides both query and submit functionality and rich repertoire of tools to manipulate data. The main benefit of the DBXL is that it is a generic Web service and can be used for any number of forms. Instead of creating one Web service per form template, which causes deployment and migration cost, DBXL supports any number of form templates and that results in a huge cost savings since there is only one deployment and migration to a new server or SharePoint farm is easy. In the last few years, we have created cloud versions of DBXL for Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. Visit our Web site for more details: http://www.qdabra.com/en/products/DBXL.aspx

What is qRules?

Qdabra launched our first community site, InfoPathDev.com, back in December of 2003. After a couple years, the InfoPathDev forum was the leading resource for InfoPath questions on the Web and we currently get between forty and fifty thousand unique visitors a month. The problem was that the questions always centered around the gaps in InfoPath. In other words, people were constantly hitting the same issues and we grew tired of responding to each post with the same code snippet. So, we developed a common library to give to people and that library became qRules. Today, qRules has over 150 functions not included in out-of-box InfoPath. The main benefit of qRules is that our customers don’t have to worry about writing code to fill the most common gaps in Microsoft’s InfoPath technology. Rather than hire a developer and have separate libraries for each InfoPath form, qRules provides a common library that can be injected into a form template and used to complete InfoPath filler forms as well as SharePoint browser forms. Recently, we have created a Microsoft Azure Web service for our Office365 cloud customers. Visit our Web site for more details: http://www.qdabra.com/en/products/qRules_new.aspx.

What about the Future?

Ten years ago SharePoint was barely breathing and ten years from now, SharePoint will likely be something entirely different. Technology changes very quickly, companies split apart and merge. Data formats change much slower than apps. I feel confident that HTML and XML will still be around in 2024. Forms technology that uses those formats today will easily migrate to new “apps” in the future. Qdabra is an “eForms” company. We think InfoPath is still the best technology around, but we are customer-focused. We are not technology centric. We’re here to create a solution for you. We have employees certified in K2 smart forms and Formotus mobile forms and we also are happy to implement ServBus or a PDF Share Form solution if you think it would be a better fit. We will happily look at Access or SharePoint list forms too, but they have serious limitations. We just completed a 12-part webinar series titled “After InfoPath” (click here) focusing on migration paths. We also have a matrix you can review to see some of the many forms alternatives. One of those alternatives is Qdabra’s own FormsViewer technology which we are committed to providing for free as open source software. The software currently works on SharePoint 2013 but we intend to provide it for people without SharePoint in the next year. FormsViewer will support both viewing and editing of data and it will use InfoPath XSN format. We hope this will provide an additional migration path for companies over the next few years and we intend to add features to it to extend the technology in the future.  In other words, we will have API compatibility for a large percentage of existing InfoPath forms. InfoPath form services provides about 80% API compatibility for InfoPath filler API features. Formotus provides maybe 70% and FormsViewer will likely be in the same range. Certainly, we can design a form that will work on FormsViewer and InfoPath filler from the beginning too.

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SPC348: Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms- Monday, March 03, 2014

This morning at the SharePoint Conference in Vegas, Microsoft gave a great presentation to a packed room of >1000 attendees.

Here’s the slide

Here’s a link where you can download the slide deck: http://www.infopathdev.com/files/folders/examples/entry96310.aspx 

Quick Summary: Greg, Sonya and Bob gave a very positive talk. They demoed Excel surveys, introduced Forms on SharePoint Lists (FOSL), and talked about the evolving roadmap at Microsoft for form solutions targeting IT professionals. Main focus was no-code solutions. Yay!

My Thoughts: I love the new open and cooperative atmosphere at this year’s conference. From Day 1 the theme was cooperation. Bill Clinton gave a keynote where he said we need to celebrate our differences if we are going to survive as a social species (heady stuff). Right after that Julia demoed a new social media app called Oslo and she did the demo on an iPad. Rah rah for the new inclusiveness!  This theme was a great backdrop to the InfoPath update talk. InfoPath has always been a sharp knife and some people have cut themselves. The new roadmap pushes four technologies forward to support building better forms that work on a variety of devices and provide contextual data that is not-modal.

  • Excel Surveys – simple surveys that are data-driven and work great from all devices (available in the O365 cloud today)
  • Forms on SharePoint Lists – turn your lists into contextual forms (first release in summer of 2014)
  • Access Web Apps – rich forms that are backed by relational data (available in the O365 cloud today)
  • Word Structured Forms – rich high fidelity forms that print well with structured data that can be integrated with databases (ETA: 2015?)
  • InfoPath – currently, this is still the recommended solution for forms from Microsoft

Mind the Gap! The majority of rich forms today require repeating data sections. If InfoPath browser support gets removed from the cloud in 3-4 years (see previous blog roadmap), one of the new technologies will have to support this. My bet is on Word’s roadmap.

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Free Tool to Migrate InfoPath data into SharePoint Lists- Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Qdabra is happy to announce our free tool to help you migrate InfoPath data into SharePoint lists. This free download includes and InfoPath converter tool. Convert data stored in your InfoPath forms into SharePoint lists. Includes support for mapping fields in arbitrarily deep repeating tables and sections into multiple lists with parent-child lookups. View our webinar video from February 13th to see a quick demo.

Works with SharePoint 2007, 2010, or 2013. Requires InfoPath 2010 on client machine. For help with installation and configuration, please email Support@Qdabra.com to schedule an online meeting. Important note: support is not included with the free download.

Quick demo video: http://bit.ly/1bt9Aod
Free trial: http://www.qdabra.com/en/products/download.aspx?product=qRules (the tool is in qRules Package. See InfoPath to SharePoint List Tool directory)

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Microsoft announces InfoPath 2013 is the last version … what to do!?- Tuesday, February 11, 2014

On Friday, Microsoft announced that InfoPath 2013 would be the last version: http://blogs.office.com/2014/01/31/update-on-infopath-and-sharepoint-forms/

Many InfoPath form designers, users and business process managers may be wondering what to do.

InfoPath technology is currently the best electronic form technology on the market for the following reasons:

  • Low cost – included in SharePoint/O365, office workers can create rich forms that validate input without code
  • Easy to deploy – no client installs required; InfoPath supports browser forms and domain trust
  • Connect to Web services – InfoPath’s native XML support means you can easily connect to enterprise data to pre-populate fields and dropdowns without code
  • Good looking forms – InfoPath displays forms in HTML which is Web client and means you can create very good-looking rich forms

Microsoft has announced that 2013 will be the last version but what’s next?

  • Microsoft will support InfoPath 2013 (and SharePoint 2013) until 2023
  • Currently, there is no specific guidance on Migrating InfoPath
  • Microsoft has hinted that there will be another announcement at the SharePoint 2014 conference in March
  • Because InfoPath format is XML, assuming your InfoPath forms have well-named data sources, it will be easy to migrate your existing form data to another platform
  • Several alternate applications already exist that read and write InfoPath-designed forms:

Timeline for InfoPath going away (please note: this is my guess and are not based on communication with Microsoft)

  • 2014: Microsoft announces no future InfoPath versions (see blog post above)
  • 2014: Microsoft Office 365 (cloud) toggles InfoPath browser option to be default off
  • 2016: Microsoft Office 365 disables InfoPath for new customers
  • 2016: SharePoint 2016 ships with no support for InfoPath
  • 2016: InfoPath Designer available as a free “sunset” download (???)
  • 2018: Microsoft Office 365 disables InfoPath browser for all cloud customers
  • 2020: Compatibility bugs with service packs prevent filler from working with SharePoint 2016 (???)
  • 2022: Last year of support for InfoPath 2013 filler/designer

Suggested migration timeline – here is a proposed timeline for you:

  • 2014: wait and see what Microsoft announces new initiatives at SharePoint 2014 conference in March
  • 2014: continue using InfoPath to build / prototype electronic form solutions BECAUSE ITS INEXPENSIVE AND DATA CAN BE MOVED EASILY
  • 2014: start planning migration of InfoPath forms – review other apps, set priorities and requirements, evaluate cost of all viable options, and get organization buy off on plan
  • 2015: perform proof-of-concept migration of  one or two forms to vet and/or re-evaluate plan
  • 2015: perform migration of a business critical form on existing SharePoint site and/or future SharePoint platform to bolster organizational confidence
  • 2015: re-evaluate and revise migration plan based on results of initial migrations
  • 2016: migrate all existing business critical InfoPath forms to existing SharePoint site and/or new SharePoint platform
  • 2017: migrate non-critical forms as needed

Qdabra Software (providers of InfoPathDev) is here to assist you with your migration.

Action Items for Now

  • Check out my webinar recording from last week: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_rhNrFx5D8&list=PL581899A129522F53
  • Check out http://formsquo.com/ for updates. We will be updating the site at the end of February and after Microsoft’s announcement in March
  • Check out Qdabra’s newsletters
  • Create awareness on your team of the potential changes ahead
  • Continue doing what you are doing – Microsoft is still using InfoPath internally and likely will be doing so for many years
  • Stay abreast of the new developments by following #InfoPath on Twitter.

Lastly, keep in mind that change is the only constant out there. Everything changes eventually so announcing that there will be a change publicly seems a bit pretentious. And, change doesn’t always result in improvement. Lots of companies skip upgrading to new versions if the cost-benefit calculations don’t make business sense.

Qdabra Software is committed to providing you and our many customers a positive path forward. We are here to help you continue creating value from your existing IT investment and assist in planning and implementation of future online business processes.

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