The future of Forms with SharePoint and Office 365

Introduction

Recently Microsoft announced that InfoPath as a forms solution for SharePoint and Office 365 were to cease to exist. In my opinion this is great, because I never really liked InfoPath and it wasn’t very widely adopted in any organization I’ve ever worked with. There were benefits with InfoPath, but nothing we couldn’t do as developers or that the end-users couldn’t do themselves using free form-plugins from the web. Purchasing an enterprise-license just for the sake of forms was a really hard bargain to root for.

Read more about the announcement from Microsoft: Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms

We have InfoPath today, what do we do?

With the decision to retire the development of InfoPath, what decisions do we need to make in our organizations?

InfoPath 2013 & InfoPath 2013 for SharePoint on-premises

If you are utilizing forms today with InfoPath 2013 client or using the InfoPath 2013 browser forms features, you are still fully supported until 2023, so you have a lot of time. Right now, I’d wait until further announcements (see further down in this article).

Office 365

If you are utilizing forms today in Office 365, you have at lease until the next major release of Office (and then some) before it’s unsupported. My take on this is that since we’re in the cloud-first world now, the updates will roll out on Office 365 long before on-prem, which also makes it important to listen to Microsoft’s guidance here. As soon as they decide to cut the support, Forms might stop working in Office 365. But as mentioned, you’ve got some time until then.

Migrating InfoPath forms?

Microsoft is cutting InfoPath. We can live with that, but how do we move our current forms into the replacement technology? Microsoft mentioned "We don’t know yet, we are evaluating various options to aid in migration" and "Third parties may provide tools, or even support running InfoPath forms into the future".

So the answer right now is to sit tight and don’t make any hasty decisions – if you don’t have an immediate need to replace InfoPath for whatever reason, let the forms live on until further notice.

What does the future look like for Forms with SharePoint and Office 365?

We will soon see some new replacement technologies that will be the ground zero for Forms with SharePoint and Office 365. Microsoft said that any new Forms features for on-premises SharePoint will not be launched until the next version. So if you’re eager to try something that doesn’t already exist, you once again see that the cloud-first strategy is in full effect.

Here’s the key announcements:

Excel Surveys

Albeit not the newest technology, Excel surveys will be a large part of creating forms. Excel Surveys are not specifically tied to just SharePoint but can have a broader usage.

User Scenarios

  • Form Design: Design Forms in Excel Online with Excel Surveys
  • Form Completion: Web

Timeframe

  • Office 365: Continuously shipping
  • On-premises: Included with Office 2013

List Forms (FoSL - Forms on SharePoint Lists)

List Forms, or FoSL which means Forms on SharePoint Lists and pronounced "Fossil", looks pretty slick. This is where they enable an easy creation of forms for specific lists. We will see a lot of improvements and developments of this technology, and I would argue that this may be the most popular and widely adopted forms feature if the promises are kept.

User Scenarios

  • Form Design: FoSL, Forms designed on SharePoint Lists
  • Form Completion: SharePoint

Timeframe

  • Office 365: Between summer 2014 and October 2015
  • On-premises: Next version of SharePoint (SharePoint vNext)

Structured Documents

A bit surprising to learn that Structured Documents is a type of form technology that enables you to create modern forms in Word.

User Scenarios

  • Form Design: Word
  • Form Completion: Word

Timeframe

  • Office 365: Current plans target the end of 2014
  • On-premises: Current plans target the end of 2014

App Forms

App Forms are forms that you design in Access and complete in SharePoint. This is a type of forms technology you would use with more complex forms with multiple tables of data and multiple types of forms. I predict that you can create some pretty fancy stuff with App Forms, but we’ve yet to see what it holds for the future.

User Scenarios

  • Form Design: Access
  • Form Completion: SharePoint

Timeframe

  • Office 365: Continuously shipping
  • On-premises: Included with Office 2013

When should I use App Forms vs. FoSL?

  • Access/App Forms are best suited for self-contained apps with multiple related tables and multiple forms.
  • FoSL is better suites for single forms with a single table, which is a SharePoint list.

I noticed that Visual Studio wasn’t mentioned as a form design tool, why?

Visual Studio is a developer technology, for people who develop stuff. Microsoft is deliberately targeting no-code users. In other words: Microsoft wants to target the Information Worker, not the developers.

I think this is a great decision, and I’m hoping that we can see some of the aforementioned form technologies flourish and get a wide adoption by the users. Simplicity is key.

We can’t wait for the new form replacements, we need them now!

All the new features that are being announced sounds pretty hot, but since we can’t use them as we would like right now, what alternatives do we have?

Mark Rackley created a tool on CodePlex called Forms7, which works with SharePoint 2007, 2010 and 2013 alike.  Based on traditional HTML and jQuery, you can easily integrate it essentially anywhere.

I urge you to check it out if you are in a need for forms quickly. All the data is stored in SharePoint lists, so you can easily access all the information at any time.

Summary

Microsoft have announced a set of new replacement technologies in the area of forms. All the aforementioned technologies seems like they can have some pretty nice use cases. As for existing InfoPath customers, I would sit tight in the boat for a while to see what Microsoft announces in the future. If you are thinking about implementing forms for the first time, take it for a spin with some industry experts to get input on what your goals are and what would benefit you in the long-term and short-term respectively.

Microsoft has a new philosophy in recent years. Open source and open communication. I love this approach, and with that you can also see that there’s a User Voice site available for sending input regarding Office Forms vNext. If you have input, get in there and publish it so the Office team can take action!.

Enjoy!

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Tobias Zimmergren

Founder / Consultant / Advisor at TOZIT AB
Tobias Zimmergren delivers high-quality articles about business and technology around the Microsoft scene.

Tobias focuses on advisory and consultancy for the Office 365 and SharePoint offerings from Microsoft.
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  • Niklas J

    This is a great article with very good detailed information. I saw ur other post on access form too and it looks very cool. we will try this out on-premis to find if we can use this for all our forms needs.

    thank you!

    • http://www.zimmergren.net/ Tobias Zimmergren

      Thank you Niklas.
      Appreciate your feedback. Good luck with the forms!
      Tobias.

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  • Juan

    hello tobias thank yo ufor great info about this. your blog is good.
    how if we have current forms we can migrate them to new form solutions for sharepoint and how we can automating this to make it as simple so possible so we dont need to do much of the work??

    • http://www.zimmergren.net/ Tobias Zimmergren

      Hi Juan,
      I’m glad you like my blog and the content I provide, I appreciate the comments.

      As for your question;
      It depends on how your current forms are implemented. Are they InfoPath, are they web forms, are they using any third party form solution provider?
      If I know the details of your current form solution I’m pretty sure we can figure out a way to move forward.

      Cheers,
      Tobias.

  • Leon Zandman

    I really don’t get why Microsoft is sending the message that they’re deprecating InfoPath, but fail to provide a clear follow-up. They said SPC14 would bring clarity to the future of forms, but all I see is the same flawed story and vague promises about vNext features (which will probably be cool, but unusable until vNext SP1 or vNext++).

    • http://www.zimmergren.net/ Tobias Zimmergren

      Actually I think they’ve been pretty clear this time. They’ve even shared the entire roadmap and timeframes (see in the post) about then they expect to release the new features.
      InfoPath is supported for another 9 years until 2023, so if you’re on-premises you shouldn’t have to worry, you can still use InfoPath forms until there is a clear alternative for you to move forward with. Deprecating the development of new features in InfoPath doesn’t mean it will all stop working :-)

      So if you’re on InfoPath forms today and not sure what to choose for your next forms adventure, just hang tight with those forms until more information is available when they release it for on-prem or the cloud.

      In my eyes, this is the first time we’ve gotten a pretty clear message to be honest, but not all information is available yet – and InfoPath still works.

      • Leon Zandman

        I’ve been bitten in the past. I don’t consider things like “Between summer 2014 and October 2015″ and “Current plans target the end of 2014″ very solid statements. And it are just plans, they can easily alter them. And it’s a combination of things, instead of a single, powerful solution. I like clarity :-)

        For most of my projects we’ll just wait and see what the future brings…

        • http://www.zimmergren.net/ Tobias Zimmergren

          I understand, but with that – InfoPath still exist and works just as it did previous to their statements. So until there’s a solid way to move forward, you’ve still got InfoPath.

          I too like clarity, and even if there could’ve been more details in some of the announcements, this is one of the announcements where they’ve actually made the information public very early in the cycle. Kudos to Microsoft for that, in my book.

          • Douglas

            The problem is that even working with InfoPath, Microsoft has announced the discontinuation of the product. So can we justify to our customers to use of InfoPath? What alternatives do we have? Code? InfoPath is transparent to SharePoint! Much more than customizations via code. So I said what I thought too hasty attitude Microsoft announced the discontinuation of the product without having a maturing of the product that will replace it. While the new product is not mature enough to be offered in the market, we will have a gap. We would have its hands tied because we can not offer InfoPath and we will not have another similar solution to offer (because even the third Apps do not have stocky features like InfoPath).

            I believe that in this sense the Microsoft screwed up!

          • http://www.zimmergren.net/ Tobias Zimmergren

            Hi Douglas,

            If you can justify using it or not, depends on a range of variables. What version are you on, when is your next planned potential upgrade, what need is there for a forms solution, what requirements on that forms solution exist etc.

            It’s not a question that can be answered with a yes/no answer, but rather discussions about pros and cons.

            You could for example use Access 2013 (See http://zimmergren.net/technical/building-apps-for-sharepoint-in-office-365-using-access-2013) which is a simple (very simple) way for people to quickly create forms, data containers and what not and present it as an app. It’s pretty straight forward and offers you a great way to present the data with little effort.

            You can use code, you can use third party solutions (as I mention there’s the Forms 7 solution on codeplex), you can use Access 2013 or something else.

            I agree that the guidance on moving forward isn’t 100% clear yet, and as a customer you probably have to think twice before making a decision, but with that said I wouldn’t ditch InfoPath straight off the bat just because they’ve discontinued the development of the product (it’s still supported for another 9 years…) – so again, it all breaks down to variables of your implementations.

            I don’t see this move as a screw up, rather a move to better and more modern technologies. InfoPath still works – and will work for a while more. Once you get to the point that it doesn’t work anymore, there’s going to be plenty of new offerings both from Microsoft and elsewhere.

            :-)

          • Jason Ames

            Douglas and Leon… MVPs are always going to be reluctant to criticize MS strategy. Give it up. Whether we publically admit it or not, we all know that announcing a product deprecation without a replacement is bad…and has caused tons of bewilderment in companies across the globe. If the message was clear, there would not be blog postings like this one in the first place. Just relax, and wait for *real* clarity. It will come. Right now, just research your options, keep the vendor vultures at bay, and wait for the light to shine.

          • http://www.zimmergren.net/ Tobias Zimmergren

            Hey Jason,
            Thanks for your comment.

            I don’t necessarily feel that I’m reluctant in criticizing Microsoft. Actually I’ve done that on many occasions. I write what suits me and my clients best – the way I see it and call it. This has proven to be a good thing both for me, the clients and for Microsoft so there’s really no point in arguing about MVP’s saying this or that. We’re not all the same you know :-)

            As for the points you make part from that, I agree that you should wait and see what happens. You are correct that posts like these wouldn’t be needed if there would be clearer guidance – but there isn’t at this point, which means we can at least do something to help the decisions. Most of my clients that are actually using InfoPath are hanging in there to see where the train takes them. There’s no need to replace it while running SharePoint Server 2013 anyway, since there’s full comparability there.

            We’ll just have to wait and see what the future brings in terms of alternatives and replacement technologies.

            In short:
            You’re correct, better guidance would make things easier.
            Unfortunately there isn’t any such guidance today, which means we’ll have to make as informed decisions as we can based on the information that is out there.

            Cheers,
            Tobias.

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  • douglas.akioka@yahoo.com.br

    Hello Tobias ,

    I believe that Microsoft could have matured over the solutions that it is proposing to replace the InfoPath before announcing the discontinuation of the product. I was at SharePoint Conference and attended the lecture where they showed Excel Surveys, FOSL, Forms App and Structutured Documments. In my opinion the solutions are still too weak to assert that they will be able to replace the time developments of the resources provided by InfoPath. Honestly really like InfoPath, because it is very good for processes small/medium size. Perhaps many developers criticize negatively InfoPath for not understanding how far it can go and wanting that it meets all the requirements a .Net can meet. People who want to use InfoPath to develop an ERP in SharePoint. In my view, this is nonsense, InfoPath is not for that!
    Anyway, hope that Microsoft shipped a product, at least better than InfoPath, especially since I saw the Conference in Vegas is still a long way to convince us that we will have a product height .

    This is just a private opinion!

    Thanks for your post!

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