Microsoft tests InfoPath update

The software giant releases a beta version of a collection of tweaks and patches for its electronic forms application.

David Becker Staff Writer, CNET News.com
David Becker
covers games and gadgets.
David Becker
2 min read
Microsoft released a trial version Monday of its first major update to InfoPath, the new electronic forms application released last year as part of the Office family.

The beta version of Service Pack 1 (SP1) includes several significant new features, said Microsoft product manager Bobby Moore, along with the typical performance enhancements and bug fixes included in a service pack. The final version of the InfoPath update will be included in the release of SP1 for Office 2003, set for late June.

The release of an initial service pack is usually considered a milestone for a major Microsoft product, signifying the software is stable enough for broad adoption. Analysts have said SP1 will be less of a landmark for Office 2003 and related applications, however, as information technology managers will need more time to tie the software into backend computing systems.

InfoPath is one of two new applications that debuted with Office 2003. The application, which is included in the "professional" version of Office 2003 sold to most business customers, allows workers to create interactive forms that automatically shuttle information to corporate databases and other systems.

Microsoft has positioned InfoPath as a tool mainly for improving collection and sharing of internal data. Adobe Systems and other rivals in the emerging so-called e-forms market tackle external distribution of forms.

Updates to InfoPath include new security features that allow extended use of digital signatures, Moore said, plus full support for handwriting recognition and other elements of Microsoft's tablet PC format. The updated InfoPath also allows users to swap forms as e-mail attachments, rather than having to retrieve them from a central server.

The update includes significant changes for developers, Moore said, including new scripting support for Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net and Visual Basic environments. The new version also enhances support for use of custom dialects, or schemas, of XML (Extensible Markup Language), the basic language behind InfoPath and other e-forms products.

"In the past, there was difficulty handling some complex schemas," Moore said.

Moore said Microsoft decided to get the InfoPath tweaks out early because they include some significant usability improvements based on customer comments. "We recognized that some of the customer feedback we got concerned things normal technical updates weren't going to address," he said, adding that current InfoPath forms will be fully compatible with the updated application.

"You won't break anything you've already created," Moore said.