Acrobat and InfoPath

Look at Adobe's interactive income tax form. That document is licensed, by the Document Server for Reader Extensions, to unlock the form fill-in and digital signature capabilities of the reader. Filling in a form and then signing it digitally is an eye-opening experience. It's more interesting now that the form's data is schema-controlled and, Myers adds, can flow in and out by way of WSDL-defined SOAP transactions. The only missing InfoPath ingredient is a forms designer that nonprogrammers can use to map between schema elements and form fields. That's just what the recently announced Adobe Forms Designer intends to be. I like where Adobe is going. The familiarity of paper forms matters to lots of people. And unless Microsoft's strategy changes radically, those folks are far likelier to have an Adobe reader than an InfoPath client. [Full story at]

Among the comments I've received on this piece was one from Philip Brittan, chairman of Droplets, who pointed to an earlier blog entry that says in part:

The question on everyone's tongue now is how these products [Acrobat and InfoPath] will compete with each other. A deeper question is how they will compete with HTML/XForms and whether they will indeed progress towards being full application delivery platforms. It seems that there is market pressure for a platform to provide a continuum of capabilities from document publishing to application delivery. Maybe docs, forms, and apps are really all meant to be the same thing. But how we'll achieve that is still far from clear. []

Well said. In response to those who ask whether I think Acrobat will prove to be a better form designer and info-gathering tool than InfoPath, I'd say two things. First, of course, neither is shipping. Second, and more important, they aim at different targets. Although I despise paper forms, our business culture is deeply rooted in paper and will be for a long time. Interactive digital paper is a necessary bridge technology. Meanwhile, new workflows are emerging that have no ties to the world of paper and printers. So I actually see Acrobat and InfoPath as complementary. Of course Philip's point is well taken. Neither Acrobat nor InfoPath is a first-class native citizen of the Web. I'd love to see both move in that direction. Adobe can help by making SVG easier to deploy and use. Microsoft can help by making schema-aware data gathering easier to deploy and use. There's plenty of headroom for commercial products based on these technologies, but they need foundations on which to stand.

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