A more descriptive name for Adobe Designer 6.0 might be "InfoPath for PDF." The concept is brilliant: exploit Microsoft's failure to make InfoPath ubiquitous by putting interactivity and XML smarts into Adobe's free PDF viewer, and by offering a forms builder that targets both Adobe Reader and Acrobat. Announced last summer, in beta now, and scheduled for release this summer, Adobe Designer is that forms builder.
Adobe says that Designer targets version 6 of the PDF players. I had to upgrade both to the (still unreleased) version 6.02, though, in order to use Designer-built forms. You can start a form from scratch, or by importing a layout from sources including PDF, Word, and even InfoPath files. Either way, you can associate the form with an XML Schema. But while the schema defines the shape of the data collected by the form, there's limited runtime enforcement of schema constraints in Acrobat or Reader.
Some constraints, such as field lengths, are handled automatically. But when I wrote a regular-expression restriction into the schema, Designer's preview didn't complain when I entered text that didn't match the pattern. In Acrobat, I was able to save an invalid XML instance. Bottom line: if you want real schema validation, you'll have to do it yourself in the back-end process that receives the data.
Designer enables you to specify repeating elements, but they only work in concert with a server that regenerates the form with space for new data. You can't grow a region interactively, a la InfoPath. That's a limitation of the Acrobat/Reader forms player, of course, not of Designer.
Despite evident weaknesses, the Designer/Reader duo offers two key strengths: digital-paper fidelity, and a ubiquitous runtime. Using the free Reader, I was able to fill out a Designer-built form, print a high-fidelity copy for my records, and post its XML data to a Web server. No matter how the future of e-forms unfolds, that's going to be a popular scenario.
Note: This item appears on page 18 of InfoWorld, May 3, 2004, in the Product Previews section. Normally I point to InfoWorld articles on InfoWorld.com, but since we haven't yet found a home online for Product Previews, I'm publishing (the original version of) the item here.
Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2004/05/06.html#a990