Well Formed: Adobe Announces Intelligent Forms Designer

It is still early in the game to determine how smart Adobe's recently announced intelligent forms designer product will actually be. As EContent goes to print, Adobe has yet to finalize the product's name, price point, and certain features, but Adobe expects that it will be ready to ship in early 2004 and you can bet that one way or another you will encounter the product before long.

Adobe currently has another form product on the market, Forms Designer 5.0, which is also designed to create "intelligent documents," which it bills as, "a point-and-click, graphical XML form design tool for easily creating sophisticated forms that can be deployed as Adobe Portable Document (PDF) or HTML documents." According to Adobe, the forthcoming forms designer tool is an entirely new product; it is not an upgrade to Forms Designer 5.0, nor are upgrades planned for 5.0 at this time.

The new forms designer has three main target users: the graphical designer who is interested in the look of the form, the developer who writes text for the document, and the business user who needs to be able to edit the form but lacks the technical skills of a developer.

In the new version, when designing forms, users can choose from a variety of methods from which to begin. They can simply create an entirely new document, they can accept PDF versions of legacy forms, including fill-in forms, or they can import forms from Forms Designer 5.0. These methods are intended to meet the needs of customers across the electronic food chain. Chuck Myers, senior product manager for Adobe, explains that Adobe users are on a variety of levels when it comes to form useā€”from printing forms, filling them out by hand, and sending them via snail mail, to filling out forms electronically then printing and sending by mail, to sending information electronically, to using internal routing and processing.

Using the WYSIWYG forms designer, users drag and drop fields into a form to create infinite combinations of data. Standard fields include check boxes, drop-down menus, text boxes, signature boxes, and date/time boxes, and any number of custom fields can also be developed. Users can import data fields (i.e., "Street") and then make data connections manually, or they can import larger fields ("Address") and Adobe automatically imports the child fields as well (Street, City, County, etc.).

Although, after more than half-a-billion downloads, the Adobe Reader (recently re-named Acrobat Reader) is almost ubiquitous, Adobe admits that not everyone with a computer uses Reader. With that in mind, the forms designer product will have a number of deployment options, so that in addition to PDF, XML, and XDP, users can also deploy forms in HTML.

Adobe has incorporated a variety of new security features, such as the ability to lock down form fields so that users cannot change them, and is also working to be Section 508-compliant. The forms designer itself is not designed to be handicap-accessible, but it is designed to create forms that are accessible.

While the forms designer product is seemingly similar to Microsoft's InfoPath, Adobe is quick to make distinctions between the two. Myers and senior marketing manager Marion Melani explained that the key difference is ease of use. "A good deal of attention has been paid to ease of use," explains Myers, including the user interface and graphics creation. InfoPath is also very internally focused, whereas the Adobe forms designer has a broader range and can be more readily applied outside of the firewall.

So stay tuned as we head in to 2004; Adobe just may have some aces up its sleeve when it comes to reinventing the intelligent document. (www.adobe.com)