Mobility Blog

InfoPath News: Year in Review and Look Forward

mm

Written by 

Ms. Neagu is a noted expert on data applications and XML technologies. Adriana was co-inventor of Microsoft Office InfoPath, and co-holds 4 InfoPath patents.

InfoPath Word Cloud

InfoPath’s retirement was announced a year ago and discussed by Microsoft back in March, but what’s new since then, and what’s next?

 

It’s been about a year now since Microsoft announced its retirement plan for InfoPath.  The retirement was somewhat expected yet still it was surprising that a product with such an enormous enterprise installed base would simply be discontinued without a clear roadmap to the future for companies that depend on it.

The January announcement promised further information would be presented at the SharePoint Conference in March. An overflow crowd showed up at that SPC348 session to learn what Microsoft’s plan would be for replacing InfoPath forms technology. The first thing the audience learned was – almost in so many words – that no new InfoPath replacement would be presented. Instead what was shown was a grab-bag of potential alternatives, both internal and 3rd-party.

Microsoft Slide from SPC 2014
Microsoft Slide from SPC 2014

 

The Microsoft presentation at the SharePoint conference has been much re-hashed so I don’t need to repeat that exercise here. Instead, I want to address some questions about what has (or hasn’t) happened since last March.

Has FoSL been released?

No, or perhaps not anymore. Forms on SharePoint Lists (FoSL) is a new SharePoint feature for editing lists using built-in forms as a partial replacement for InfoPath browser forms.

February Update: FoSL has been canceled

Just the second canceled feature to be listed on the Office 365 Roadmap:

Forms On SharePoint Lists Cancelled

Any news about Word and structured form documents?

Nothing I can find. Of the four Microsoft technologies called out in March (FoSL, Access, Excel and Word) the notion that Word might replace InfoPath as a structured document editor was the least developed. Basically, Microsoft had nothing to tell us about it except to expect a plan by the end of 2014. To date, I’ve seen no hint of progress being made on Word or anything else to replace InfoPath for structured documents. Has anyone else?

How long will InfoPath really be supported?

Some act like InfoPath is already dead and buried – there was even a mock funeral at the SharePoint Conference. That’s clearly not the case, despite the eagerness of some to exaggerate the urgency of moving to an alternative. But the blanket statement that InfoPath will be fully supported until 2023 is also a little misleading because there are some nuances around browser forms and product availability to consider.

InfoPath vs Forms Services

While InfoPath is supported until 2023 there is no such policy in place for Forms Services, the SharePoint feature that enables InfoPath forms to be rendered in a browser. Therefore the question is pertinent as to how long InfoPath browser forms will be supported on SharePoint.

The prognosis is different for SharePoint Online and on premises. On-prem SharePoint should support InfoPath browser forms for as long as the environment is not upgraded beyond SharePoint 2013. Given typical migration patterns, this could leave several more years of browser form support in many enterprises.

SharePoint Online, on the other hand, will lose Forms Services immediately with the next on-prem release of SharePoint, as we learned in June. We’ve been told to expect a one-year notice before that happens.

February Update: The original Microsoft blog post has been updated with an Editors Note, reading in part:

“Specifically, InfoPath Forms Services will be included in the next on-premises release of SharePoint Server 2016, as well as being fully supported in Office 365 until further notice.”

This raises an important question: How can InfoPath Forms Services be “fully supported” in Office 365″ when Office will no longer include InfoPath?

How available will InfoPath be in the future?

It’s one thing to say InfoPath is supported, and another thing to say how it can be obtained. We see an ongoing trend to make InfoPath generally less available over time. Actually, the fact that InfoPath Filler was never made available separately from Designer meant that Microsoft never embraced a wide-adoption model a la Acrobat Reader.

One major step (backward) taken in the InfoPath 2013 release was to make InfoPath unavailable separately from a high-end Office suite. There simply was no longer any InfoPath box to buy. And for a period of time, the only way to obtain InfoPath from Microsoft was through volume license agreements for high-end Office.

With the appearance of Office 365 InfoPath once again became available for easy purchase, now by subscription to a plan as inexpensive as Midsize Business. But in July we learned the Midsize Business subscription is being phased out and replaced by plans without InfoPath. Soon only Enterprise E3 level subscriptions will include InfoPath, and then surely only until the next version of Office is released.

It was interesting and telling to me that in December Microsoft released a hotfix to InfoPath 2013. The fix was to make it possible for old InfoPath 2013 to run alongside newer versions of Office. That’s a good move toward supporting InfoPath for companies that continue to rely on it, but it raises an important question: How will one be able to acquire InfoPath 2013 in the future?

Dear Microsoft, why not make InfoPath free?

The next version of Office promises to bring a crisis to the availability of InfoPath. If it’s no longer available with Office ProPlus or Office 365 E3, then it won’t be available for purchase at all. Nor will there be boxes of old InfoPath 2013 to buy from 3rd parties, because those boxes don’t exist.

Yet companies that continue to rely on InfoPath forms will still need to provide their employees with InfoPath.

So why not make it available for free? No revenue will be lost because it’s not for sale anymore. Making it available as a legacy download will help fulfill the promise of support until 2023. It will be a tremendous boon for enterprises navigating the long migration away from InfoPath not to have to worry about how to provision employees still needing to use the product. And there are precedents for discontinued Microsoft products going free – Money, Flight Simulator, and probably more.

So what do you say, Microsoft, is the next big news about InfoPath that it will be free? [Editor’s note: Microsoft is now giving InfoPath to users for free.]