Introducing Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003

Applies to
Microsoft Office InfoPath™ 2003

Most people in a business environment fill out forms, such as expense reports, time cards, employee surveys, or insurance forms, while other people are responsible for designing, distributing, and maintaining these forms. You can use InfoPath, a new program in the Microsoft Office System, to design and fill out electronic forms, such as the expense report form shown below.

An InfoPath form

What is InfoPath?

In InfoPath, you can do two things:

InfoPath is based on industry-standard Extensible Markup Language (XML) (Extensible Markup Language (XML): A condensed form of Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML) that enables developers to create customized tags that offer flexibility in organizing and presenting information.). When you design a form, InfoPath creates a form template (form template: In InfoPath, a file or set of files that defines the data structure, appearance, and behavior of a form.) (.xsn) file, which is a cabinet (.cab) file with an .xsn extension. The .xsn file contains standard XML files, such as XML Schema (XSD) (XML Schema: A formal specification, written in XML, that defines the structure of an XML document, including element names and rich data types, which elements can appear in combination, and which attributes are available for each element.) and XSL Transformation (XSLT) (XSL Transformation (XSLT): A language that is used to transform XML documents into other types of documents, such as HTML or XML. It is designed for use as part of XSL.) files. When someone fills out a form in InfoPath, the data in that form is saved or submitted in XML format. This makes it easy for organizations to reuse the data elsewhere, perhaps in an existing process that relies on XML, such as an expense reporting process.

However, you don't need to understand XML in order to design or fill out an InfoPath form. The important point is that the form's XML format makes it easy to repurpose and share the data you collect.

ShowTip

If you want a general introduction to XML, see XML for the uninitiated. To learn specifically about XML and InfoPath, see How XML standards are used in Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003.

Why use InfoPath?

InfoPath forms can be straightforward, simple forms that are used by a few people in a small workgroup. For example, a 10-person sales team can use InfoPath to fill out and share information in sales call forms. These forms can be published to and accessed from a common location on the company network, such as a form library (form library: A folder in which a collection of forms based on the same template is stored and shared. Each form in a form library is associated with user-defined information that is displayed in the content listing for that library.) located on a Microsoft Windows® SharePoint™ Services site. Alternatively, the sales call form can be designed so that data is submitted directly to an existing database of customer information.

InfoPath forms can also be more sophisticated forms that are integrated into the existing business processes of a large organization. For example, if a company uses Microsoft BizTalk® Server to manage the process of expense claim reporting, developers in the company's IT department might design an InfoPath expense claim form that submits data to BizTalk, which then routes that data to the appropriate department for approval or processing.

The following list outlines some of the most important benefits of using InfoPath:

  • Reusable data    Thanks to XML, the data stored in an InfoPath form doesn't have to remain locked in the form forever; it can be easily separated from the form and reformatted or reused in a variety of ways. This enables form designers to integrate form data into existing business processes. It also reduces the need for time-consuming tasks, such as retyping data or copying data from one document to another.
  • Accurate data     As a user fills out an InfoPath form, the data they enter can be checked for data validation (data validation: The process of testing the accuracy of data; a set of rules you can apply to a control to specify the type and range of data that users can enter.) errors. If your form is connected to a database or Web service, users won't be able to submit data until they fix these errors. This helps you ensure that the data you collect is accurate and error-free, and that it conforms to whatever standards you specify.

A data validation error and ScreenTip

The View menu as it appears to the person filling out the form

A repeating table in an expense report form

  • Tablet PC support    InfoPath allows you to design forms for Tablet PC users. In particular, you can include special controls, called ink picture controls, in your form. Tablet PC users can then add handwritten words or drawings inside these controls.

How InfoPath works with other programs

Because InfoPath supports industry-standard XML, it works effectively with other programs and technologies, including the ones listed in the following table.

Program or technology How it works with InfoPath
Microsoft Office Excel 2003 By following steps in the Export to Excel Wizard, users can export data from one or more forms to a new Excel worksheet. Form data stored in a Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services form library can also be exported to an Excel worksheet.
Microsoft Office Outlook® 2003 The Send to Recipient command lets users send a copy of their form in the body of an Outlook e-mail message. This is a useful way to share the contents of a form with people who don't have InfoPath installed on their computer. The form itself is also attached to the message, so users who do have InfoPath installed can open it directly in InfoPath.
Microsoft Access 2000 or later You can design a new form that is connected to an existing Access database. Users can then use the form to submit data to and query the database. Similarly, you can use data from the database to populate a list box or drop-down list box, or you can write script to add data from the database to your form.
Microsoft SQL Server™ 2000 You can design a form that is connected to an existing SQL Server database. Users can then use the form to submit data to and query the database. Similarly, you can use data from the database to populate a list box or drop-down list box, or you can write script to add data from the database to your form.
Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services If your team uses Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services, you can use the Publishing Wizard to publish your form to a form library so that all related forms are stored in a single, convenient location. From the form library, users can fill out forms, export form data to Excel, or merge the data from several forms into one form.
Web services You can connect your form to a Web service in order to exchange XML data with other programs or systems. For example, by using a Web service, you can submit form data to your company's existing customer relationship management (CRM) system or to an Oracle database.
XML Schemas You can base your forms on XML files that are already being used by your organization. For example, if your organization uses a specific XML Schema (.xsd) file for purchase orders, you can base an InfoPath purchase order form on that .xsd file. If you don't have an existing schema, InfoPath builds one for you as you add controls to your form.