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InfoPath Service Pack to Add Features

In another example of Microsoft's new willingness to push feature changes into service packs, the company plans to include additional functionality into its fledgling Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 in the product's first service pack.

Microsoft offered InfoPath users a preview of the service pack last week. It can be found here. The full version of the InfoPath service pack is expected to be available with the rest of Office 2003 SP1 in late June.

The InfoPath feature changes come on the heels of Microsoft's well-publicized efforts to introduce substantial changes to the Windows XP code base in Service Pack 2 for the client operating system. Microsoft officials such as Jim Allchin have publicly refused to be dragged into a discussion of whether or not the security-related features being added in Windows XP SP2 qualify as "new" features. But since the launch of Windows 2000 four years ago, Microsoft has repeatedly said that it is listening to customers who insist that they do not want new features delivered in service packs.

To be sure, the InfoPath service pack will have nowhere near the broad distribution of the Windows XP service pack. InfoPath is only a few months old, and Microsoft still has work to do even in educating customers on what role it intends for InfoPath to play in the enterprise. In other words, throwing new features into InfoPath 2003 SP1 affects only a small install base. (Microsoft assures customers that InfoPath SP1 will be 100 percent compatible with the gold code).

Microsoft bills InfoPath as an information gathering program, which presents forms to end users to fill out and then passes the information into an automated business processes. More than other clients in the Office suite, it is a developer-oriented product. Much of the product feature set deals with the needs of developers who must design and build the forms and integrate them into a process. But some enhancements in the service pack also target ease-of-use changes for end users who must fill out the forms.

Among the changes coming in InfoPath 2003 SP1:

  • Increased support for digital signatures within forms.
  • Enhanced document recovery through developer-configurable autosaves.
  • Built-in filtering tools that developers can provide to end users to allow them to parse aggregated information for relevant details.
  • Support for Tablet PC users to handwrite directly on an InfoPath field and have the input automatically recognized and transformed into typed text.
  • Improved ability to handle InfoPath attachments in e-mail.
  • Richer page layout controls for developers who are working with printed forms.

    InfoPath 2003 is included in only one Office 2003 suite, the Professional Enterprise Edition, which is available only through volume licensing or academic licensing. The product can be obtained stand-alone and retails for $199. Linked closely to the business process integration in BizTalk Server 2004, Microsoft is trying to seed the developer market with a free copy of InfoPath for each CPU's worth of BizTalk Server 2004 that an organization purchases. BizTalk Server 2004 will be generally available on April 1.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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