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Friday, December 21, 2007

XForms: Who Needs Killer Apps?

The XML 2007 Conference has come and gone, with as usual a number of
thought provoking talks and controversies. During the evening of the
first day, there was a special XForms Evening, with a number of the
industry gurus in that space providing very good examples of why XForms
is a compelling technology and here to stay... When you stop and think
about it, you might begin to realize how very unusual XForms is in that
regard. It's an application layer that transcends the implementation
it is written in. It doesn't matter whether I'm writing an XForms
component in C++ or Java or XUL or JavaScript -- what is important is
that I can send run the same 'applications' on any system, that the
ecosystem is fitting XForms in where it can, despite the very best
efforts of certain vendors to kill it... Pundits will continue declaring
its imminent demise, year after year, and yet, year after year, it'll
end up on more servers, more desktops, more browsers and mobile devices.
Thus, my anticipation is that the number of XForms specialists will
remain comparatively small for some time to come, but they will be
educating others, who will quietly be incorporating XForms as a way of
life into their applications. Some (many) of those will come from the
AJAX community, both as AJAX implementations of XForms continue to
proliferate and as many who work at the intersection of AJAX and XML
understand that while they CAN continue to rebuild the wheel with every
app, they can get a lot farther with XForms as part of their toolkit...
I think that you need to make a distinction here between 'the industry'
and a few companies such as Microsoft or Adobe. There are actually a
number of vendors in this space that are doing quite well thank you,
especially as interest in large XML vocabularies such as XBRL, HL7 and
other vertical efforts continue to rise. IBM's Workplace forms
incorporates XForms, as Sun had done with OpenOffice, Firefox has had
XForms support ongoing for nearly two years, and products such as Orbeon,
Formsplayer and Picoforms have continued to gain adherents. XForms
support in desktop browsers is moving slowly, unfortunately, a space
where more innovation needs to happen, but at the same time support
DOES exist in one form or another, even if such support is not always
native. On the flip-side, part of the change is also coming from the
XForms working group, as they realize that while it is POSSIBLE to
create a stand-alone application layer in XML, its not necessarily
desirable to keep everything constrained to that one layer.

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