One of the biggest barriers to moving large numbers of Notes applications to SharePoint is the cost of rebuilding the complex applications. As covered previously this cost is often overstated and can be mitigated by a good understanding of how to leverage out-of-box SharePoint features and code reuse, but it is still a very real issue.
SharePoint 2010 contains many advances that will dramatically reduce the cost of application development and (even better) will allow tools such as Notes Migrator for SharePoint to do a lot more of the work for you. We will cover things such as improvements in declarative workflow, dynamic scalable views, ASPX pages and offline capabilities in other posts. But first I want to talk about InfoPath.
InfoPath is, of course, Microsoft’s primary solution for building data entry forms for complex business documents. Many Notes customers see InfoPath as the only real choice for rebuilding Notes forms that contained user-friendly field layouts, non-trivial data validation rules, interactive functionality such as hide-when formulas, etc. (That isn’t completely true, but InfoPath was certainly where most people start looking.) The Notes Migrator for SharePoint features for migrating Notes form designs to InfoPath templates and migrating Notes documents to InfoPath data documents have certainly been very popular.
Unfortunately, there were some significant practical barriers to using InfoPath 2007 for large scale application development. Here are the top three problems that I observed and how SharePoint 2010 and InfoPath 2010 solves them.
1. SharePoint/InfoPath 2007 forced you to store your data as XML data documents, usually in SharePoint Document Libraries, and did not really work with SharePoint Lists (the natural target for most Notes application content). With 2010 you can use InfoPath forms for both Lists and Libraries. You can even start with an auto-generated InfoPath form (based on your list schema) and start customizing it from there.
2. Unless you were willing to deploy the InfoPath 2007 client to all your user’s desktops, you had to live with the limitations of InfoPath Form Services (try telling your Notes users that they can’t have embedded images anymore). With 2010, there have been a number of dramatic improvements in InfoPath Form Services and the web experience really is at near-parity with the “rich client” experience.
3. The process of building, maintaining and publishing InfoPath 2007 forms was a cumbersome and sometimes fragile process that was pretty much outside of “normal” SharePoint customization and development activities. With 2010, you now have a very integrated experience which will make designing your custom forms a much more mainstream activity that even beginning developers can perform.
There are plenty of other InfoPath improvements that will reduce the cost of rebuilding Notes applications: additional controls, more seamless workflow integration, and automatic offline support. My prediction is that InfoPath forms will replace ASPX pages (whether built by SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio) as the tool of choice for many developers and certainly for people trying to rebuild lots of Notes applications.