InfoPath vs. Other Microsoft Technologies - Shiraz Cupala

InfoPath Dev

Shiraz Cupala

InfoPath vs. Other Microsoft Technologies

I frequently am asked to explain the benefits and limitations of InfoPath compared to other Microsoft forms and application techologies. I have drafted a matrix to summarize my thoughts on the matter. This is a work in progress and I'm hoping will generate a lot of comment. There are also some pieces I just don't understand enough (e.g. Excel Server) so it would be great for others to fill in the gaps.






Rich experience and offline for true "forms" and structured documents.

Custom data gathering applications.

Rapid iterative design, prototyping, development. Many forms require no code and can be authored by power users. Tight SharePoint integration. Rich Text data.

Limited UI flexibility. Integrates poorly with existing web portals (separate app launches). End-user machine config inconsistencies cause support issues. Oftentimes IP is an extra install for users and not available outside the enterprise.


Rich experience and offline for freeform documents. Long documents.

Best of breed document authoring and collaboration tool.

Structured documents possible but very hard to build even for pro devs.


Rich experience and offline for data modeling/analysis.

Best of breed data/numbers modeling and analysis tool. Handles large quantity of data. Built-in connectivity to back-ends. Easier to customize than Word.

Limited layout for forms. Structured data limited to tabular format. Hard to customize. Requires pro dev for advanced customization.

InfoPath Server

Reach scenarios for government and business working with citizens/customers.

Design-once for rich/reach use. InfoPath designer tool allows non-devs to author complex forms/structured documents.

Many limitations right now vs. InfoPath rich-client (e.g. filters). Using this to get rich and reach requires very careful design upfront and will require design limitations. Hard to integrate with existing web portals. Complex security. Licensing confusing, expensive.

ASP.NET / Web Forms

Thin experience sufficient, offline not needed.

Total control. Easy to integrate with web portals.

Requires web dev / pro dev. Must build all functionality / UI from scratch.

Excel Server

I don't know the design point for this product. Reach seems to be the one but not complex apps. Input welcome!



WinForm, C#, Etc.

Custom applications.

Ultimate control. Complex UI, More rigid security, Controlled Transactions. Custom offline handling. Performance can be optimized for the scenario.

Advanced pro-dev only. Must build all functionality and all UI from scratch.

SharePoint Forms (Lists)

Simple List Tracking

Fast, lean, easy.

Very limited UI, logic. No offline.

As I get input I will update this matrix. Comment away!




jimaj said:

Shiraz, I am interested in becoming more of an expert in Microsoft products like Sharepoint, InfoPath, Visual Studio, SQL Server, ...  I wonder what you recommend for gaining more advanced expertise quickly is, even MVP (I'm not sure what MVP is).  It is even likely that based on our need I could hire a subcontractor who could help ramp us up (even a remote subcontractor) and I could use such an opportunity to come up to speed much quicker working with such a person.  Do you do that type of thing or do you have other recommendations for self-paced courses, online courses, books, etc.?  

I've been in IT for over 20 years and I have very extensive database experience with DB2, Oracle, SQL Server, Access, etc.  And I have also done alot of web work in various capacities and with different tools (including Jscript and some Java).  Recently, I have been using lots of Visual Studio with VB, and our company is moving more and more towards using Sharepoint, InfoPath, MS Project Server, Visual Studio, etc.  (CAD advanced/unique designs and high-end low-volume manufacturing company that is growing quite a bit).  We have some good XML expertise.  

Jim Johnson, Ktech, 505-254-4155

December 6, 2007 9:37 AM

thoughtdream said:

It's hard to come up with a general technology matrix without identifying needs.

It's tough to just look at InfoPath alone and stop.  I think one would have to look at InfoPath w/ Sharepoint & InfoPath with Database (Access/SQL) as separate entities also.

Also, Outlook itself has the ability to create forms, ergo, is a Form Application that is always overlooked.  Sure it has cons but it has pros as well and should be part of any Analysis of Alternatives.

Also my guess is the viewpoint is InfoPath 2003, judging from the cons as well as no Pro regarding integration with Outlook (as in version 2007).

My other question is, why limit yourself to Microsoft?

March 14, 2008 7:47 AM

Beebo said:

Thanks for your matrix, but I must respectfully disagree with (at least) your InfoPath entries.  I have just been through a 3 month debacle with a client who was told InfoPath was "easy to use" - its not, and worse, I think InfoPath is another example of how MS just goes out its way to over-complicate the simplest of applications.

Where you say "Many forms require no code and can be authored by power users.", well as I say, I have just watched a very capable power-user prove this is not at all true.  Here is a guy who has built and runs a successful business, now simply trying to get a very (and I mean VERY) simple Excel Spreadsheet into InfoPath and it was a mess!  Sure, the Excel data comes in as repeating tables, but he wanted one form for each record - simple to do?  Seems there's not an InfoPath expert in the world who knows how that gets done, and worse, this client kept asking me "Why does MS bundle this with Office?"  - Good question since it seems to require way too steep a learning curve for the very limited return, and my client is simply fed up with hiring "experts" to do or fix something he thought he was simply buying and could do on his own!

You state with InfoPath Server that "...designer tool allows non-devs to author complex forms..." - Again with respect, can you give me the name and address of even 1 "non-dev" who has done this?  I cannot find a single person who would meet this criteria.  In fact, I have three valued and long term clients who have now tried InfoPath, and simply dumped the effort, choosing instead to let me just develop custom WinForm .NET apps for them.

Personally speaking, InfoPath reminds me very much of the effort MS made with early versions of Access, stating this was an end-user tool that made database and form development "easy".  I have yet, in all the years Access has been around, to find even one end user who considers Access "easy", let alone effective.  InfoPath seems to be going this same, failed, and long trodden route.

Microsoft has for a long time had this terrible myopia where they think that simply because they can build something, that therefore, they should.  Sure, we could all joke about MS "Bob" and other efforts that flunked with a dull thud - but lets be more basic about it:  If you buy MS Office, especially the Ultimate or Enterprise versions, and you get products like InfoPath, why do my clients (and others) then have to "buy" expertise to use them, while MS is running around abusing the "easy to use" moniker - which in the case of Access, InfoPath and others are percieved (by end users) to be nothing but "filler".  Or as my valued client put it: "God help you if you are stupid enough to try to use these [meaning InfoPath and Access]".

InfoPath was a great idea at the surface and would have married up nice with Sharepoint if not for one problem - its not an end user tool.  You have to have some amount of expertise to do anything effective with this product.  Once that is the case, this then begs the question why InfoPath over say, .NET WinForms or Intranet type systems.  Why would I use an "out there" product like InfoPath that is hard to get support and expertise for, when I can do the same in .NET with plenty of experts available, and a much more flexible development tool set?

I can only echo the comments of one of my clients who has given up on InfoPath - "Thank God Microsoft does not build cars as we would need two consultants, and four experts just to get the engine started....  and then we would find that MS forgot the steering wheel."

Its a bit extreme a comment from a frustrated client - but its pretty accurate in its sentiment.

January 6, 2009 8:08 AM

Patrick Halstead said:

Hi Beebo,

Sorry it took us so long to discover your comment. You're probably long gone. Anyway, I appreciate your feedback.

InfoPath is the best forms tool out there because it requires very little code. That's because it comes with XML support built-in. Adobe LiveCycle forms do not handle repeating sections well and cannot be mapped to databases easily without writing code. With InfoPath, it's a breeze.

We have a tool that takes Excel spreadsheets and automatically creates InfoPath forms. Excel is a great data analysis engine, but it's not good for input because it doesn't distribute the data input process (one user can lock multiple records). InfoPath is a great data input technology.

I agree that while Microsoft says 75% of all forms require zero code, it's more like the opposite. However, with Qdabra's tools, you can get closer to 75%. It will never be 100%, but for our forms today, we use XML Template Parts, Web Service Accelerators, and our qRules library, I would say that 75% of the new forms we create internally for our own business processes require no coding (qRules is a DLL, but it's free and can be injected into a form by a non-dev person).

Sorry that you had a bad experience. We have developed hundreds of solutions. Some are complex and require a lot of code. Many do not. I think the big picture is that it's much easier to do stuff with InfoPath than Adobe (way more coding) and XForms (unstable dev tools) and Word/Excel (deployment hassle and code requirements).  At least with InfoPath we get closer to not requiring code for most forms.

My recommendation would be to look at some of our tools. Our goal in life is to help accelerate solutions that use InfoPath. InfoPath is a great technology for automating business processes, but there are gaps. We're here to fill those gaps.

May 14, 2009 4:21 PM

About Shiraz Cupala

Shiraz worked for 10 years at Microsoft in product design, web development, customer research, and online marketing roles. Over the first 3 versions of Microsoft InfoPath he managed Outlook, Excel and SharePoint integration, the hosted InfoPath control, IW and developer programmability features, product usability, and internal solutions. He has architected numerous small and enterprise level InfoPath solutions including for collaboration, publshing, and finance, including the InfoPath solution for Microsoft's expense reporting system. Shiraz holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Tufts University.
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