Yesterday I had a visit by one of our customers with whom we are working on a POC for migrating their legacy Lotus Notes forms to Microsoft Platform. From Vishwak, we had suggested they move to the Microsoft Office and Sharepoint technologies, especially the new Forms Server 2007 and Windows Workflow Foundation. Having said this, we had to justify our recommendation as both Forms Server and WWF are in Beta 2 stage.

Why should a customer look at Beta Products, that too a Microsoft Beta Product and in what way it favours the risk associated?. What we said to him was worthwhile of repeating here :

  1. The customer was looking at a go production time frame of October/November 2006 or later. Because of their business criticality, there were several internal trial runs that have to be completed before going live. By that time frame, both Microsoft Forms Server 2007 and Windows Workflow Foundation will be released.
  2. As an outsider to Microsoft, reasons for us to believe that this releases will happen by the time frame – is because Forms Server is part of Vista/Office 2007 wave and WWF is going to be part of every copy of Windows Vista. For both these Vista and Office 2007, Microsoft has assured release will be in October/November 2006 time frame. Going by the stability of the products we are playing around we see no reasons to doubt the above time frame. Also, Forms Server is based on WSS (SharePoint Technology) and WinFX both of which are core platform products. MS cannot afford to delay on these building blocks, as any delays will not only affect Microsoft but the whole ISV and SI eco-system that is using them.
  3. Windows WorkFlow Foundation, though in Beta 2 has a “Go-Live” license for it. This shows Microsoft’s confidence in the technology.
  4. Stability and Road-map on technologies (in other words – Microsoft is known to change their product strategy very quickly):
    1. There can be no doubt on the strategic importance of Sharepoint technology. WSS (SharePoint) on which Forms Server 2007 is built is very key to Microsoft. MS sees the next growth opportunity in terms of sales to be on SharePoint (I always like to think of it as MS Office Server), after Windows and MS Office Suite. I read in many Media coverages and recent BillG speech in Office conference that MS is investing huge amount on SharePoint and Office System, so there will be regular updates to the technology.
    2. WWF (Workflow) is part of .NET Framework 3.0. This shows it is extremely important for Microsoft and they cannot remove anything that easily or decide not to support anything that is in the core of their platform.
    3. WWF is a base framework and not sold as a product. So if Microsoft’s base offering doesn’t give enough features, I am sure there will be hundreds of third-party Workflow ISV’s who will come up solutions that extend WWF in many ways.
    4. WWF is the workflow backend for all the upcoming MS Products – Microsoft BizTalk Server 2007, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, Microsoft Office 2007, etc. So they cannot afford to goof-up on WWF.
  5. SharePoint and InfoPath (on which Forms Server 2007 is based) is mature technologies. This is not the first version for either of them. In fact, Forms Server 2007 is not the first product to render InfoPath forms in a browser – even now there are third-party products that do this. So the technology is proven.
  6. Forms Server / InfoPath allows them to not only persist data in its own back-end like Notes, in this case in SharePoint Forms Library, but gives you the choice of any backend storage like SQL Server, Oracle, etc. The only requirement being Web Service interfaces. This gives the confidence and the choice of any back-end that suits various individual needs of the customer organization.
  7. The ease of availability of trained manpower in these technologies. It is much easier to get an .NET Developer than Lotus Notes in Indian Market due to the sheer volume of them. Now with SharePoint 2007 based on ASP.NET v2.0 architecture and WWF being part of .NET Framework 3.0, getting .NET developers of earlier version to this new version will not be that difficult as well.
  8. Finally they having decided to move to MS Technologies, they should go with the new one’s because of the huge advantage they will bring in.

For those of you who are new to Forms Server 2007 – read this MS FAQ.

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