February 17, 2005 12:52 PM PST

Fight over 'forms' clouds future of Net applications

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E-forms standard finalized

October 14, 2003
As Net heavyweights vie to define the next generation of Web applications, the Web's main standards body is facing a revolt within its own ranks over electronic forms, a cornerstone of interactive documents.

This week, a breakaway faction of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) said its work on the Web Forms 2.0 specification is nearly done and put out a call for final comments. The splinter group, which includes browser makers Apple Computer, the Mozilla Foundation and Opera Software, calls itself WHAT-WG, or the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group.

The move brings a new entry into the race to take forms software to the next level, complicating efforts to create an open standards foundation for emerging Internet applications that could shape the competitive landscape in software development for years to come. It also marks a major new headache for the W3C, whose XForms recommendation, unveiled in 2003, has long been stymied amid resistance from proprietary software makers, especially Microsoft.

"At the moment it's mass confusion," said Dharmesh Mistry, chief technology officer of Newbury, U.K.-based EdgeIPK, which builds forms-based applications for clients in the financial services industry. "The W3C is saying the answer is XForms. Microsoft is saying it's XAML. Macromedia is saying its Flash MX. And Mozilla is saying it's XUL. If you look at it from the point of view of an organization, you're not going to say, 'We're going to write our rich Internet applications in one language and the forms in XForms.'"

The battle illustrates chronic fissures in the politics of Web technology development, with substantial consequences for the continued relevance of open standards in electronic forms--a ubiquitous tool that's used to gather information on the Web and in other digital applications.

Forms based on current Web standards are used in every Google search, every Amazon.com sale, every automated blog entry, every online tax payment, and every Web e-mail log-in.

Now the industry wants more sophisticated forms that can underlie

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Server-side validation/operation too
"With current HTML Web forms, a Web author needs scripts to do things like validate the form or add up columns as fields are filled."

These scripts can also reside on the server-side, not requiring any client-side validation whatsoever.

Server-side techniques are safer, because you don't have client-side depedencies, such as Javascript.
Posted by Not Bugged (195 comments )
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RE: Server-side validation/operation too
That is exactly correct, but then you have to consider the performance hit from going back and forth from client to server to client for validation. It's great for small amounts of data, but large amounts of data may cause the application to be significantly slower with server-side validation, hence a weaker user experience. I can go either way, but as a developer I'm anxious for the W3C to work this out soon.
Posted by silksterweb (17 comments )
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client-side validation
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.analogstereo.com/mercedes_g_class_owners_manual.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.analogstereo.com/mercedes_g_class_owners_manual.htm</a>
Posted by Ubber geek (325 comments )
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Open Presentation Platforms
A smart open presentation platform will address most of the issues raised. Such a platform will give you the option of server or client side or both for validation.

OPP will remove the deployment considerations for Portal, Online, Offline and RIA.

OPP will be platform neutral, allowing deployment to MS or Java.

OPP will manage the entire cycle of "forms development"

OPP will automate many programming tasks and part of the lifecycle.

Posted by (2 comments )
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