HTML forms get face-lift

"HTML forms is way behind where today's Web browsers are," said David Manning, chief technology officer at California-based PureEdge Solutions, a creator of legally binding transactions for e-commerce and a member of the working group that is meeting next week.

"The summit is about updating HTML forms to more modern technology," Manning added.

Randy Souza, associate analyst at Forrester Research, said there is a need to improve the interface beyond just raw, standards-compliant HTML.

"The obvious difference between today and seven years ago is that people are accessing more types of information from more types of devices," Souza said. "As we move toward more complex business-to-business transactions, the interface in HTML doesn't scale."

HTML, for instance, is capable of putting five or six fields in a form, but it cannot handle more complex business documents such as purchase orders.

The specification for XForms separates the user interface from the data and logic, enabling different presentations to be used with the same back-end, according to officials. In doing so, the same form can be filled out via a PC, a handheld, or a cellular phone and then can exchange data into the same back-end system.

Additionally, developers can write forms onto which users can drag and drop their personal information - such as credit card number, name, phone number, and address - and the form will know to put each piece of data into the corresponding field.

"This needs to happen in order for Web and e-commerce to take the next jump," PureEdge's Manning said.

Forrester's Souza said that other benefits of XForms include the capability of passing data between Web pages, bringing the industry beyond the limitations of HTTP, which is stateless and able to pass only one page at a time.

XForms consists of three specifications: the Data Model; pending specifications on the user interface; and pending specifications on protocols. The W3C published a draft for the Data Model in April and expects it to be recommended as a standard by year's end, officials said. No dates have been set for the other two specifications.

"The Data Model just out of the gate can be a very useful thing," Manning said. "Each of the three specs has tremendous value in its own right."

Manning said that PureEdge will implement the Data Model into its Internet Forms Commerce System as soon as the specification is recommended as a standard.

This is the first meeting of this particular group, which consists of representatives from 21 companies, but the technology has been in development for approximately a year as a subgroup of the W3C's HTML working group.

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