Thursday, July 14, 2005

XForms on Mobile Devices

As I wrote recently on the Wikipedia XForms page, implementing XForms in mobile devices provides a number of benefits:

  • User interfaces using XForms require less round trips with the server and are in that sense more self contained than user interfaces using HTML 4 forms.
  • Capabilities of mobile devices vary greatly; consequently the amount of the work involved in generating different user interfaces for different devices is of particular concern in the mobile world. XForms has been designed from the ground up to allow forms to be described independently of the device, which reduces the amount of work required to target multiple devices.
  • XForms reduces the need for JavaScript, which is particularly interesting as JavaScript is in general not available on mobile devices.

Despite those benefits, XForms on mobile devices is still an emerging technology at best. Jon S. von Tetzchner, CEO of Opera, producers of the leading browser for mobile devices, says his company is currently considering support for XForms but that in his mind Webforms 2.0 makes more sense on the client side. So far, only IBM and Oracle has produces significant initiatives:

  • IBM Forms for Mobile Devices is an implementation of XForms that run on Palm-powered devices and shows how XForms can be used to create form-based enterprise applications running on mobile devices. This package has been released by IBM on alphaWorks, their site showcasing emerging technologies.
  • Oracle Wireless Client has released a preview of their Wireless Client in March 2004. Despite its name, the preview contains no software that run on a mobile device. Instead, it is delivered in the form of a plug-in for Internet Explorer, hence maybe the "preview" in the name. The plug-in run XForms client-side, just like the browser would if it supported XForms natively.

Are we going to see the XForms technology being picked up soon by major players in the mobile market? Even if this happens, it will be years before XForms becomes widely available on handsets. In the meantime, those application developers who understand the benefits of XForms can either require users to install an application that understands XForms on their mobile device (similar to the plugin approach for browsers) or rely on a server-side XForms engine that will transform their XForms code into an appropriate format understood by mobile devices, like Orbeon PresentationServer does right now for desktop browsers.

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