Product review: FormFlow 99 creates secure 'e-forms' for Web

  • Mike Heck (Computerworld)
  • 04 February, 1999 12:01

JetForm has always offered tools to ease the designing and routing of electronic forms. FormFlow 99 is the first JetForm offering specifically for the Web. The release of FormFlow 99 marks the company's move away from proprietary form and data formats to Internet standards, a trend consistent with other data format vendors. Further, FormFlow 99's adherence to the Component Object Model standard means that developers can use it to build front ends for legacy applications.

Prototyping forms with some software can be difficult, but that was not my experience using FormFlow 99. The software's Microsoft Office-style interface provided a comfortable setting for making accurate forms. I could quickly place objects on the page -- including data fields, command buttons, and graphics -- with accuracy to within 1/1000th of one centimetre.

Further, FormFlow 99's capability to make multiple copies of objects came in handy: I was able to create columns of check-boxes after I'd customised the original object and get the look of the first box right just as easily by changing settings in its properties sheet.

To test the software's automation features, I created an invoice form that calculated various subtotals and totals. First, I selected the calculator tool, then clicked the desired fields on the form, and finally connected all the objects using built-in functions.

In addition to accessing the native calculation language, the Calculation Editor is used to enter custom scripts. Moreover, each field on the form can be associated with a different language. You might, for example, write an actuarial calculation in VBScript or JavaScript.

Another significant change made in this version of FormFlow is that data-aware objects and third-party controls can be associated with fields within a database. Further, the mechanics of making this two-way data exchange is straightforward. I merely dropped a Data Control for an Active Data Object component (one of Microsoft's new OLE DB Data Access components that ships with FormFlow 99) on a form. Using the Property Browser, I then quickly created the database connection. The component's pre-made buttons let users navigate through the file and also delete records or add new ones.

To deploy my work, I saved the form using the HTML option, then copied the resulting files to my Web server. Because the form itself is an ActiveX control, when a user requested the form, the Web components to "drive" the form were automatically downloaded to the browser.

Microsoft's Remote Data Services component also comes with FormFlow 99. Because of this, my forms could interact with a central database across the Internet without requiring me to first install special database drivers on the user's PC.

To test security capabilities, I added a signature object to a purchase order form and specified which fields should be locked when a manager signed the form. The signature (certified either by Microsoft's CryptoAPI or Entrust Technologies' Entrust software) then became part of the data routed to others via e-mail. Also, form data can be sent in various formats (ASCII text, XML, and HTML) with or without the form).

Because of its very good design tools, database access, and the variety of deployment options it offers, FormFlow 99 could become an integral part of any Web development effort that employs forms.

Mike Heck ( is an InfoWorld contributing editor and manager of electronic promotions at Unisys, in Blue Bell, PennsylvaniaTHE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOODJetForm FormFlow 99FormFlow 99 provides tools to create database-driven Web forms with high-fidelity printing that meet regulatory requirements. Forms can also be embedded in custom applications.

Pros: Simple GUI; variety of forms objects; built-in scripting language lets forms respond to user actions; can embed third-party or custom ActiveX controls within forms; extensive database hooks; electronic signaturesCons: Requires some scripting knowledge to build custom calculationsJetForm Corp, Ottawa; (800) 538-3676; www.jetform.comPrice: $US7900 (for 100 seats)Platforms: Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows NT 4.0