I have to say it was no small perk for Lotusphere participants that the guest speaker for the opening general session was Neil Armstrong. Putting a man on the moon is probably the single greatest technical achievement of humankind, and it is a matter of great pride to be working for a company like IBM that had a hand in that achievement. Mr. Armstrong's description of the IBM computer with the 4K of RAM, no mouse or keyboard, and a 7-digit readout for a monitor was also a pertinent reminder of just how far we've come in the last 40 years.
Yet, no matter how things change, some things remain the same, which Mr. Armstrong proved with a wonderful story that included a priceless punchline. He described a scientific achievement that was being sought at the time: to determine the distance to the moon with an accuracy of less than one foot. To do this, scientists would measure the time it took for a laser pulse to travel from Mt. Lick Observatory to the moon and back. Mr. Armstrong said he did not serve as a scientist for this mission but rather as a field technician: "My job," he said, "was to install the mirror." Nice. Everyone in the computer industry can relate to a site visit, but going to the moon and back for the customer is usually more a figure of speech in our profession. Anyway, he then proceeded to describe the difficulties that were had with the experiment because the pulses were not able to be detected by the observatory on their return. It turned out that the latitude and longitude for the Mt. Lick observatory, established in 1889, were incorrect! Seems that if you want to achieve something great, you have to know exactly where you stand.
It was with that message in mind that the Forms team set out to meet customers, business partners and net new interested parties. For a number of customers interested in what will be new in our upcoming 2.7 release, we had a great time dazzling them with the full range of things they didn't know were in the current release. This was understandable in many cases since the current release came out after Lotusphere 2006 and after they had adopted our products. But it really made the show a lot more exciting for us since we were able to show interesting things they could get their hands on today as well as how we're making those features even better in 2.7.
In terms of feature requests and responses, we got lots of results. People really seem to like the attention we have been paying to simplifying the forms design experience in the Forms Designer, including the reorganized eclipse perspective, the snap-to geometry guidelines, the click and drag of data subtrees to create grouped controls, the point-and-click compute wizard and the three wizards for creating repeat tables and row and column calculations over those tables. We got lots of requests to make multipage forms faster in designer, viewer and webform serveer, and we got lots of requests for digital signature functionality. Most notable there was the desire to have an interface for the viewer to allow business partners to redefine the signing ceremony, e.g. to comply with German signature statutes. We definitely got a lot of good feedback to take to the lab.
In terms of net new offerings, perhaps the biggest additions to our 2.7 forms product line are the Streaming Forms API and the Services Platform. The Streaming Forms API is a pure Java module that understands our forms language, including XForms, and allows highly streamlined functions for extracting the data from completed forms to drive back-end business processes as well as writing data into the form to accomplish functions such as pre-population or mid-population of forms at the start of or during a business process. The services platform is designed to radically simplify the server-side development of forms processing modules. Each logical step needed to process a form is called a pipe, and the processing of a form can be viewed as a pipeline. This allows you to organize tasks such as form template prepopulation, consumption of web services during execution of a form, and the complex set of tasks that often occur once a form is completed to archive the form, and shred data from it to kick off various business processes. The services platform will include the ability to leverage IBM Websphere Datastage TX as a pipe, so you can get access to any data source that TX can touch!
Over the next month or two, I'll be blogging about these additions and all the important pieces of the upcoming 2.7 release. Stay tuned...