Yesterday I presented a full paper on a new method and research prototype that describes our thinking on the strategic technical direction of the Lotus Forms document format and processing model. The paper is now available from the ACM Digital Library and is entitled "A REST Protocol and Composite Format for Interactive Web Documents". If you have one, use your institutional access to the ACM Digital Library. For IBMers, you can get access using KnowledgeGate.
As you may know, the document format for Lotus Forms is called XFDL, and it has grown and changed many times in the last 15 years to become more and more comformant to open standards. Once upon a time, back in the 1990's, XFDL was not even an XML format. Currently, the XFDL format is an XML vocabulary that describes a high precision multipage layout for an interactive Web 2.0 application, and XFDL incorporates other standards including XForms, XML Schema and XML Signatures to express dynamic behaviors, business rules, client-side data validation, web service access, and digital signature security.
This open standards transition has represented an important and substantial evolution of the Lotus Forms document format and processing model over time, and this new paper on "Interactive Web Documents" articulates the next step in the evolution of Lotus Forms. As with any strategic operation, it is the kind of thing that plays out over years in the product line, but I am used to that, and I am very excited by our progress.
The initially empty interactive web document template would describe the web application. To initiate a business process, the template is instantiated, becoming an interactive web document capable of holding XML data and file attachments provided by end-user participants and machine agents in the business process. The instantiation sets up a REST service keyed by a unique ID to the instantiated document, and simple GETs, PUTs and DELETEs are used to access and update the resources in the composite document. In particular, XForms submissions are used to synchronize data and change pages within the interactive web document. When a user completes their work on the document, it is the edit token, not the whole document that is passed along through the business process. In this way, the interactive web document and its REST interaction session become the central artifacts over which the entire business process operates, with document serialization only being required to transmit the interactive web document (i.e. the web application combined with its current state) across enterprise domain boundaries.
This is the general idea, and the paper contains numerous additional technical explanations and markup examples. It should be clear from this description, though, that this next evolutionary step will enable Lotus Forms to more easily adapt to and incorporate emerging Web 2.0 technologies, via its page basis in HTML and XHTML, and it will provide a quantum leap in performance of the Webform Server by avoiding a single large XML DOM for large forms applications, by offloading XForms processing to the client-side, and by avoiding serialize/parse operations during the course of the business process.