Uni-Form 2.1: Not created equal

Uni-Form 2.1 from Microsystems Technology Inc. doesn't have the high profile of the likes of JetForm Corp.'s FormFlow, but this product definitely is a contender in the hot government market for electronic forms.

Uni-Form is a feature-rich package that does some neat tricks and requires little form design experience to use.

It can generate VB Script code, which automatically calculates data and enters it into certain fields based on a user's answers in other fields. Other top-of-the-line form design products can do similar tricks, although usually not as easily. However, to make full use of Uni-Form's VB Script capabilities — for instance, to control flow through multipage forms or for data validation — users must purchase an add-on module.

An even better trick is Uni-Form's ability to create databases by dragging and dropping data directly from a form's input fields. You don't even have to write code or fill in properties. In fact, an addition to the program (apparently added late enough to barely make the user's manual) offered the ability to create a Microsoft Corp. Access database from a form's fields simply by clicking a single button.

We could then view and query the database, fill it with form data and delete selected records. But that's when we ran into a catch. When we tried updating a record, we encountered an error message warning about the lack of a unique key identifier. In other words, if we ignored the warning, we ran the risk of creating multiple database records with the same identifier. To fix this problem, we had to use the Database menu's Edit Table command to add a primary key based on a unique identifier field, such as a Social Security number. No big deal, but it took the gloss off an otherwise slick feature and sent us scurrying for the product manual.

Uni-Form's database tools are remarkably capable and generally easy to use. Microsystems Technology touts Uni-Form's one-tool-fits-all ability to create forms that work on a local-area network, the Internet or in a paper-based form. However, this doesn't set it apart from JetForm's FormFlow 99 or Caere Corp.'s OmniForm 4, both of which can also create multiple types of forms. Like Uni-Form, those products can automate Web-compatible script generation to duplicate many proprietary features for Internet use.

If you need to create applications that use optical character recognition to scan and capture data from paper-based forms, Uni-Form doesn't have a built-in form-scanning feature, but it does integrate with Microsystems Technology's OCR for Forms. Also, because of limited support for Microsoft Corp.'s Component Object Model, Uni-Form does not lend itself to being employed as an embedded object in other applications.

Perhaps Uni-Form's most serious shortcoming, especially in considering longer-range development and implementation, is that the program does not offer extensible markup language (XML) capabilities. Given XML's cachet in the present market and the increasing desire of many developers in agencies to integrate applications and data, the absence of XML support will seriously limit Uni-Form's appeal.

Industry leader FormFlow's distinguishing virtue, apart from its support for XML, may be its embeddable modularity, allowing developers to readily incorporate its functionality into other business applications. For its part, OmniForm's superb built-in scanning and form element recognition capabilities render it superior for conversion of paper forms to the electronic environment.

In this market, Uni-Form's powerful, easy and flexible database connectivity are its claim to fame, especially as these features are combined with a solid form-design toolset.

AT A GLANCE

Uni-Form 2.1

Score: B

Microsystems Technology Inc.

(813) 222-0414

www.microsystems online.com

Price and Availability: No GSA pricing. The form design module for a single user costs $695. Pricing for selected concurrent-use licenses (additional) is as follows: $750 for five to nine users, $4,000 for 50 to 99 users; $15,000 for 250 users and up (site license). The VB Script module is $1,500.

Remarks: Strong forms-design tools and excellent database connectivity make Uni-Form 2.1 an attractive choice for any department or agency looking for a solution to quickly create effective electronic forms for their local-area network or the Internet. Support for VB Script gives the forms designer added flexibility. Lack of support for XML, however, will be a drawback for departments intent on developing integrated applications.

BY Tom Marshall
Feb. 21, 2000

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