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W3C approves HTML forms upgrade

After nearly ten years, it's time to upgrade forms on the Web. So says the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which last week published a ''candidate recommendation'' version of the XForms 1.0 specification. An upgrade of the HTML-based forms that have been the standard since 1993, XForms 1.0 is intended to make forms on Web pages more dynamic and powerful, and to allow them to be read on a range of new devices, according to the W3C.

''W3C's XForms allow authors to use their choice of markup language -- XHTML, SVG, XML -- with minimal scripting and maximum usability,'' Steven Pemberton, co-chair of the W3C XForms Working Group, explained in a statement. ''The XForms Working Group has provided a model that makes it easy for implementers to develop and reuse form components, delivering functionality to users and devices previously not possible.''

HTML Forms were originally introduced to the Web to provide a means of gathering information and performing transactions. But according to the W3C, that original HTML Form design is ''showing its limitations.'' The advent of Web-enabled cell phones and handheld computers designed to access the Web has placed new demands on Forms Authors, who are looking to minimize scripting while maximizing reuse of form components. There's also a greater need to cleanly separate the purpose, presentation and results of a form.

XForms is an XML application that separates the XForms model, instance data and user interface, providing a ''next-generation design'' for forms on the Web, Pemberton said. XForms 1.0 provides a new platform-independent markup language for online interaction between a user (through an XForms Processor) and another, usually remote, agent. Developers can create Web-page forms using the markup language of their choice, including XHTML, XML and SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) -- which means that a single form can be designed to work on a traditional Web page and to scale across a range of devices.

According to the W3C, the advantages of this trifurcated design are many:
* Reuse: XForms modules can be reused independently of the information they collect.
* Device-independence: The UI controls are abstract, which means that their generic features are the only things indicated, so they can easily be re-presented on different devices with different capabilities.
* Accessibility: separation of presentation from content leaves information more readily available for users of assistive technologies; in addition, the UI controls encapsulate all relevant meta data such as labels, thereby enhancing the accessibility of the application when using different modalities.

The XForms Working Group includes: Adobe; AOL/Netscape; Cardiff; Computer Associates; CWI; Electricite de France R&D; Helsinki University of Technology; IBM; Novell; NTT DoCoMo, Inc.; Openwave; Oracle; PureEdge Solutions; SAP/Mozquito Technologies; Sony/Ericsson; and Xerox.

''The XForms Working Group encourages developers to work with the new specification,'' the W3C said in a statement, ''and to send feedback about implementations to the XForms Working Group mailing list.''

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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