LOTUS FORMS Release 1.0 for Windows
By Gary Hartman

Published November 1994 (PC Register)

Lotus Forms is a tool for creating electronic and printed forms. Lotus Forms also provides for forms fill-in and database linking, and because Lotus Forms is mail enabled your forms can be distributed electronically. The target audience for Lotus Forms appears to be offices desiring sophisticated automation for filling-out of forms with automatic linking to a database. For this target audience, Lotus Forms is a powerful tool for streamlining data-gathering efforts.

Lotus Forms comes packaged with two separate modules: Designer (four 3.5" diskettes) is the module for the person actually designing and testing the form; the designer creates the form, specifies the routing order over a network, and can automate the process using LotusScript (Release 2) which is provided with Lotus Forms. The Filler module (three 3.5" diskettes) is for the staff persons who are expected to input information into the forms over a network. [Note: for staff to be able to fill in forms transmitted electronically to them via network, each person must have a "Filler" license. Lotus Forms provides one Designer license and a 5-user Filler license with the Lotus Forms package. Additional Filler licenses would have to be negotiated with Lotus Development Corporation.]

Lotus Forms is easy to install, and has three options: Automatic installation with all features (takes about 10 MB); automatic installation with minimum features (takes about 5 MB; recommended for use on laptop PCs with limited disk space); and manual installation for customizing features. The installation process is easy to follow, consisting mainly of answering a few questions and swapping disks---I had no problems with installation. Lotus Forms Release 1.0 for Windows is not copy protected or write protected.

Upon installation, Lotus Forms creates a new icon ("Lotus Applications") in Program Manager. Clicking on the "Lotus Forms Designer" icon will launch the program.

The Designer portion of the program allows you to create a new form (Form Layout), and develop the routing roadmap (i.e., specify the order that the form is routed) for distribution to office personnel.
The Designer module of Lotus Forms for Windows is easy to use; anyone with some familiarity with the Windows interface will have little trouble using it. Similarly, specifying the routing order for electronic transmission of forms is straightforward. Lotus Forms is geared towards automating a small business. Fourteen sample business forms are provided, one of which is the software registration form. Although the forms are designed based on a fictitious company (Mercury Sports International), the forms are appropriate for small businesses and are easily modified for specific use. Lotus Forms also supports the use of scanned forms, which could be a considerable time-saver. Another nice feature is the ability to incorporate graphics directly into the form (which I personally found to be a neat feature), although I did have some problem resizing objects in the form. The line draw feature is also nice, since you can draw lines at any point on the page and are not restricted to specific cursor locations as is the case with many word processing packages (the ruler is handy for precise work when developing forms). In addition to graphics, lines, and text, you can also incorporate rectangles and ellipses of various dimensions (user defined) into your forms.  Although I was unable to verify actual use of the Filler package on a network, I have no reason to believe that the package would not perform exactly as indicated in the documentation. Electronic routing of the forms is supported by VIM-compliant mail systems such as Lotus Notes and cc:MailTM, and MAPI-based mail systems such as Microsoft® Mail. Once personnel with the Filler licenses have completed the form, the information can be dumped into an external database.  Lotus Forms is compatible with most databases supporting the Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) standard, including Paradox®, Microsoft Access®, ApproachTM, Lotus Notes, and SQLServer.  Using the Designer, field objects in the created form can be linked to specific fields in attached database tables. This feature could be a great time-saving tool in a business environment.

LotusScript, a programming language similar to Basic that lets you automate your work in Lotus products, is provided with Lotus Forms. LotusScript is intended to be used by the Designer of forms to accomplish a wide variety of tasks, from creating simple macros to developing complex cross-product applications. Frankly, as a non-programmer, I was somewhat overwhelmed by the complexity of the LotusScript programming language.

Three documentation books are provided with Lotus Forms: Getting Started with Sample Forms; Application Developer's Guide; and Language Reference (for LotusScript). A booklet on Lotus "Customer Support Services" also comes with the package. Lotus provides 30 days of introductory customer support for retail versions of the Lotus Forms Designer. 24-hour automated support is available by calling a 1-800 number. Templates, printer drivers, and software updates are also available via a Lotus Bulletin Board (sorry, no 1-800 number).

Although I found the program easy to use and created some interesting forms for home use, I probably could have done just as well using a conventional word processing package. Lotus Forms is not targeted for home users, and I would not recommend it for casual home use. Lotus Forms is targeted towards businesses aiming to automate data collection over a network, and this is its strength. However, a programmer would be needed to take full advantage of its automation features available through the use of LotusScript.

System Tested On:  IBM compatible PC (Gateway 2000) with a 80486 at 66 Mhz; DOS 6.2 & Windows for Workgroups 3.11; 8 MB of RAM & 420 MB hard drive

Minimum System:  An 80486-based PC (recommended) certified for use with Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later; Color or grayscale VGA, or higher resolution monitor; Mouse (not required, but strongly recommended; Microsoft Windows 3.1 or later; 4 MB of RAM; 9 MB of available disk space



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