XForms and FOAF and Cross-Player Woes

Mark Birbeck posted to rdfweb-dev on Friday to announce an XForms-based FOAF creator.
To use the tool you’ll need to install the latest version (and patches) of Forms Player.
As Birbeck notes in the announcement the demo does nicely show-case some of the XForms features, notably extracting information for the form labels from the demo, being able to remotely fetch remove XML files, etc. In other words XForms is XML aware so creating and manipulating XML is a doddle. Overall it’s a very nice demo.
This isn’t the only FOAF-a-Matic style XForms implementation. Charles McCathieNevile gave a talk at XML Europe 2004 in which he described his own uses of XForms to generate RDF. The forms are available online. I played with an XForms version of the FOAF-a-Matic last year also, using it to demo the technology for a talk. There’s also a simple FOAF editor in the Mozquito DENG examples.


XForm’s tight integration with XML means that it doesn’t play well with the syntactic variability of RDF. To make a complete FOAF editor with XForms one would have to use a syntactic profile to make the technologies mesh well. Coupled with a server-side XML repository it’d be simple to create a service to host FOAF profiles.
However while I don’t consider the syntax issue a big problem, the main reason I’ve not pursued this idea further is that there’s no seamless way to deploy the forms:
Formsplayer is IE only and requires an object tag to invoke the plugin. It also wouldn’t deal with forms that XSmiles happily displayed. However to be fair I should retest this in the latest version.
XSmiles will view the XHTML/XForms file natively, but isn’t exactly an ideal target environment. I don’t want the user to have to install a specific application, otherwise one might as well create a desktop tool. McCathieNevile’s forms don’t work with the version I have installed here, so it seems as if there are still some issues with creating cross-player forms.
Mozaquito DENG requires Flash, which at least gives it portability, but one has to reference the form via a webservice instead of linking to it directly in the browser. This means you can’t simply link a user to the form and expect it to fire up in formsplayer if thats what they have installed.
Chiba removes the browser issues by moving the forms processing to the server-side, but again had issues playing forms that worked in XSmiles.
The other toolkits I looked were either payware or didn’t conform to the final Recommendation.
Perhaps I’m being unfair: has anyone got examples of non-trivial XForms that work seamlessly from a user perspective in multiple players? Presumably some Javascript trickery could be used to avoid a “click here if you’re using formsplayer/Mozquito” scenario?
It seems a shame that XForms — a simple to learn, and genuinely useful technology is being hampered by portability and deployment issues. I’d love to hear of reports to the contrary.

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