Uni-Form has the tools but takes a long time to learn

Uni-Form has the tools but takes a long time to learn

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

Uni-Form can make constructing paper and electronic forms much easier and more efficient, but using the tool requires a lot of study.

Agencies spend much time and thought on designing their paper forms, coming up with the right questions and laying everything out in a logical manner. Uni-Form, from Microsystems Technology Inc., shortens this process by combining creation with design. Once you have finished inputting data into a prototype form, Uni-Form has it ready to print.

Uni-Form built this ZIP code backup form for the Web site at www.microsystemsonline.com, run by Microsystems Technology.

Perhaps the greatest advantage is that you can instantly post the form on the Web.

Users experienced at transforming paper into electronic forms know that just because the fields look right on-screen does not mean browser users will be able to fill them out.

To make them usable, you must load either a Java applet or Dynamic Hypertext Markup Language. This can get complicated.

One Java programming mistake could keep the form from submitting itself to your data collection server, or make it generate error messages to the users.

Pet peeve

Nothing is more maddening than filling out an entire form only to receive an error message at the very end.

In my tests, Uni-Form automatically converted electronic documents to Web forms without error. That function alone could save hours of work for designers.

Up to you

Box Score


Automatic forms design program

Microsystems Technology Inc.; Tampa, Fla.;

tel. 813-222-0414


Price: $695 for one user

+ Good conversion of electronic to Web-ready forms

+ Good internal database

' Long learning curve

Real-life requirements:

120-MHz or faster processor, 16M of RAM

You configure the program to dump the forms' data into a database by defining the fields and saying where and how to place the information. Uni-Form then takes over and follows orders as new forms are received. Most full-blown database programs can do this, too, but Uni-Form's i-Form database is entirely functional if not as fancy.

If your agency is looking for a reliable, safe way to post forms on the Web, check out products in Uni-Form's category.

The Census Bureau, for example, is collecting data from online forms for Census 2000. You can see them at www.2000.census.gov/2k/recv_form.html.

The downside to Uni-Form is the amount of time that must be invested in studying the 456-page manual.

Although the software's wizards are helpful, they don't teach about the advanced features.

It took me three days of intensive study to become mildly proficient and almost two weeks to master the features.

If you design only a few forms a year, it might not be worthwhile to learn Uni-Form. But if Web forms are becoming an important part of your job, Uni-Form's features can quickly repay the time investment you make.

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