Forms Before Function

Forms management is the ultimate paperless-office application, and NEXT-STEP should be the ideal platform. Imagine a system with a great design module, OCR scanning, full database functionality, print-job management, integrated e-mail, and workgroup security. Wrap this up in a NEXT-STEP interface and provide hooks so users can adapt it.

Unfortunately, PapyrusForms is only a first step in this direction. In its first release, which includes Papyrus-Forms 1.0.1, a beta of PapyrusDesign, and about 25 forms templates, it is useful for little else than typing, storing, filling out, and printing the predesigned forms.

The program stores form templates in its Stationery panel. Related forms are kept together as items in a pop-up menu. Double-click a template icon and the program opens the form on the screen. The forms include a nice variety of field types check boxes, text, computer files, images, memos, and multicolumn tables though they lack calculated and time/date fields. You can also add text and voice attachments. Once you fill out the form by typing data in each field, you can print, e-mail, or fax the completed document.

That's fine as far as it goes. Unless you are satisfied with Papyrus's limited number of ready-made templates, you need a facility for designing new forms or converting paper forms to digital files. PapyrusDesign is a basic layout program based on NeXT's Draw application. We don't usually comment on bugs in beta products, but since this app is a basic component of a shipping product, it is fair to note that flaws render it close to unusable in this version. Ensuing says the full PapyrusDesign will ship in January.

The biggest gap is database functionality. The idea of forms management is not to type in every form manually, but to link the forms to databases for automatic data entry. In fact, forms are really just database report formats. While PapyrusForms provides rudimentary database functionality through its multiple-page capability and delimited-ASCII im-port and export functions, it is much less capable than programs such as Stone Design's DataPhile for maintaining data for output in forms. For instance, it has no facility for data validation.

For output, PapyrusForms offers only one feature beyond the standard NEXTSTEP Print panel: the ability to suppress the background, allowing output to preprinted forms. That is useful, but we'd like to see more specialized output functions.

For linking its product to site-specific environments, Ensuing of-fers a set of three developer APIs. Some of these provide functionality, such as automatic date and time lookup, that should be included in the basic product. The PFSpeaker API allows PapyrusForms to be controlled by an external program.

PapyrusForms whets your appe-tite for what is possible in a NEXT-STEP forms package, but until Ensuing fills out the product with a com- plete design module and database functionality, DataPhile remains the better choice for NEXTSTEP forms processing.

by Dan Ruby

PapyrusForms 1.0.1

1 & 1/2 Cubes

PapyrusForms serves adequately as a system for storing and printing digital forms, but it falls short in design tools, database connectivity, and workgroup features.


Ensuing Technologies, 4220 S. Maryland Pkwy. #406B, Las Vegas, NV 89119.