Microsoft InfoPath Forms; What Are These?
Working on several SharePoint related projects, some questions that have popped up from clients (both business users and technical crews) around InfoPath have been something like: what is InfoPath? How do I create an InfoPath form? Are all InfoPath forms pretty much the same when it comes to SharePoint workflows? This little writeup sets out to provide a generic response to these questions without using "strong" technical jargon.
In very simple terms, Microsoft Office InfoPath; part of the Microsoft Office Suite; is a program used to develop electronic, XML-based forms used for entrying, gathering, and displaying data. According to Microsoft: "You can also use the InfoPath Forms Services capabilities in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 to extend your business processes beyond your corporate firewall, delivering forms as Microsoft Office Outlook e-mail messages, Web browser forms, or forms for mobile devices". Till date, there have been 2 releases of Microsoft InfoPath, versions 2003 and 2007. See Resources below for a list of relevant resources on the subject.
Working with InfoPath forms and SharePoint workflows, I've come to identify 3 types of InfoPath forms, which I'll describe as Business Forms, Settings Forms and Task Forms.
Business Forms: These are naturally electronic versions of standard forms that you'd have in your office. For example, vacation request forms, purchase order forms, staff evaluation forms, etc. These forms are typically used by various people, at one time or another. These forms are normally deployed to document libraries, as content types or as features, irrespective of workflow solutions that may be required to act on them.
Setting Forms: These are forms that relate directly to workflow processes or cause of actions. These category includes workflow association form, modification form and initialization form. Typically these forms are used at the start (association and initialization forms) or during the lifetime (modification forms) of workflow instance. These forms are normally deployed alongside the workflow solution that they relate to.
Task Forms: These are forms that normally used to action workflow tasks. These forms are typically presented only to people who have been identified (explicitly or implicitly) as associated with tasks contained within a workflow instance. These forms are normally deployed alongside the workflow solution that they relate to.
I'll be quick to add that there are other types of InfoPath forms that do not necessarily fall within any of these categories, e.g. InfoPath forms for retrieving and displaying email messages from Microsoft Outlook program, but these identified categories refer to form types typically associated with SharePoint workflow-based solutions that utilize InfoPath forms.
More info on task forms
Association and Initialization forms
Business overview of InfoPath
InfoPath 2007 Developer Reference
InfoPath Team Blog
InfoPath Dev Community