| Front Page | News Headlines | Technical Headlines | Planning Features | Advanced Search |
The Support Group Sponsor Message

version 1.2

MiniSoft Inc.
1024 First St.
Snohomish, WA 98290
Phone 800-682-0200
Fax: 360-568-2923
E-mail: sales@minisoft.com
Web: www.minisoft.com

eFORMz comes with a CD for the client installation of your software, and the programs should run on any platform where Java runs, but the included installer is for Windows. There is a tape that is also included for your HP 3000 that has the latest Java environment. FTP is required on the HP 3000 for the transfer of files.

Price is $4,000 to $12,000 depending on CPU. Custom forms can be built for $750 each. Software consists of the Java server for processing forms and the Java client for designing forms. Support is 20 percent of the purchase price per year and includes phone in, electronic support as well as new releases of the software. All prices are in US dollars.



Ocxtober 2000

eFORMz brings Java’s potential to 3000 forms

Application leverages language to make design and data delivery simple

Review by Shawn Gordon

Years ago there was a pretty large selection of packages for forms processing on the HP 3000. As I recall, three of them disappeared into Unison, and some others just went away. I know that forms processing has been an issue at my last several jobs and with clients, so I’m not sure what the problem is. I do know that MiniSoft has seen this opportunity and created a whole new generation of forms design and processing software with eFORMz.

Why is this a new generation? MiniSoft is learning from the many products that they have developed, and when they did their Java-based termulator Javelin they discovered the promised land of Java. Basically all the parts of eFORMz, the client form designer, as well as the server form processor, are written in Java. This means that out of the box, eFORMz will run on pretty much any platform that supports Java.

You will optionally need a spool program — such as Minisoft’s NP92 — to send the PCL to an appropriate printer from your HP 3000.

How does it work?

To start off, select a form that you want to produce. With this information in hand, you construct your form in eFORMz’ form designer (optionally, you can pay MiniSoft to build a form for you). You can also scan in a form if you just want to do some basic tests. In any case, once your form is built, you can either have your HP 3000 program produce the output so that it overlays the way you want, or configure rules for placement (more on that later). Once the whole thing is done, then using the integrated FTP capability you send it up to the 3000.

Now that you have your form on the HP 3000, you need to set up your spooling environment so that you can capture your report and merge it with the form. I used NP92, and it works very well. I can’t comment on any other spoolers.

Now it’s just a matter of generating a spool file that matches the criteria so it can be merged with the form, and the PCL sent to the printer. While Java isn’t the fastest thing on the planet, at least on the merging end you don’t really notice it because it’s a batch process.


Now for some details on dealing with forms. The eFORMz designer, Composer, allows you to create print Projects. A project is the entire print process for a particular data source. Each Project can contain a number of Pages, with each page containing a number of Forms.

Forms are split into two categories: Base form and Overlay. If a form is not specified as a Base form, it is an Overlay. Base Forms allow you to print the same data in a number of different formats. Overlays simply overlap the Base form to alter the appearance.

Each form can contain a number of rules. Rules are used to alter the appearance of data that is displayed on the form. Rules provide you with the options of changing font size and style, moving data on your form, and converting ASCII characters to barcode characters (which all by itself is very cool).

There are also “if” conditions you can apply to rules. This feature lets you say something like “If the data starts with a -, then make it bold.” This is a very powerful feature, and one that will surely make forms processing much easier for many people.

In general your projects will only have one logical page, even though the actual print job may contain several physical pages. For example, if you are creating a payroll print job for your company that consists of five employees, and the payroll print job simply prints one check after another, this would be considered a Single Page project.

Something that isn’t all that obvious in eFORMz is that you can import a form from a scanned image. If you are going to go this route, then make sure you clean up the scan of your existing form as much as possible before you use it — otherwise you will always have poor-looking forms.

One of the really nifty features is the barcode conversion of text and numbers. eFORMz has support for a whole slew of different bar code types, like 39, extended 39, Codabar, Interleave 2 of 5, MSI Code, Code 11, UPC A and E, EAN 8 and 13, Jan Code, Code 93 and 128. For anyone that has had to deal with bar codes, this is really a godsend.

Installation and Documentation

Installation is very straightforward for the PC module of the software. Minisoft includes a tape for your HP 3000 with the latest Java environment, and has done a very credible job of making the install as clean and simple as possible. The documentation is purely electronic in PDF format, which is fine, but there is absolutely not one shred of information in the box on how to install or where to start. I would seriously suggest that MiniSoft at least print out the installation instructions so that you know where to start.

Other than that, the documentation is well written as a reference guide, and there is one sample project to play with. Since the technology is so new and the paradigm so different than what people are used to, I would probably include a tutorial that really walked a user through the process for the first time. The manual covers all the topics; it’s just that a walk-through would speed up the learning curve.

The TestDrive

Mostly I played around with the sample files that were supplied to test eFORMz, and overall I really liked the product. But I’m struck by just how incredibly slow Java still appeared on my desktop system. I ran the form designer under Win98 on a 466Mhz CPU with 64 Mb of RAM. While I’ll admit this isn’t a total killer machine, it’s way more than the standard machines at the last couple of clients where I worked. The speed of Java is no fault of MiniSoft’s, of course, but it’s something to consider. If you are going to appoint a forms designer, get that person a beefy desktop machine.

I toyed around with creating forms, and that was pretty straightforward. But I found that it sure can be tedious. I would probably just pay MiniSoft to create forms, if you’ve only got a few forms to create. The step of aligning data and the form is also rather tedious, but once it’s done, it’s done.

I really didn’t have any problems with the software other than how incredibly slow Java was on my system. The performance on my desktop kept me from doing any major form development, so I mostly worked off the sample. I did receive an updated .jar file for the desktop client during the review — MiniSoft had gone through some optimization and made the client a bit snappier, so that helped.


The shining star of eFORMz is also its biggest weakness at the moment, and that is Java. I found Java to be just so darn slow on my desktop system. I applaud MiniSoft for creating an entire package like this in Java: it’s quite amazing. I know Java performance gets better all the time, and machines get faster all the time, so it really shouldn’t be an issue.

That said, the product is very well done and has a pretty thorough feature set to cover everything you would want to do, especially in a first release. The documentation is also clear and well-written, and the learning curve is short.

eFORMz also has the benefit of having been produced from scratch based on everything everyone has learned over the last 15 years of this kind of software on the HP 3000. This means there isn’t a bunch of “stuff” in there for backward compatibility, and everyone knows why features are there and how they work. This is very important these days, when software at many companies has changed hands so many times and gone through so many developers that people are afraid to do anything to it, or don’t know why certain things are there.

Need to do form processing? Look at eFORMz.

Shawn Gordon, whose S.M. Gordon & Associates firm supplies HP 3000 utilities, has worked with 3000s since 1983.



Copyright The 3000 NewsWire. All rights reserved.