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 Im 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
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 Minisofts 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 cant comment on any other spoolers.
Now its 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 isnt the
fastest thing on the planet, at least on the merging end you
dont really notice it because its 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
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 isnt 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
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; its just that a walk-through
would speed up the learning curve.
Mostly I played around with the sample
files that were supplied to test eFORMz, and overall I really liked
the product. But Im 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 Ill admit this
isnt a total killer machine, its way more than the
standard machines at the last couple of clients where I worked. The
speed of Java is no fault of MiniSofts, of course, but
its 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
youve only got a few forms to create. The step of aligning data
and the form is also rather tedious, but once its done,
I really didnt 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: its quite
amazing. I know Java performance gets better all the time, and
machines get faster all the time, so it really shouldnt be an
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 isnt 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 dont
know why certain things are there.
Need to do form processing? Look at
Shawn Gordon, whose S.M. Gordon &
Associates firm supplies HP 3000 utilities, has worked with 3000s