Test Drive of FlexForm
Shawn M. Gordon
S.M.Gordon & Associates
What it can do?
The HP 3000 use to have a wide selection of forms printing packages some years ago, but something seems to have happened, and almost all of them have disappeared for one reason or another. Last year MiniSoft picked up the FlexForm product, which is quite an exciting package that will do forms printing on the HP 3000 and Unix. I am only going to look at the 3000 version and the Windows portion of form design in this review.
FlexForm allows you to create custom forms and overlay it with data to produce high quality output from your HP 3000. This would be things like purchase orders, pay checks, invoices, government forms, etc. The output generated is PCL, so it’s supported by virtually any laser printer on the market. It will also work nicely with any network spooling package you might have to direct the output to networked printers.
How does it work?
There is a PC portion to the FlexForm product that allows you to do the form design and conversion to the HP forms files. The really unique thing about FlexForm is that it acts as a printer capture device. This means that you can design your form in ANY windows product you like. Once you are done you select the print option for FlexForm from the print menu, this will bring up the FlexForm for Windows create screen. You will now be able to save your output as an OVL (Overlay) file where ever you want. If you have a multi page form, then you have to save one page at a time, FlexForm will only deal with the first page.
At this point you can run the FlexForm designer and apply printing specifications to the overlay you created. This would be things like the laser printer to be used, paper size, calculated fields, formatting options, font type and size for data to be merged, etc. See figure 1 for a short sample.
Once done with your overlay and definition file, you upload them to your HP as binary files, register them to FlexForm with the registration program. Configure a candidate print queue using something such as the device class and/or priority number (most common). Then you produce your output, spool name needs to match
the overlay, and away you go.
FlexForm also supports what it calls endorsements. This is a pre-defined set of text and graphics that is printed on the back of your report (for example, the terms and conditions of a purchase order). You can also specify MICR font’s for using on checks and such, critical for many companies, see figure 2 for an example of a check.
A variety of bar code types are also support such as: 3 of 9, Extended 3 of 9, Code 128, codabar, MSI Plessey, Compressed 3 of 9/Code 93, Compressed Ext. 3 of 9, Zip+4 Postnet and HIBC. This should cover just about any option you wish to use.
FlexForm will work nicely with NP92 (network print manager from Minisoft) for spool direction and hand off, but will work in whatever environment that you need.
Currently to merge the data and the form you must create the output from your program so that it will align with the layout of the form you have created. In the next version, which should be out by the time you read this, you will be able to make use of the Fantasia PC product to produce what’s called Field Fill forms. This allows you to assign field numbers to locations on the form visually. In your program then you simply write out the data with the field number attached,
FlexForm will then handle the alignment of the data during the merge process, relieving you of this potentially tedious task. The version after that will have it’s own ability to create Field Fill forms.
The advantage to Field Fill is that you can change the layout of a form easily, and not change the program that produces the output that goes on it. This is of course if the data remains the same and only the layout changes. W2 forms are a good example of this.
Installation and Documentation
Installation in my case since I had NP92 consisted of loading the software on the HP with the supplied DAT and running the installation process, then installing the client software on my PC. This all went easily and without a hitch.
The manual is well organized and well written, and not too large that you get over whelmed, but provides the information needed. Support from MiniSoft is very good, you always get a human that answers the phone, and most times get right through to support.
I was able to install the software quite easily. After spending about 15 minutes going through the manual to get a feel for the product, I went ahead and setup my existing copy of NP92 to process some spoolfiles. There are sample files and forms that come with the software that you can see print out by simply using FCOPY to get it into the spooler. This all worked nicely.
I then used Microsoft Word and Lotus Word Pro to generate output for a timecard and an invoice so that I could play with them in the designer and this all went without a hitch as well. The Administrator program is supposed to be running all the time to kind of manage the Designer, this is really just the security program that tell’s the software it’s a demo or not. There didn’t seem to be any restriction on the demo other than the time.
I put my sample forms up on the HP and just forced some random data through so that I could see them merge (I didn’t feel like writing a program to write formatted output), and while nothing lined up because of what I had done, it did all merge.
FlexForm very competently fills a sudden void in the HP 3000 marketplace. With the acquisition of Fantasia by JetForm a while back, it’s future has been in doubt, so having an alternative from a company solidly devoted to the HP is very nice. The product works very competently, and the flexible options for creating forms within any PC application really make the product versatile. I’m anxiously awaiting the ability to use Field Fill for my scanned forms, since I found that so productive in the past.
This is a great option for forms printing off of your HP, if you have the need then you owe it to yourself to give it a look.
FlexForm version 2.5
1024 First St.
Snohomish, WA 98290
FlexForm includes the software required to use the features. This also includes a demo version of NP92 to handle the routing of the spool files in case you don’t have a copy. It also includes the FlexForm Administrator, Designer, and capture programs for your Win95/98/NT to do forms design.
FlexForm for the HP 3000 runs on all HP 3000 Series 900s, MPE/iX 4.0 or later. The software is tier based ranging from $2,995 to $9,495. Discounting on multiple CPUs. Support is 20% of the purchase price per year and includes phone in, electronic support and new releases of the software. All prices are in US dollars.