Emailing forms and documents from one user to another is a common way of performing workflows in businesses. Users open attached documents, edit them according to their needs, and then email them to the next user. Some users take advantage of how Outlook opens attachments to make this process even easier.
How Outlook opens attachments
How Outlook will open attachments in email depends on both the format of the email message and the mechanism used to view the attachments. The table below illustrates the expected behavior.
Open from Preview Pane
Editable from temp directory
Open from open email
In the cases where the document is editable from the temp directory, you can actually save changes and they will (usually) get sent when you forward the email. Unfortunately, if the email where the edited attachment lives is closed before the changed document is sent along to the next recipient, the changes can be lost.
Outlook will guard an attachment in its temporary directory while its email message is open, but once the email is closed it will intermittently clear that directory and the changes can be lost. In fact, we’ve had several customers who were shocked and surprised to find that edits they had made to documents in attachment were suddenly gone. For exactly this reason, the Office team is strongly considering eliminating the ability to edit attachments at all from the next version of Outlook, and possibly even backporting that change into the current version. While the feature is convenient, the risk of data loss is just too high.
How this behavior affects InfoPath 2007 forms
The same risk is why InfoPath started blocking this behavior in its environment. It is fairly common for customers to use ASP.NET to programmatically generate XML forms for InfoPath in server-side code, and then stream the results to the client. InfoPath has no problem at all opening such XML files as InfoPath forms, so the solution is ideal for generating dynamic forms. However, those forms are opened from Internet Explorer’s temporary files directory, and if the user clicks the “Save” button, the changes would be saved back to the temporary files directory and essentially lost.
For this reason, a hotfix was released for InfoPath 2007 (938894), which was also included in Sp1 for Office 2007, that disabled this behavior. If InfoPath detects that a form has been opened from the temporary internet files directory, it will treat the form as if it is brand new, and offer the “Save As” dialog when the form is saved. This fix will also affect opening forms from Outlook Attachments, because Outlook’s attachments get saved to and opened from a subfolder of the temporary internet files directory. Thus, InfoPath detects that they are not safe to save back and offers the “Save As” dialog.
Using InfoPath 2007/Outlook 2007 integration to work-around this limitation
While opening attached InfoPath forms from email is no longer going to be a viable option, InfoPath 2007 and Outlook 2007 have added integration that makes this possible and even easier than before. With InfoPath 2007 and Outlook 2007, you can actually edit forms right inside the email message. When you reply or forward the edited message, the changes travel along with the form. It’s great for workflow applications. We actually have a great blog entry done by one of the InfoPath program managers that describes this functionality with screenshots that show just how cool it is.
Using InfoPath e-mail forms: