Microsoft Forms was released over a year ago for Office 365 education customers but was only recently made available in Public Preview for commercial tenants.
While it is a relatively simple and easy to use application, its coming of age story (albeit not yet complete) has been a bit confusing.
For starters it’s rare that apps like this start in education tenants before hitting commercial environments. Usually it’s the other way around.
Then there’s the name – it’s called Microsoft Forms, but the URL is forms.office.com. So that would kind of make sense that it be called Office Forms because by comparison Microsoft Teams has a URL of teams.microsoft.com even though it relies on Office 365. Anyway, semantics.
Then there was the “preview” for commercial. The whole premise of First Release functionality was so that IT admins could select a number of users to preview new features with, or the entire organisation. Yet now in Office 365 we have features like Forms that are in Public Preview and accessible to all users regardless of First Release setting. In fact for Forms, before it hit Public Preview it was either all or nothing – the only way any user could see it at all was if the entire tenant was enabled for First Release, as selective user-based First Release settings were not sufficient to make it visible.
Moving along, we have it now and I believe it is a worthy addition to the Office 365 portfolio. While historically we’ve had Excel Web Forms available in OneDrive for Business, I don’t believe many users really new about that capability. Effectively Microsoft Forms is a prettier and simpler replacement for Excel Web Forms, and with more sharing capabilities. Let’s not forget SharePoint lists – but same challenge there.
From customers and end users I work with this application has been extremely well received for its simplicity and bare-bones functionality. One particular story an end user told me is that their previous Excel spreadsheet form that was sent as an attachment to collect feedback was hardly ever returned, whereas with Forms they have had a 100% return rate.
On a personal level I’ve started using Forms as an information and feedback gathering too before and after workshops or training sessions.
And while I think Forms delivers some quick wins I think users will start to hit the limits of its functionality quite quickly when they want to move beyond basic surveys of a few questions.
What Forms needs
Better group functionality
For one – Forms is an individual feature, even though it allows for sharing and copying of forms. The sharing is more of an after-thought, and instead what I think we need to see more is a shared form library or repository, like we have with Flow. That being said, Flow didn’t have shared features at launch but they came shortly afterwards – so hopefully the same thing happens with Forms. If the shared form repository could somehow integrate with Office 365 Groups that would be ideal. One could argue that for that purpose we have SharePoint lists which provide a form-like interface for user input, however you could conversely argue that this method is not as friendly as Forms by a long shot.
The other big improvement I believe Forms needs is the ability to group questions together. This is something we see in tools like SurveyMonkey where we can create pages of questions that users progress through. While I don’t think Forms has to necessarily copy SurveyMonkey (because at the end of the day that is a purpose-built tool that only does one function, and does it damn well) it would allow Forms to move up a level if users could group questions together.
I found this latter point the deal-breaker for me when it came to one of my consulting programs where I have an executive questionnaire of almost 40 questions across 4 different topics. It simply didn’t present well in single scrollable page. For this reason I opted for a paid SurveyMonkey subscription. I still use Forms for the basic bits, but SurveyMonkey is used for that specific questionnaire.
The last thing Forms needs is a bit more visual customisation. At present it comes with some basic colours and themes/backgrounds, as well as the ability to put a logo at the top of the subscription. I think this is fine, but just a few more customisation options would be well received, including the ability to have a white header instead of requiring that it be coloured.
Do I think Microsoft Forms is ready for the prime time? As long as the expectation is set that it is a personal form solution for quizzes and feedback/input, I think users will continue to adopt it.
Like Sway is to Prezi and Planner is to Trello, Forms is to SurveyMonkey – it’s not enough to compete but is enough to slow users from choosing those solutions and having data stored outside the organisation’s virtual walls of Office 365.
While a timeframe for General Availability hasn’t been set yet, hopefully it will come soon and bring about some additions and enhancements at launch.
Stay tuned for news this week from Microsoft Ignite as there will be some improvements around functionality about Microsoft Flow as well as future integrations.