REVIEW: MachForm (inc. screencast) Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

So, in my previous post I described why I selected MachForm as my online php form generator of choice from the various products out there on the market today.

Now, as promised after some thorough testing, I’m providing a full review which I hope will be useful to others who are on the market for a good web form creation piece of software.

(You may wish to scroll down to the bottom of this blog post to see a video review of MachForm, showing how it can be used in practice…)

My top ten list of required features were…

1. Run on PHP
2. Produce Valid HTML code
3. Produce good looking, highly styled forms
4. Contain some basic validation for required fields, email address and phone numbers etc
5. Collect the results of each form completed by users into a simple database for me to view online at a later date
6. Email me (the website owner) and also the end user a copy of the form that was submitted
7. Contain some good security features to prevent huge amounts of spam being generated by automated bots!
8. Allow my forms to have the option of being password protected
9. Not be overly complex or require in depth php or sql coding
10. (As already mentioned, the software needed to be self-hosted and contain no monthly/ongoing charges).

MachForm ticked all the boxes I’m happy to say!

Rather than go through these one by one, I’ll just highlight the major features which stood out for me…

Firstly, installation. MachForm was a doddle to install on my web server. The simple installation instructions found on the MachForm website were accurate to the letter. I followed each instruction step by step, and without a single hitch the software was installed within just a few minutes! It didn’t require much technical knowledge either, the ‘hardest’ thing I suppose is that you have to create the mySQL database yourself. I have a cPanel webhost, so this was pretty straightforward. Just follow the onscreen prompts and the database is created. Make a note of the database name, user and passwords that you set, and enter these in the set up script for MachForm. A couple more clicks and you’re done. It’s really that simple.

Once installed, you’re presented with a really well thought out admin control panel for your forms configuration and management. You can actually try this out for yourself using MachForm’s online live demo, found here -> MachForm Live Demo.

The Form Manager control panel allows you to create new forms, edit existing ones, adjust CSS styles, define email recipients and styles, and view the user entries that have been submitted for each form. The layout is so simple, I promise, you’ll not need to look at a helpfile, or scrap of documentation! I was up and running with my own form in minutes, just by using the software and finding my way around it without help. (Note: MachForm comes with lots of support, should you ever need it, just thought I’d mention that!).

Note: A cool feature in the Form Manager section allows you to disable (and re-enable) forms too. This allows you to prevent users from submitting new entries from one of your forms, without going through the pain of actually fully deleting the form (and thus loosing all your data of the previously submitted entries!).

Creating a new web form

Again, this process was simple, straightforward, and worked like a dream. I was so impressed with the ease of which the various form elements could be added, removed, swapped around and configured. Not only that, but, you see the form building up in front of you eyes as you add each element… without looking at a scrap of code!

Each form element can be set as a required field or not, and depending on the kind of element will have some optional extra validation tool built right in. For example, the email form element. This element allows the end user (who will be completing and submitting data into your form) to fill in their email address. MachForm can not only ensure they are forced to fill in this field, but, it makes sure that the email address is valid!! This is useful not only to prevent and correct accidental typing mistakes by the end user, but also to filter out bogus dummy emails being used by unscrupulous people or automated bots. The user cannot submit the form, until a VALID email address has been submitted. Complex code obviously sits behind this simple ’email’ field in MachForm, but you never need to worry about that… it’s all dealt with behind the scenes for you at the click of a button in the Control Panel.

Another nice feature in the Form creation panel is the ability to use section headers to break up and categorize the various sections of your form. This makes it clearer to the end user what information is being gathered and gives the form some structure – as opposed to simply being a long list of random questions.

Drop downs, radio boxes, check boxes, free text, are all there to choose from as you’d expect, and some nice additions too… like a Postal Address element, which is a pre-formatted collection of free-text fields laid out to look stylish and be simple to read and complete by the end user. Another cool feature was the date field, this is also validated to make sure the dates are inputted correctly, but also, the end user can click a small icon at the side of the date input field, which pops up a small calendar for them to simply select a date and that form field is automatically filled in for them. Very smooth indeed.

A really nice feature of MachForm’s form builder is that form element contains a section called “Guidelines for user”. This basically allows you to enter some descriptive text which will pop up at the side of each form field when the end user hovers their mouse over each one, thus helping them fill out the form, and ensuring you’re more likely to get the data that you want! I love this feature, and it’s implemented so well on the final web form that is created.

Finally, the form builder gives you the chance to request that the form be password protected (useful if you only want a select group or people to be able to complete the form), and the opportunity to request the user enter a Capcha style anti-spam answer before clicking submit, AND, presenting the user with a ‘review’ page upon first submitting the form. This final feature has a double benefit. Not only does it give the end user the chance to review their responses in a nice clean layout before finally submitting it, but it also acts as another anti-spam guard. Many spam bots cant deal with having to do a two step submit, and therefore fail after the first attempted submission, thus reducing your chances of receiving fake spammed entries from your form! Genius.

Linking / Embedding / Using the form

Once the form has been created, you can use it in one of several ways. Most simply, is to just email the generated link out to the people who you want to complete the form… upon clicking the link, it will present them with a really well styled and professional looking form (several styles are available to choose from in the MachForm style gallery). Secondly, you can just copy some code for your generated form, and paste it into the webpage that you want the form to appear on. This uses an ‘iframe’ technique to embed the form, and for most people, is a fantastic method of integrating the form into their website. Finally, an option is given to copy and paste a different set of code directly into your PHP pages if you prefer not to use iframes. This is really for more advanced users, but, works perfectly well in testing.

I’ve tested the forms that are produced in the various well known browsers today, and as anticipated, they all performed superbly.

Configuring emails

After an end user submits a form, a couple of things happen automatically in MachForm. Firstly the responses are stored in a database on your server. Second, emails are generated. These can be user defined and configured to your own preference on a per-form basis, and can also be sent to the end users email address too. The emails are really well styled and look extremely professional. The email configuration area is simple and easy to follow, just enough options to provide flexibility, without causing confusion.

Viewing the data collection

MachForm allows you to easily select what data (columns) you want to view on screen in a simple table of results. You can drill down into any individual entry and see all the data that was submitted. You also get the choice to remove an entry altogether, or to amend an entry yourself.

Amazingly, you can also choose to down all the results as an Excel spreadsheet or CSV file. This allows you to start making graphs and performing calculations on the data you’ve collected from your online form!

What’s missing?

From my original list of requirements, there’s nothing missing from MachForm! It’s got it all. However, there could be a couple of features that some people maybe looking for which MachForm doesn’t include. These, as I see it, are;

1. Multi-language support – MachForms doesn’t (yet) have the ability to manage forms in mulitple languages, although there are a couple of hacks you can perform to work around this.

2. Conditional logic – in other words, have the form present the end user with certain conditional questions depending on that users responses to previous questions. This feature is not available in MachForm… although, to be honest, I suspect most people would not need it really for the average web form?

3. Mutiple pages – to allow a single form to be broken down over several pages. You often see this with larger forms such as web surveys to prevent the form becoming a huge long list to scroll up and down. I think this feature may have been useful, but, it’s not something I would put on my top 10 feature demands and as such I dont see it as a huge problem that it’s not available in MachForm.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m very impressed with MachForm. I still need to use it some more to make sure there are no long term bugs or stability issues, but from what I’ve seen to date, I would most certainly recommend the software for amateur web designers, professionals who dont have time to write their own code and fool around with CSS form designs, and basically anyone looking for a reasonably priced, decent piece of software to help them build and manage web forms easily regardless of their client operating system (you only need a web browser).

Why not have a look at the screencast below which shows most of the above features in action….

Go to http://www.appnitro.com/machform/features to see a full list of features of MachForm and check it out in more detail for yourself.

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Comments (5)

 

  1. Fran says:

    gadget show eat your heart out

  2. Lesley says:

    Could I have all that in layman terms please 🙂 Wow. You do know your stuff.

  3. Basil Segawa says:

    I blog looking over Google and just wanted to take some time to say thanks for the informative entry you have posted.

  4. BBG says:

    Thanks for the info. You have done a wonderful job communicating your message. Keep up the good writing.

  5. Hello, awesome writing.

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