Over at Partial Recall, Rob Fay notes that use of a Java e‑forms client may have been a more open, platform-neutral approach. I don’t share this view, and here’s why (comment reproduced from Partial recall):
As long as an offline client is needed, the system will use e‑forms. While it would indeed be more open-standards focused, using Java Swing (or anything similar) has several problems of its own — browser and OS compatibility, performance issues, and more — that would create new issues.
Personally, I’m in favor of the e‑forms solution playing second fiddle to an online application mechanism, much like FastLane. When Grants.gov started up, most grantees were not familiar with either e‑forms or web-forms. Nowadays, though, most people are much more comfortable with web-based forms and it’s e‑forms that present a learning curve.
In addition, with contemporary technologies such as AJAX, a rich web interface experience is possible (Google Maps, GMail, Basecamp, Salesforce.com and many other apps demonstrate this) so there’s no argument against the feasibility of this approach.
But the government doesn’t want to host people’s grant application data — either in draft or submitted form — wherever possible. (NSF is okay with it; other agencies are more skittish.) So we’ll need to see a change in thinking there before this option becomes truly feasible.