A rags to riches design/developer blog
Home About Twitter Press Projects Apps

The Mystery Behind Microsoft PowerApps

Jan 13, 2016 5:30 PM

The Mystery Behind Microsoft PowerApps

Published: Jan 13, 2016 5:30 PM

Microsoft PowerApps recently became available as invite only for a small number Office 365 users.  Everyone else can hit the waiting list to try it out.  I’ve glanced over years of tech news, but these topic isn’t something CIO’s, IT departments and developers should ignore.  Change is coming, big change.

What is PowerApps?  It is a continuation of Project Siena, to make a way for non developers to create solutions without code knowledge.  It’s basically an app that easily makes apps.  Some of it’s success was used to make Microsoft App Studio, a web application used to make universal apps for Windows 8, Windows 10 and Windows Phone.  But PowerApps is a little different.  It won’t be just another app that doesn’t become mainstream.  This puppy will be equal to Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

Anyone who has used Office for over ten years has heard of VBA (Visual Basic for Applications).  Users can use VBA to make macros that extend normal office documents to use major functionality without IT’s assistance.  PowerApps is the value equivalent of VBA.

You can download PowerApps for iPhone/iPad from the Apple store and PC from the Windows store.  You will not be able to login without an Office 365 account and an invite, but you still can download and use Project Siena from the Windows store.  When you look at the PowerApps and Project Siena website, the screens look very similar.

After test driving Project Siena, I noticed that saved project files are file associated by PowerApps.  There are a lot of common developer elements used in the editor.  No code was necessary, but could be extended to use HTML and REST calls.  Everyone will not be able to pick it up and make a business critical app on the first try, but it has a lot of potential.

Here are some pros and cons from an IT department or developer prospective:

The Pros

  • App in major app stores
  • The app is an editor and an engine
  • Large range of common features
  • Editor UI for touch or keyboard/mouse
  • Created apps are content inside files
  • To run the app, just hit Preview
  • Shareable remotely, cloud or email
  • Decreases wait on IT to produce custom solutions
  • Office 365 Authentication
  • One day this will become as common as Word, Excel and PowerPoint
  • The capabilities of the editor features will continue to expand
  • Any user can start creating an app without the permission of IT, fixing the lack of developers problem.
  • Users already have access to company data via Office 365
  • Can export the app as a Windows stand alone executable
  • Microsoft may allow exporting to the Office 365 app store
  • App can be locked from users editing the app before sharing
The Cons

  • Not a replacement for full on all the way custom development
  • Easy typos will throw exclamations that keep the content in debug mode and not allow previewing
  • App fragmentation with users passing the file as an email attachment
  • For the extreme power user, like late 90’s VBA macro writers
  • Could kill developer jobs or force existing developers to specialize.  Non senior developers should reinvent themselves to stay relevant.  Remember that guy in accounting who laughed at Microsoft Excel when it first launched?  Where’s he working now?
  • Data silos for non remote data sources
  • IT should forget about trying to control users who use PowerApps and just empower them.  Or…you could just give everyone typewriters. :/
  • Must have the PowerApps app installed to run shared content app files

Again, the reason why this will be so popular is because apps will just be files passed around between an editor/engine.  It’s exactly the same concept as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  Business users are becoming more impatient for custom solutions to be delivered from IT or a small pool of developers.  Now they have the POWER to create solutions themselves.