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article imageMicrosoft unveils 'PowerPoint for apps' to let anybody code apps

By James Walker     Nov 30, 2015 in Technology
Microsoft has publicly announced a new Office tool designed to simplify the process of creating mobile apps. Known as PowerApps, the aim of the business-grade program is to let anyone create a working native app without learning code.
ZDNet reports that Microsoft took the wraps off the project, formerly known by its codename "Kratros," today. It is now working with select businesses in an invitation-only preview of the new program before the service becomes generally available.
PowerApps wants to get enterprises "powering their business with apps." It lets users collate all the data from across their business and harness the power of the cloud to create their own app. The result can then be deployed natively to iOS, Android and Windows or as an online web app.
The apps are created inside the PowerApp desktop program, in the same way you'd build a presentation in PowerPoint or document in Word. A set of predefined templates provide a starting point for new users or simple projects. More complex functionality is hidden underneath the highly-graphical interface, as with the other Office programs.
A simple PowerApp can be created just by drag-and-dropping different kinds of content into place. Apps can be shared with co-workers or members of your team by sending them a share link in a process familiar to anyone who's ever shared an Office document.
PowerApps is designed to work regardless of where you store the data it needs to process. It would be comfortable loading a database kept on Microsoft's Azure cloud servers or communicating with third-party storage provider Dropbox to access a saved spreadsheet. Other data providers include OneDrive, SharePoint, SQL Server and Oracle.
PowerApps wants to get more businesses creating their own custom software. Business Insider reports Bill Staples, Microsoft's Corporate VP of App Platforms, asked "Where is the explosion of business apps?" during a press event today. Microsoft thinks apps haven't taken off in the enterprise in the same way as they have in the consumer space, simply because there aren't enough developers to write them.
By providing accessible tools, Microsoft hopes it can do the same thing as it did when it launched Word, PowerPoint and Excel, but this time for apps. In the same way as many Excel spreadsheets are built hastily by employees to fulfil a purpose, PowerApps will guide you through creating custom software to use across your devices when there is no existing solution available.
Microsoft said: "The way we do work today is fundamentally different than just a few years ago. Work happens on our phones, tablets and laptops everywhere we go: on manufacturing floors, in airplanes or at customer meetings. The mobile revolution, together with nearly limitless compute and data in the cloud, has transformed our professional experience."
Microsoft is serious about the potential of this technology. ZDNet reports a Microsoft job listing from earlier this year described the tools as a potential "billion-dollar" opportunity for the company. Today, Microsoft expanded its suite of productivity tools to give it influence in an area of the workspace that is very different to what it is used to.
The company explained its vision for PowerApps: "PowerApps will dramatically accelerate how business apps are built, reducing time to solution from weeks or months to minutes and empowering a new category of app creators. It balances power between IT and business users, arming those closest to business needs with tools and services to not just envision but also implement the solution. It moves what has been for decades a set of scenarios that typically only run on-premises with PCs to being centered in the cloud and delivered mobile-first."
When PowerApps leaves its current preview form, three different plans will be available. A basic free version provides unlimited app creation and use but only gives you access to two cloud data sources. The standard edition is aimed at teams and adds unlimited cloud data sources while the final Enterprise plan lets you access on-premises data storage systems and provides dedicated app infrastructure on Microsoft Azure. Pricing and a public launch date have yet to be announced.
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