Microsoft today unveiled Microsoft PowerApps, which allows users to build business apps by writing as little code as possible. It's similar to Salesforce's Lightning App Builder, as well as a logical extension of Microsoft's earlier plans to make its business tools accessible to nondevelopers.
PowerApps can connect to and use data from services like Office 365, Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, Dropbox, and OneDrive, along with connectivity to Azure services, SharePoint, SQL Server, Oracle databases, and SAP.
A tutorial on the PowerApps site shows how new apps can be created from existing templates, with UIs assembled via drag-and-drop, as with Microsoft's Visual Studio development environments. The under-the-hood logic uses flowchartlike diagrams, where specific conditions can be used to trigger actions.
The resulting apps can be shared like documents, according to Microsoft, and are platform-native for iOS, Android, or Windows devices.
Earlier this year, Microsoft demonstrated other pending technologies for working with business data: the Cortana Analytics Suite and the GigJam data-mixing application. Both products centered on analytics, as does PowerApps, but it's potentially wider-ranging.
Microsoft is banking on the idea that providing easier access to data and services, and making it simpler to combine them, will have more immediate payoff for most businesses than having them work with more elaborate tools.
Creating robust software without writing code has long been a hot pursuit. There's little question it's possible to write useful software -- even useful business software -- by hitching together existing prepackaged modules and services. But the larger question is whether the resulting apps are simply remixes, or whether they genuinely create groundbreaking and transformative software.
Either way, Microsoft is determined to put PowerApps into as many hands as it can, with a free tier that allows up to two data source connections per user. Pricing for the standard tier won't be set until after PowerApps is out of preview.