What are Microsoft Power Pages and Express Design?

We’ve been watching low-code/no-code software development tools for several years, and Microsoft’s Power Apps has long been a leader. During Build 2022, the company announced a new Power Apps tool called Power Pages. In short, it is a low-code business website builder. Other members of the Power Platform suite include Power BI, Power Automate, and Power Virtual Agents. Underlying all of these tools is what Microsoft calls your Dataverse.

Along with Power Pages, the company announced one of the coolest things Microsoft showed off in Build 2022: the Power Platform Express Design tool. This lets you turn a PDF, PowerPoint, scanned paper form, screenshot of a legacy application, or even an image of a hand-drawn interface into working code.

At the conference, Product Managers Priya Vaidyanathan and Sandeep Dhanrajani described the new tool as “a low-code enterprise platform for building, hosting and administering rich and interactive business web applications. data-driven around the world”.

You can create a site in Power You create Power Pages in a web browser, using customizable low-code templates, or in Visual Studio for more advanced needs. The wizard-like interface starts out very basic, as you can see in the screenshot above. Then, like most website builders, you select a template that suits your business.

Power Page Templates

The tool then creates a URL for you (you can also use a custom domain) and can create a trial Power Apps environment or you can use your existing environment. Within minutes of launching the site, you’re in the design studio, similar to many other site builders, where you choose pages, edit layouts, and add navigation and functionality. There’s another wizard here to guide non-coders through the process. You can search through a wide selection of company-specific templates, including detailed choices for scheduling appointments or registering for classes. Progress tracking and application templates are coming, according to Vaidyanathan.

You get a good selection of theme styles and colors for customizing all elements of the site:

Color and theme customizations in Microsoft Power Pages.

You can then add data from your Dataverse and preview the site either on desktop or mobile using a QR code. The generated sites use a responsive design, so they display well on both mobile and desktop.

Sites created in Power Pages do indeed look professional. You can manage multiple sites in one dashboard, similar to other site builders like Wix. Comprehensive learning guides help you with topics ranging from design to customization with code.

Unfortunately, the tool, an evolution of the Power Apps portals currently in preview, is only available to work and school account holders, although there is a free trial option for a Microsoft 365 E3 trial account. or Dynamics 365 Sales or Customer Service; there is no credit card required or software to install.

Design Express

During Build 2022, Microsoft Vice President for Power Apps Ryan Cunningham noted that by 2025, 70% of new enterprise apps will be built using low code. He gave an example: Hearing Australia, which uses Power Platform to create and manage mobile applications for audiology providers on this continent, by combining developer-managed back-end data with low-code front-end applications designed by non-technical business experts. A graphic from the presentation shows the landscape of tools from low-code to helpdesk:

The Power Platform and underlying technologies

But at the low-code design level, Power Apps now lets you build an app directly from Figma (a popular design collaboration and prototyping tool), from a PDF or an image. with what Microsoft calls “express design”. The gap between designers and programmers has long been a challenge, and this new Figma integration is a step forward.

Create an app from Figma

But it’s not just Figma. Cunningham demonstrated the tool for creating apps from images and PDFs. There are even sample images of business forms and paper documents. Express Design uses Azure Cognitive AI to work its magic, recognizing patterns in images.

Creating app from image process in Power Platform

To get started, just click the Image tile in Power Apps, then upload your image:

Ways to start a Power Apps project

Your image should represent a business process, such as a registration form:

Start a Power App from an image

Power Apps then parses the image for app controls and content and produces a basic app layout:

Application interface right after analysis of an image by Power Apps

Of course, you have to do some work to convert the initial AI guess into a fully functional application. But express design features can kick-start some of the initial app building work. As Cunningham said when closing the Build session, these new tools “allow people to focus on the most important issues and leave the rest to the platform.”

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Abdul J. Gaspar