Microsoft's Custom Pages, an effort to converge its two different low-code Power App platforms, are now in public preview - though it is more hybrid than truly converged.
Principal program manager Adrian Orth said that the preview is a "a big leap forward in the convergence of model-driven apps and canvas apps into a single Power App," though adding that that standalone canvas apps will remain supported.
Cloud migration has been good for Microsoft's business application business, and in its latest financials, the company noted "Dynamics 365 revenue growth of 49 per cent (up 42 per cent in constant currency)." Power Platform, a low-code application platform which ties into Dynamics as well as other parts of Microsoft's cloud such as SharePoint and Office 365, performed even better.
In the earnings call yesterday, CEO Satya Nadella said that "The number of organizations using Power Apps has more than doubled year over year … all-up, Power Platform revenue increased 83 percent over the past year."
Although Redmond likes to talk up the notion of citizen developers, Nadella mentioned "pro developers and domain experts" using Power Apps, in reference to Toyata's use of the platform.
In some ways though Power Apps is like Microsoft Teams: dig into it, and find not a single platform but rather a number of different ones bolted together. This is evident when users go to create a new Power App and are asked whether it is a Canvas app or a Model-driven app that they require. A Canvas app presents a screen where components such as buttons, text and charts can be arranged onto a design surface, whereas a Model-driven app is more perplexing for the uninitiated.
A new-style designer (also in preview) invites developers to add pages which can be either tables or dashboards, or a Classic designer deals in Entities, Dashboards and Business Processes. Model-driven apps generate their own user interface when run.
Model-driven apps make most sense to those who have tangled with Dynamics 365, with one way to look it being as a form builder for Dynamics 365 entities and processes. It is very different from the free-form Canvas apps and Microsoft appears to recognise this as a problem. At the Business Applications Summit in May, Director of Product Management Ryan Cunningham posted about how the feature would "bring together canvas and model-driven pages into a single, cohesive application."
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Custom Pages let developers add Canvas-style pages to a Model-driven application. In order to use Custom Pages, developers must also use the new preview designer. Custom Pages support Fluent UI components and custom canvas components as well as the standard offerings.
While this is a significant improvement for Model-driven app developers, they should note the preview is not production-ready and there are plenty of issues, such as "when a user with no Power Apps user privileges opens a custom page in the model-driven app, they will see an error mentioning no active entitlements to use PowerApps" – an example of the complex licensing for Power Apps causing an issue which no doubt will be resolved in a later iteration. In principle, Custom Pages "follow the license for the model-driven app," according to Microsoft's FAQ.
When we looked for the Custom Page option in our Power Apps designer we did not see it – the word in the community is that "you should see it on Thursday or Friday of next week."
As businesses pour more data into Microsoft's platform, the built-in application platform becomes correspondingly more attractive as a way of creating applications based on that data. Microsoft still has work to do though in making it more intuitive and coherent for developers (citizen or otherwise) and although only a partial move in that direction, the addition of Custom Pages to the Model-driven variety of app will likely be welcomed. ®
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