Easy web building, or an abstraction too far? • DEVCLASS

Microsoft showed off the ambitious Power Pages, among other new features for its low-code Power platform, at its virtual Build event this week.

Power Pages is an evolution of what used to be Power Apps portals, but is now a standalone product. Simply put, it is a web application builder for internal or public websites and designed to be accessible to business users as well as developers.

The sites built run on Azure and the data is stored in Dataverse, a database platform built primarily on Azure SQL but with additional abstractions and features that make it work well with low-code builders.

Power Pages uses Microsoft’s Dataverse to store data

Alongside Power Pages, the company unveiled Power Apps Express Design, which builds apps from input, including Figma design files and images, a new authoring canvas for Power Virtual Agents, and Azure Bot Framework. , and hosted Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bots for scaling Power. Automate, a workflow engine.

Power Pages is a preview, but has a bold ambition to be both simple for new web app users and powerful and flexible enough for professional developers. Users can choose from templates to start with, but with only a few offered at this point. Although a web-based visual builder is predominant, pages can also be edited as text either in the browser or using tools such as Visual Studio Code, and with source code management in GitHub. Advanced features include the ability to use additional firewall such as Azure Front Door and Azure Content Delivery Network.

We took a quick look at Power Pages and it’s exactly what power platform power users would expect: some features are easy to use while others lead the user through complex intricacies that can be difficult to disentangle.

In our case, we set out to transform an after-school class enrollment model into a computer class model. All went well to begin with, with a neat touch being a QR code that allowed easy viewing of the site on a smartphone, where it suited the small form factor well. We encountered an obstacle while trying to modify a component displaying course categories, which informed us that “this advanced component needs to be modified in the portal management application”.

Going to the portal management application, it was not obvious to find the component in question.

Usability breaks down when certain actions require going further into the platform

The advantage of Power Pages is not only low code appeal, but also that it integrates well with Microsoft’s cloud platform, including Azure Active Directory, SharePoint, Teams and more. It’s appealing to admins who can easily manage security, and more manageable than asking users to build sites on WordPress, for example, out of frustration at the difficulty or delay of having IT departments rushing for them. to help.

That said, the fundamental problem with low code is that it works by providing a high-level abstraction that can create as many problems as it solves. This thoughtful article from a developer on Dataverse makes this point: “Dataverse has many ‘enhancements’ to make it easier for a novice to create a database, but breaks good data normalization and modeling practices and stores so just the problems for later – e.g. Multivalued fields, many-to-many relationships and polymorphic relationships.

A strong feature of Power Pages, however, is the ability to edit pages as text in a programmer’s editor. Once developers start working with parts of the platform like Liquid templates, a template language for dynamic content that was also part of the Power Apps portal, it starts to look more like another app framework. web application – perhaps frustrating for weak coders hoping to achieve everything by dragging and dropping, but a relief for developers used to working with code.

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