What Are Microsoft Power Pages and Express Design?

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

Along with Power Pages, the company announced one of the very coolest things Microsoft showed at Build 2022: Power Platform’s Express Design tool. This lets you turn a PDF, PowerPoint, scanned paper form, screenshot of a legacy app, or even a picture of a hand-drawn interface into working code.

At the conference, product managers Priya Vaidyanathan and Sandeep Dhanrajani described the new tool as “an enterprise-grade, low-code platform for creating, hosting, and administrating rich, data-first interactive business web apps worldwide.”

Power Pages start interface

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

Power Pages 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 one. In a couple minutes, after the site is spun up, you’re in the design studio, which looks just like many other site builders, where you choose pages, edit layouts, and add navigation and functionality. There’s another wizard here to take noncoders through the process. You can search from a wide selection of business-specific templates, including detailed choices for appointment scheduling or course registration. Progress tracking and application templates are coming, according to Vaidyanathan.

You get a good selection of theme styles and colors for customization of any site elements:

Color and theme customizations in Microsoft Power Pages.

You can then add data from your Dataverse and preview the site either on the desktop or on mobile using a QR code. Generated sites use responsive design, so they look good on mobile as well as desktop.

The sites created in Power Pages are indeed professional-looking. You can manage multiple sites in a dashboard, similar to other site builders like Wix. Extensive learning guides help you with topics from design to customizing with code.

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

Express Design

At Build 2022, Microsoft’s VP for Power Apps, Ryan Cunningham, noted that by 2025, 70% of new enterprise apps would be built using low-code. He gave one example of this: Hearing Australia, which uses the Power Platform to build and manage mobile apps for audiology providers across that continent, tying in back-end data maintained by developers with low-code app front ends built by nontechnical business experts. A graphic from the presentation shows the landscape of tools from low-code to technical underpinning:

The Power Platform and underlying technologies

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

Creating an app from Figma

But it’s not just Figma. Cunningham showed the tool 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 the images.

The app creation from image process in Power Platform

To get started, you simply click on the Image tile in Power Apps, and then upload your image:

Ways to start a Power Apps project

Your image must represent some business process, such as a signup form:

Starting a Power App from an image

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

App interface right After Power Apps analyzes an image

Of course, you need to do some work to get the AI’s initial guess converted into a fully working app. But the express design features can jump-start some of the initial app-building work. As Cunningham said in wrapping up the Build session, these new tools “let people focus on the problems that actually matter the most, and leave the rest to the platform.”

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