Microsoft PowerApps and Flow Hit Prime Time

After a six-month public beta period, Microsoft's PowerApps and Flow developer services are now commercially available.

The two services, which give organizations simplified tools for building applications and workflows, became generally available on Tuesday after being in public preview since April.

General availability technically means that they can be used by organizations in production environments. However, Microsoft clarified that "PowerApps and Microsoft Flow will be enabled automatically for most Office 365 commercial plans in November 2016," according to another announcement regarding SharePoint.

PowerApps and Flow are not just designed for developers and IT pros, but also are billed by Microsoft as being user-friendly enough such that business personnel can compose solutions. Microsoft also is marketing Power BI, its data visualization solution, as a sort of third leg of this so-called "power trio."

Both services have built-in connectors to Microsoft's cloud-enabled Office 365 and Dynamics 365 applications, and it's possible to create "custom API" data connections, as well. Organizations also can use PowerApps and Flow to connect with premises-based applications and data using an "on-premises data gateway," according to Microsoft's announcement. Microsoft is also supporting its developer partner community with "a new solution catalog" for PowerApps that was launched Monday.

The SharePoint Connection
Microsoft's SharePoint development team seems to have embraced PowerApps and Flow in a big way. For instance, Microsoft's SharePoint announcement on Monday explained that PowerApps and Flow "are the successors to InfoPath and SharePoint Designer for many common business scenarios, especially custom forms used on SharePoint lists."

Perhaps this detail was mentioned during Microsoft's Ignite event at some point. However, generally speaking, Microsoft hadn't really explained (until this week) exactly what alternatives it would offer after telling SharePoint users that it was planning to deprecate InfoPath (typically used to create SharePoint forms) as well as SharePoint Designer.

InfoPath 2013 and SharePoint Designer 2013 are the latest and the last products of their line, although both will be available throughout the product lifecycle of SharePoint Server 2016. They'll be around till 2026, Microsoft's SharePoint announcement clarified. InfoPath Forms Services also will have a similar product-lifecycle shelf life.

Meanwhile, PowerApps and Flow will be getting "deeper integration" into SharePoint. They are getting "fully integrated into the SharePoint web experience," Microsoft indicated, as well as with mobile apps. It soon will be possible to connect PowerApps to the data stored in SharePoint's Modern Lists, Microsoft promised. PowerApps and Flow both will be capable of connecting with Modern Document Libraries as a data source. In addition, organizations will be able to use the new data gateway on premises to connect PowerApps and Flow with SQL Server and SharePoint Server data "as simply as cloud-based data," Microsoft indicated.

Microsoft also mentioned on Monday that Power BI is getting deeper integration with SharePoint Online. When that capability rolls out, it'll be possible to "embed visualizations and charts from Power BI directly into a SharePoint team site."

Plans and Pricing
Microsoft will be including the PowerApps and Flow services in some of its Dynamics 365 subscription plans, but they also will be sold separately. PowerApps and Flow will included as part of some Office 365 Enterprise, Office 365 Business Premium and Office 365 Business Essentials plans, but nuances are involved.

For instance, there are Plan 1 and Plan 2 options, which are listed under PowerApps pricing and Flow pricing. The two plans have different capabilities. An organization's subscription type determines which plan is included. Alternatively, Plan 1 and Plan 2 can be bought separately, billed at a fixed rate per user per month.

On the PowerApps side, Plan 1 and Plan 2 are only included when an organization buys the Dynamics 365 Enterprise edition. However, they can be purchased separately, at $7 per user per month or $40 per user per month, respectively. Clearly, there's a whopping cost disparity between Plan 1 and Plan 2. Microsoft prices them based on limits for "flow runs," "data storage" and "file storage" used on a per-user basis. Plan 1 and Plan 2 are the only ones that have access to the so-called "Common Data Service," which is an Azure storage space that arranges data into a "standardized but extensible" form. For instance, the data are sorted into common categories, such as "customer," "product" and "inventory item," among others, for easy access when building applications. PowerApps Plan 2 is also notable for having "enterprise-grade administration of environments and user policies," a feature that isn't shown for Plan 1.

On the Flow side, Plan 1 is an extra option priced at $5 per user per month. Plan 2 is an optional item priced at $15 per user per month, or it's included in three Dynamics 365 subscription plans: Enterprise Plan 1, Enterprise Plan 2 and the Business edition. Once again, access to the Common Data Service is just available to Plan 1 and Plan 2 subscribers. There are management differences between the two plans. For instance, only Plan 2 has the ability to "establish company policies regarding the usage of different connections and flows."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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