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Newsletter: Perspectives on Power Platform

Company: Niiranen Advisory Oy

Something to look forward to in 2023 Release Wave 1

My top 5 items from the latest Microsoft Power Platform release plans to keep an eye on - and also a few notable omissions.

Last time when the 2022 Release Wave 2 was announced, I wrote about why you should not pay too much attention to these bi-annual release plans. Instead I was encouraging everyone to start using the Release Planner website that listing all the planned and recently launched features as a roadmap site with no artificial boundaries between “waves”.

Now when the 2023 Release Wave 1 materials were launched today, Microsoft defaulted to pointing people to this Release Planner site (here’s the Power Platform 2023 RW1 link). Of course the challenge with that approach is that all the hot new stuff is just behind one small “release wave” filter in the list:

There are still some usability challenges with the Release Planner site that have kept me browsing through the Microsoft Docs Learn when looking for release item information. So, here’s the “switch to classic” bookmark that will take you to the MS Learn edition of the same release wave information:

There was now a nice higlights video made on the Power Platform 2023 Release Wave 1 launched on the very same day as the release plans were published. The challenge with this kind of material is that you can’t really show realistic demos about features that might be launched half a year from now, so keep that in mind when watching the video.

As always, there’s a lot to digest in the plan and you might therefore be interested in reading the hand picked top items by some trusted folks in the Power Platform community. As a purely subjective opinion, here are the top 5 items in 2023 RW1 that I was initially most excited about when reading through the plan.

Fluent UI everywhere

We’ve seen the concepts and components from Microsoft’s Fluent Design System introduced here and there when it comes to Power Apps and Dynamics 365 app UIs. The Power Platform Creator Kit has brought Fluent UI controls available to canvas apps built by advanced makers. Demos of the future model-driven app UI have included features like dark mode that are familiar from the more modern product UIs on the Microsoft 365 side. Now with 2023 RW1 there should finally be a wider roll-out of these modern controls for the MS low-code application platform, too.

You may remember that small tweaks to the model-driven UI have been taking place in pretty much every release wave. This update should be a lot more impactful than the previous ones – which is why it will be rolled out behind an opt-in switch initially. You can expect some things to break in the process, so it may take a while before MS will dare to push it out to all users by default.

Canvas apps, on the other hand, have been living in a split reality for a long time already. Dataverse for Teams based Power Apps have used the Fluent UI controls since forever, causing friction for app development across Teams vs. full Power Platform environments. Hopefully this coming update will now bridge the gap and get us closer to the dream of “Run One UI”.

Responsive canvas pages design experience

The one place where model-driven apps have felt clearly superior to canvas apps in their UI capabilities has been the responsiveness of the screen layout. Their many constraints on adjusting how the menus and forms can (or rather can’t) be configured have in turn made it amazingly simple to adjust to different screen sizes. The platform handles it out of the box, the maker doesn’t have to worry about it much at all.

Building responsive canvas apps has been technically possible, yet something that feels quite tedious. I’ve mostly had to deal with responsiveness in apps built in Dataverse for Teams, where worrying about which fields, columns and buttons fit onto the screen when surrounded by the Teams UI chrome has been one of the unavoidable everyday frustrations.

2023 RW1 release plan gives us a glimmer of hope by showing a screenshot of the coming responsive layouts and spacer tools in the canvas studio. The ability to resize controls and spacing directly in the authoring canvas could greatly reduce the effort needed in achieving sufficient levels of app UI responsiveness. Not on the same level as model-driven for sure, yet it could offer a decent compromise between precise control positioning and responsive reflow of controls on the page.

Control system administrator role assignment

No matter how granular the security model in Dataverse is, this granularity has vanished when you go up to the admin roles. Every Global Admin or Power Platform Admin will automatically be granted the sysadmin role for every Power Platform environment in the tenant. While it makes sense that people with powerful roles get wide access, it is often not desirable that such user accounts would by default see all data, be it via UI or API. After all, usually the admin roles need the power to change settings and work on the metadata – not the actual business data managed in Dataverse.

Now MS is promising that customers will be able to manually assign the System Administrator role to appropriate users in the environment. This is a very welcome feature to have control over the auto assignment, even though we don’t yet know now exactly what process will be built around this. Also keep in mind that certain governance features like this might get bundled into the Managed Environments capability, which would limit its available to premium licensed users only. Let’s see how it goes.

Personal environments with Dataverse

It has already been possible for users to sign up for the Power Apps developer plan – as long as they are aware such a thing exists and find the right path to acquire it. Now MS is going to promote these type of environments to Power Platform makers much more prominently within the product. They will be called “personal environments” and the idea is to lower the barrier for all makers to experience premium capabilities like Dataverse.

Unlike trials, personal environments won’t expire. Unlike sandboxes, the makers won’t need help from the Power Platform admins of the tenant to get a personal environment provisioned. There will be new governance capabilities introduced that give admins the possibility to disable this feature if required, yet hopefully most organizations wouldn’t need to introduce such a limit. Personal environments don’t consume tenant level capacity, so as long as there’s a solid governance plan in place to apply DLP policies, the risks should be fairly low with these personal environments.

Check out this Power CAT Live video for more details about the developer plan and its enhancements (YouTube embedding disabled by Microsoft):

Paginated reports editing on the web

Back in 2006 when I got introduced to the technology that later became Power Platform, the one area that struck to me as incredibly difficult was report creation. SQL Server Reporting Services had just replaced Crystal Reports with a native Microsoft technology in the stack. While there was plenty of advanced features available for summarizing data, the number of hoops you had to jump through to get any of the business data from the relational database onto a PDF output made sure that only the bare minimum number of reports were ever created.

The age of Power BI unlocked this precious data from the enterprise reporting tools and allowed basically anyone to slice & dice it to their heart’s content. Yet the paginated report design tools didn’t seem to evolve quite as rapidly. Neither was there much (well, any) progress made on the Word mail merge side for making it easier to produce documents with dynamic data. Recently many Makers have gone ahead with Power Automate and used HTML as the intermediate format on the road toa PDF output. None of these methods have really been very citizen friendly.

Is this about to change now? In 2023 RW 1 Microsoft is going to allow you to create and share paginated reports on the web, through a WYSIWYG design experience. “Create invoices, financial statements, and other operational reports with low code, drag-and-drop experiences on the web. You can share these in a variety of formats or just print them out!” That sure sounds like something most customers would prefer over the existing options for using dynamic data in documents. Let’s see how far this first iteration of the new editor in Power BI will get us once it arrives in the summer.

What’s missing from the plan?

To better understand the direction of Microsoft products, you should not just get excited about the features MS actively advertises. You should also search for things that are not mentioned. This will help in seeing behind the product marketing hype and making smarter decisions on your own investments of time and other resources.

Microsoft Teams doesn’t get much love in the Power Platform release plan. On the Power BI side there is the new teams meetings integration and enhancements to multi-tasking in the Power BI app for Teams. Power Automate touches on Teams in the sequential approvals feature. And that’s pretty much it. No word whatsoever on whether MS plans to keep investing in Dataverse for Teams, for example, which seems to have been largely abandoned after the initial launch 2 years ago.

If we ignore AI Builder, there aren’t too many mentions of products delivering shiny new features with the help of AI. Given how much talk there has been about Microsoft investing billions of dollars more into OpenAI and bringing ChatGPT features into their existing products, this could surprise the reader. Now, it’s important to understand that these release plans for the release waves are hardly ever the place where big splashy announcements like that are made. They are more about the incremental improvement of existing products.

Remember: new things will appear into the release wave between now and September 2023 (end of the wave). Similarly, we can expect a certain percentage of items in the release plan get delayed, postponed to a future release wave or cancelled entirely. Remember to keep an eye on those changes on a regular basis, instead of just studying the Power Platform roadmap twice a year.

Of the things that were added to the plan during the 2022 release wave 2, Cards for Power Apps does not exist at all in the new release plan. Does that mean it’s “done and ready”? No, it’s just sitting in the release plan from the previous round with no GA date and still a lot of things to be improved before being ready for real life use.

Looking at much higher profile initiatives on the same area, Microsoft Loop still doesn’t seem to be a thing either. ContextIQ is mentioned on the Dynamics 365 Business Central release plan, though. It’s kinda amazing that BC will now be the first Dynamics 365 product to actually deliver on the “no additional license required when working in Teams” promise from 1.5 years ago.

Header photo by Fabian Møller on Unsplash

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