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Newsletter: Perspectives on Power Platform

Company: Niiranen Advisory Oy

Canvas Apps for the Model-driven Mind

My presentation from Power Platform Saturday Oslo, 2019-08-24



Download PDF.

Outline extract from PowerPoint


The PowerApps plan for world domination

Current reality: Canvas vs. Model-driven apps

Demo: what can a citizen developer build?

Tips for building Canvas apps on CDS

A platform for Makers or for Developers?

Quick intro

From Helsinki, Finland

Microsoft MVP since 2013

Blogging at

Tweeting at @jukkan

No-code XRM guy since 2005

Started building Canvas apps 1 year ago

The PowerApps plan for world domination

The story so far

In the beginning there was MS CRM (2003)

Which grew into XRM with custom entities (2005)

And went into the cloud (2008)

It learned to deliver Solutions (2011)

Was branded as Dynamics 365 (2016)

Started migrating to Azure (2017)

Merged with PowerApps (2018)

PowerApps today = aPaaS*

…Or ”LCAP”
(*Low-code Application Platform)

“Gartner names Microsoft a Leader in Enterprise Low-Code Application Platforms 2019 Magic Quadrant


Yes, this is all just PowerApps. Trust us…

The REAL Unified Client?

Artificial limitations in app features will be removed, so that choosing [File – New App] will give you model or canvas experiences and everything will work across both.”

1 + 1 + Portals = …1?

With Dynamics Portals reimagined as PowerApps Portals, we have one more app type in our LCAP

Critical for the external app audience story, yet nothing like a public version of Canvas or Model-driven apps – today

In the fullness of time, also Portals need to adopt common technology like PowerApps Component Framework

Future form factors?

Current State:


Design and build a business app from a canvas in Microsoft PowerApps without writing code in a traditional programming language such as C#.

Design the app by dragging and dropping elements onto a canvas, just as you would design a slide in PowerPoint. Create Excel-like expressions for specifying logic and working with data.

Build apps that integrate business data from a wide variety of Microsoft and third-party sources.

Share your app so that users can run it in a browser or on a mobile device, and embed your app so that users can run it in SharePoint, Power BI, or Teams.

If you don’t need a custom design and your data is in Common Data Service, you can automatically generate a model-driven app from your business data and processes.

Model-driven app design is a component-focused approach to app development. Model-driven app design doesn’t require code and the apps you make can be simple or very complex.

Unlike canvas app development where the designer has complete control over app layout, with model-driven apps much of the layout is determined for you and largely designated by the components you add to the app.

The Real shift in thinking

App Designer: Model-driven world

App Designer: Canvas world

Canvas app determines all of the client-side logic

Multiple data sources connected to the app can all introduce their own server-side logic

Screens contain controls

Controls bind to data sources

Control properties drive UI behavior

…via functions supported by PowerApps Canvas apps

Why Excel rules

Excel is the original Canvas for information workers to paint their data on

Structure without enforcement, logic without programming

Immediate recalculation of the whole app (workbook) to show the effect of your tweaks

Both Excel and PowerApps Canvas apps are “terrible”, but they support the problem solving thought process of most humans

Demo time!

Now it’s…

Tips for building Canvas
apps on CDS data

Don’t start from blank

When learning how to use CDS data in a Canvas app, first always generate the app from data

You get core plumbing that will feel a lot more approachable thank a blank canvas

You can add & delete anything you want

Whenever possible, avoid using Dynamics 365 connector and go for CDS

App starting point: Model-driven vs. Canvas

”Generate from data” gives you a nice single entity experience with basic CRUD capability

Anything you don’t see is for you to build:



Actions (buttons)

Summaries (count)

EVERYTHING you see can be customized

Galleries instead of views

Gallery is the most important control to master in Canvas apps

(There is also a control called Data Table, but you shouldn’t really ever use it)

Shows the contents of a single data source (CDS entity), just like a view would, but it’s not just a database view with columns

Presentation of data in the gallery item template is extremely flexible

Conditional display of fields, icons, strings, label styles, pictures

Append data from other sources, also other systems

Filtering: the hard way & the easy way

Data sources will by default bring in the whole table

The lack of built-in view selector component means two things:

You’re free to design beautiful preset filter options for the user

You have to implement every condition, search term, sorting in your formula

”Items” may well be the most scary looking formula in your whole Canvas app

Support for CDS views as the source for Gallery Items is now in preview!

No context = everything is universally referenceable

The biggest conceptual difference to Model-driven apps is that you’re never “in” any entity or any record

Whichever control or variable you point to in your formula is the source of record context

AccountGallery.Selected, CurrentUser, First(LeadsCollection)

The whole app on every screen is recalculated after any change made by the user

Current CDS user: you’ve got email

Subgrids for related records: just ”dot” it!

Earlier you had to build cumbersome Filter formulas to match 1:N record with primary & foreign key fields (GUIDs)

Now that relational data support feature has graduated from Experimental stage, you can directly reference parent.children

Form vs. Form


(Command Bar)


“Main form”






Navigation (related)



Data Card


Conditional formatting

Compared to the static format of data inside Model-driven apps, the rich expressions of Canvas apps were born to highlight important data

Example: change background color based on status field

TemplateFill: If(Text(ThisItem.Status) <> “Open”, RGBA(241, 244, 249, 1), RGBA(0, 0, 0, 0))

Use switch case for showing different icons for different record values to make UI even more intuitive

Downside: you’ll also need to manually handle formats like DateTime and numbers (since Canvas app doesn’t follow any CDS user preferences)

Search is great! (except…)

Instant filtering of gallery results once the user starts typing into the text input field

Can match the search string with multiple fields concurrently

Combine text search with filters set in other controls

Except: you can’t search from complex lookups like ”Customer”

Dirty hack: copy lookup values to shadow text fields on CDS side

XRM pain points that can be addressed in Canvas apps

Unaware of user’s context: every entity & command is shown all the time

Flat navigation structure: everything app area is seemingly of equal importance

Pain of reducing choices: hiding actions from the user is laborious

Lack of guidance: hard to take users through a predetermined path (RIP Dialogs)

Price of pixel perfection

In Model-driven apps you could always blame the platform for not displaying things in the most usable way

With Canvas apps, every pixel imperfection and UX gap is now squarely YOUR fault👈

Logical navigation experience is the first priority you need to deliver in your app

The more complex you make the UI, the more time it will take to polish

Remember to play around with your apps

Use temporary labels, galleries to see your data change as your formulas evolve

Store stuff in variables, collections to reach your final composition

Use a tablet layout for more side-by-side screen estate, even if you’re targeting phone screens in final app

Keep a proper text editor like Notepad++ available at all times to copy & paste the pieces together

Have the PowerApps Formula Reference documentation page on a browser tab

A platform for Makers
or for Developers?

No-code or Low-code? Forrester’s take:

”The vendors in this evaluation target professional developers as their primary customers and address other participants as secondary audiences.”

No-code or Low-code? Gartner’s take:

”A low-code application platform (LCAP) is an application platform that supports rapid application development, one-step deployment, execution and management using declarative, high-level programming abstractions, such as model-driven and metadata-based programming languages.”

“Gartner views “no-code” application platforms as part of the LCAP market. “No-code” is a marketing and positioning statement, implying that the platform requires text entry only for formulas or simple expressions, all other aspects of application development being enabled by visual modeling or configuration.”

Low-code = more accessible way to write code

Developers can go further with Canvas apps than functional consultants ever would try

…But first you have to get them to try, too

“Canvas apps are easy but not necessarily simple”

(Quote source)

PCF = making UI extensions scalable

Every new control in PowerApps (Canvas or Model-driven) is already a component from MS

PowerApps Component Framework (PCF) components is what every developer should be creating

So that every maker with access to that component could put it into their application

For every user to interact with

DevOps = shipping enterprise scale PowerApps

We are all
App Makers.

Thanks for listening!