My development experience with PowerApps to-date has been somewhat limited, I’ve developed one application in late 2018 and am again developing another right now.
My first app
I work within a Research Office at a local university, and in 2018 the Australian Federal Government advised us that the way Category 1 research grants were to be determined was to changed, instead of their advising us of the list each year, the Australian Competitive Grants Register (ACGR), we would now follow a defined process to self-assess whether grants met these requirements. Thus, rather than relying upon spreadsheets we determined an online app using Office 365 tech was the go.
My first app took me four days to develop, thankfully I had the benefit of having sat with an external consultant on two occasions relating to a separate application’s development and had taken notes relating to tricks and techniques (e.g. use of collections) which helped me with my own development. Perhaps the most difficult thing for me, a web designer/developer of many years, was connecting with Flow, I found interacting with this difficult initially (and still do) as documentation is scant here on how to identify, how to remove a variable if you add a dynamic variable in Flow but no longer require it, and the list goes on.
My biggest gripes
Perhaps my biggest gripe in working with PowerApps has been the level of documentation that’s provided. I’m a PHP developer and am used to a plethora of documentation as well as good community support, contrast this to scant documentation provided by Microsoft for their product, seemingly relying upon their community to do their job for them. There’s nothing wrong with having a strong support community that enhances your documentation, however they should not be considered your documentation.
Not too far behind this is PowerApps itself, well rather the interface to be exact here. Is it not the pits to work with? I think so. That formula bar would have to be the worst thing I’ve ever interacted with since the VHS Video Recorder and having to rewind a tape. I would dearly love to see a full desktop application that supports multi-desktop in which design gets separated from code and error messages. Most developers do have multi-screen, so it makes good sense that we have the option to have a fully fledged developer app and one that gets rid of that damned awful single-line (that you have to drag to see all your code – WTAF!) and replaces with a full-screen code environment.
A few weeks ago I started developing my latest app, an issues tracking come support desk app that will be rolled out within our office. There have been days I have sat there and wanted to throw my Dell out the window, if I see another delegation error. My initial SharePoint lists design had been based upon how I would design using MySQL or Oracle databases, I have quickly discovered the limitations of working within a PowerApps and SharePoint environment, you get a bloodied head, quickly.
I started out with lists to represent our systems and our team, instead each has now been incorporated within the Tickets list as a Choice type (an enum type in traditional databases). This has allowed me to get around the delegations issues that plagued me, not to mention simplifying the structure. This past week I worked on implementing the ticketing top list whereby our managers and team leaders will be able to add up to 10 items, reorder their list, and remove from the list. I gave up on doing reordering within PowerApps, it could only handle first/last items, other placed items required my sending out to Flow (now Power Automate) to handle de-listing an item and then reordering.
I’m currently battling with adding attachments, I’ve got to discover the ID number of the added ticket as Flow creates my item as attachments cannot be added until the ID is know. Sometimes I think Everest seems smaller. I’ve only this coming week to complete development before they want to launch and need to also add additional Flows to notify of changes, our management of tickets, and potentially creation of a log which doesn’t exist, though that is simple.
A loss of rules
I was disappointed to hear Microsoft had decided to remove Rules from PowerApps. It is currently at deprecated status, thus your can turn this on within the settings area of the app at your own peril, however it is a disappointing loss. My first app needed to be re-coded as it relied heavily upon rules when developed and certainly made development easy once your wrapped your head around how they worked. Microsoft has said these were not commonly used and were poorly understood, hmm, I wonder if this was yet another case of crappy documentation?
Settings to enable the basics
One final thing before signing off my first post, I found it absurd that I needed to head into settings to turn on a setting to enable my app to support the use of Blank() so that I might write null values to a SharePoint list. Does anyone else find this absurd the inability to write blank values by default? This is default functionality in other languages but Microsoft seems to think otherwise and necessitates your enabling it. I might add, it is not obvious which setting you need to turn on, rather it is turn on all except rules and test. Poor form.