May 29

The promise of end-user programming has been a fleeting one. 

First there was Hypercard for the Macintosh.  Hypercard was powerful enough to produce commercial applications but simple enough for a child to use.  Unfortunately, Hypercard proved too difficult for Apple to market properly, and besides, most developers don’t care about the Mac anyway.

Microsoft followed in 1991 with Visual Basic, which retained the simplicity of the BASIC programming language while upgrading it for use on the new graphical Windows platform.  VB was such a smash success with both novice and professional programmers that at one time, over 60% of software developers reported using Visual Basic for some of their projects.  But along the way, Visual Basic matured into a real (read: complex) object-oriented programming language, leaving behind its simple roots and unfortunately many of its fans.  As a result, VB use has plummeted 35% in just the past year.

There are also new efforts by IBM and smaller companies such as DabbleDB and Zoho to turn novices into programmers.  But none have the excitement or momentum of Microsoft’s new programming tool for the masses: Popfly.

Introducing Microsoft Popfly

Microsoft Popfly is a set of online visual tools for novice programmers and end-users to build Web pages and applications.  There are three key Popfly components:

Mashup Creator

The Mashup Creator tool enables users to drag “blocks” from the Popfly library and drop them on a design surface.  The user can then link these blocks into a working web page or application, with no coding required.  Integrated text and video tutorials help users create Popfly mashups.

Under the hood, blocks are just code that wraps complex operations, like retrieving data from a Web site or displaying an animated slideshow.  An advanced view enables developers to modify the block code, which can be in C#, Visual Basic, HTML, Silverlight (JavaScript), or any .NET supported language.  There is also a live preview that updates the mashup in real-time as users drop & link blocks.

Web Page Creator

The Web Page Creator tool enables users to build web pages without HTML coding.  Users can choose from 150 predefined themes, 10 styles and 30 unique color schemes, and customize them as needed.  Users can also easily drop in completed mashups, gadgets and other dynamic content to create feature-rich web sites.

Popfly Space

Popfly Space is a social network that enables Popfly creators to interact, share and rate their blocks.  Each user will have 25MB of free Popfly space, where they can store their completed web pages and Popfly blocks.

Users can also download Popfly mashups as gadgets for the Vista Sidebar and Windows Live, with support coming for other blog service providers.  There is also a Popfly Space plug-in for Visual Studio Express that enables developers to download and modify mashup code.

See more at

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Article published on May 29, 2007

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3 Responses to “Popfly: Programming for the Masses”

  1. Irishman Says:

    Thank you for talking about this service. I didn’t know it existed. I have asked Microsoft for an invitation.

  2. Ari Block Says:

    I have been thinking about this also from a different angle i am not sure a visual tool is the answer or as powerful a actual language, have a look at my blog for details…

  3. G Rix Says:

    Material stays on the web for years and some are undated. This article goes half way saying May 29. Is it still relevant? Authors please date your material clearly and unambiguously. e.g. 10/11/12 is meaningless.

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