Microsoft's Project Siena Enables App Creation With No Programming

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-01-02

Microsoft's Project Siena Enables App Creation With No Programming

Microsoft has added a new entry to the list of existing tools aimed at empowering business users to create applications without writing code: Project Siena.

Project Siena is the code name of a new technology for business experts, business analysts, consultants and others to create apps for the device-first and cloud-connected world without any programming. In fact, the devices and services giant says building Siena apps is as easy as editing a document.

Siena is a Windows 8 app available in the Windows Store. The technology, currently in beta, is aimed at empowering business users to leverage their business expertise and build applications that tap into their organizations' big data pools without the need for IT intervention.

As Microsoft technical evangelist James Quick said in a blog post on Project Siena, "As far as data, you can pull data from an Excel sheet, Azure Mobile Services, REST calls, RSS feeds or SharePoint. This gives the developer a couple of different options for loading dynamic data, which potentially makes your app more enjoyable. Simply pump out new data to the user, and that gives them more reason to open back up your app, right?"

Microsoft said some examples of what users already have built with Siena include Apps to explore media-rich product catalogs and create ensembles that together serve a customer's needs; apps used on the spot to resolve customer service bottlenecks and logistics exceptions, with the custom intelligence to help the user make local tradeoffs; and apps for auditing and inspecting a manufacturing facility through photos, videos, and pen and voice notes, all tied to an asset database.

"Project Siena is a very interesting take on engaging nonprofessional developers that are working in the context of knowledge workers at enterprises," Al Hilwa, an analyst with IDC, told eWEEK. "As we estimated at IDC in the Developer Estimates report, there are 7.5 million hobbyist developers, many of them are already employed in nondeveloper roles inside of companies. Over the next couple of decades, we will see more and more hobbyists engaged in developing apps through very rich high-abstraction programming metaphors like Project Siena."

S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, said the proliferation of mobile devices in the enterprise has prompted the emergence of new purpose-specific apps that are rich in media, distinctive looking, simple to use, and loaded with custom intelligence and connected to high-value data.


Microsoft's Project Siena Enables App Creation With No Programming

"To fully unlock the value of mobile devices for the enterprise, millions and millions of these purpose-specific apps will need to be authored in the coming years," Somasegar said in a blog post on Siena."To accomplish this, we must enable a broader class of people to author these apps."

Somasegar added that users with PowerPoint- and Excel-level skills can use Siena to build apps in minutes. In a separate blog post, Ben Hodes, a Microsoft senior program manager, offers a series of tips for Siena users.

"Siena provides a familiar and easy document-editing experience: put your information on the canvas, compose and style it, and add custom logic and interactivity using the power of Excel expressions," he said. "The result is an immediately usable app with all the rich information, differentiated looks and purpose-specific intelligence expected of modern Windows apps."

Moreover, because Siena apps are HTML5 and JavaScript and are deployed and managed like any other Windows 8 app, developers can open them up and, if needed, extend them in their favorite programming tools, Microsoft said.

Indeed, with Siena, business users you can conceptualize, validate and build out their app ideas almost as fast as they can come up with them. And if their needs change, updating the app is no big deal, the company said.

Meanwhile, in his post, Quick likens Siena to Microsoft's App Studio: "So, anyone remember App Studio, and how quickly you can build Windows Phone apps? Well, for any of you out there like me who loved that and have been waiting around for the Windows 8 version, there is good news … and it goes by the name of Microsoft Project Siena. Let me start by giving a warning that Microsoft Project Siena is not exactly the same as App Studio, but the general idea is still there … to take the necessity of writing code out of the app-making process, in fact, it does just that."

IDC's Hilwa noted that the key marker for success for Siena is how Microsoft engages its enterprise customers, particularly those responsible for managing content and knowledge through initiatives that have brought in SharePoint in a big way to enterprises.

"It is those thought-leading groups inside of enterprises that are likely to spearhead significant adoption of this technology in the enterprise and in the citizen developer community," he said.


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