Microsoft Popfly to Shut Down in August

Microsoft plans on shutting down Popfly, its development tool that allowed nonprogrammers to create their own applications, mashups and Web pages without actually needing to write code. As it refocuses and readjusts its corporate strategy, Microsoft has been killing legacy applications such as Encarta and programs such as Windows Live Butterfly while focusing on the release of Windows 7, Office 2010 and other flagship products.

Popfly, Microsoft's 2-year-old development tool for creating applications, mashups and Web pages, will shut down in mid-August.

Originally intended to provide programming tools for those with little to no programming experience, Popfly let users snap together code "blocks" to create applications and Web sites. Elements such as video, pictures and news feeds could be combined on a page without the user needing to get down and dirty with the code.

However, Microsoft decided that it needed to retrain its gaze on other areas, particularly in light of a financially unspectacular 2009. Its upcoming earnings call on July 23 will likely offer more evidence that the company is battling severe economic headwinds as it seeks to compete on multiple fronts against Google, Apple and other IT giants.

"With Popfly, Microsoft set out to do something new, and made some really great progress and learned a lot of lessons that we will apply to our (software plus services) offerings and developer tools," the company wrote in a July 16 statement published on the TechFlash blog. "However, like many companies, the economic situation has caused us [to] refocus and to revaluate our priorities; while successful and popular, Popfly is not part of our refocused strategy."

John Montgomery, head of the Popfly team, also posted his own statement about the application's demise.

"On August 24, 2009, the Popfly service will be discontinued and all sites, references and resources will be taken down," Montgomery wrote in a July 16 Popfly corporate blog post. "At that time, your access to your Popfly account, including any games and mashups you have created, will be discontinued."

Montgomery mentions alternate venues for those seeking to create applications and games: Microsoft Web Platform Installer for Web applications, Microsoft XNA or Microsoft Kodu for Xbox programming and Microsoft Express for those who want to continue Windows programming.

In a 2007 interview with eWEEK, Montgomery discussed the difficulties of applying Popfly to the enterprise.

"It's a hard problem," Montgomery said. "If you look at the history of Web services, those intranet scenarios were you pull the data out of your ERP system, and to push together the data you have in your proprietary sales database and to update your HR database ... to actually create those things [is] complicated."

He continued, "Some day I hope to be able to put the same type of easy-to-use interface on top of it. But the state of the services themselves isn't there yet. And the state of some fundamental tricky problems, like authentication, nonrepudiation, reliability of the messaging and things like that, [is] not ripe for the plucking yet."

Even as Microsoft concentrates its corporate energies on launching several flagship platforms and applications, including Windows 7 and Office 2010, it has been just as merciless in killing certain other products and services in its stable.

Among the casualties was Microsoft's Windows Live Butterfly program, which provided a forum for IT pros to test betas ahead of their public release, and which was shut down on July 1. And Microsoft Encarta, the company's encyclopedia software, was shut down after 16 years, as its market share had been steadily eroding in the face of competition from collaborative (and free) online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia and Knol.

Microsoft is no doubt hoping that the much-maligned Windows Vista operating system will be eclipsed by Windows 7 when it is released on Oct. 22. Leaving nothing to chance, Microsoft is planning a worldwide push for Windows 7 that includes substantial discounts and price cuts for consumers and for the enterprise.