Microsoft Flow, a service that lets you plumb together various cloud-based services to construct workflows, and PowerApps, a tool to enable non-developers to build data-driven business apps, are both out of beta and in production today.
Flow and PowerApps join Power BI, Microsoft’s service for reporting and analyzing business data, to make a trio of cloud-driven business tools called the “Business Application Platform.” Power BI lets business types examine and understand their data, PowerApps lets them create new data, and Flow lets them take automated action in response to data. The common feature to all three is that they’re designed for non-developers: you don’t need to learn APIs and programming languages to use these services; you just have to understand the data you’re working with.
Microsoft describes Flow in business terms—for example, monitoring tweets mentioning your company and automatically responding to messages and adding people to CRM systems—but people are already looking at Flow in broader terms, using it as a competitor to IFTTT (“if this then that”). IFTTT allows similar joining together of cloud services; as an example, I use IFTTT to automatically send a tweet every time a story is published to my personal RSS feed. IFTTT is also finding use for connecting together smart home services, with people using it to turn on lights automatically when it starts to rain, for example, or connect motion-sensing switches to other gadgets.
Flow doesn’t have as many connections to third-party services as IFTTT (58 supported services for Microsoft, as compared to 366 for IFTTT), but it offers much more complex responses to events, with conditions and loops. The current business positioning no doubt influences the range of connections that Flow has—Office 365, Dynamics, Google Calendar, Slack, GitHub, Salesforce, and others. So it’s not ready to be a direct replacement for IFTTT yet, but it’s certainly worth checking out as a useful piece of infrastructure for automating your online life.
Workflows are built either on the Web or in mobile apps for Android and iOS. Microsoft has no native Windows app.
Flow also has a revenue model that’s more straightforward than IFTTT’s free service: there’s a free pricing tier that allows for 750 invocations per month and then per-month pricing if you need more than that. The more expensive plans also check data sources more often and so are more responsive to changes.