Microsoft launches no-code mashup tool

Visual mashups for the MySpace generation

Popfly gets round the cross-site scripting issue that makes most mashup development beyond geo-tagging complicated, claims Fernandez.

"We have a class called Environment and you just say where you're pulling XML or text from, and you can do that directly. That's one of the biggest pains [for novices]. You don't have hosting, you don't want to write code and there's the cross-site problems; all those are taken care of."

Publishing the code is simple too. There's a one-click publishing option not just for Windows Live Spaces but for any blog engine that supports the MetaWeblog API. This includes WordPress, Movable Type, and Community Server, so mashups can be embedded in a blog post. You can also copy and paste the IFRAME code onto your website. Popfly also includes the web page builder from Office Live so you can create the web pages to put it in if you don't have other tools.

As well as simplifying mashup creation, Fernandez hopes Popfly will make publishing and sharing mashups and gadgets much easier. "We're trying to make application development social and make application sharing social. If I want to share a Windows application today, there are sites like Download.com where you have to pay $50 every two months; it's really commercial. If it's just fun freeware there's no easy place to share it. The social part we want to do is we want to do for applications what YouTube did for video, where users decide what the best application is; they can share, they can remix, they can comment."

To that end there's a social network as part of the site, and every published Popfly mashup includes links to rate the mashup, copy it to your site, add it as a project to your own Popfly profile to customise, or copy and paste the code from the web page without needing to sign up for Popfly yourself.

You save Popfly mashups as Vista Sidebar gadgets; Popfly can also share Windows applications as well as web mashups using the Popfly Explorer Visual Studio 2005 plugin. At the moment that doesn't work with Visual Studio Express, but the Popfly team is working on enabling publishing of source code and completed projects, including Windows Forms, WPF, HTML, CSS, AJAX or Silverlight projects, from Visual Studio Express.

"This is where we get viral sharing of applications," claims Fernandez. "Somebody writes the next cool application; the next Napster, the next peer to peer MP3 player can be discovered through Popfly."

You'll be able to search Popfly by keyword, "so you could find anything that' written in Visual Basic that uses Twitter, direct from Visual Studio".

The intention is to have the Popfly service be useful for mainstream developers who won't use the drag and drop design surface too. "We want to have a spectrum of tools so that people that do want to use this to code, people doing JavaScript, DOM, and AJAX manipulation today, they can do that using Popfly as well."

For example, Fernandez suggests Popfly applications mixing peer-to-peer TV with phone integration to displayer caller ID and voice recognition so you can tell Media Center whether you want to take a call.

Microsoft chose to show off the private alpha of Popfly at O'Reilly's Maker Faire in San Mateo, Silicon Valley, an event that's all about hands-on technology development and hacking in the traditional sense.

The gathering featured giant Tesla coils generating lightning, human-power fairground rides, hand-built robots and rockets, and open source implementations of everything from USB controllers built into model planes, to 3D printers that print objects with sugar, cheese, or epoxy resin.

Popfly is a lot more mainstream than many of the projects on show and doesn't require access to welding equipment, propane, high explosives, ultra-high power, or a soldering iron, but it's still about being creative. ®

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