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More on Microsoft Power Apps: Model-driven Apps, Canvas Apps and Portals


by James Townsend

As I have written elsewhere in this blog, Microsoft is one of the leading providers of low code software development platforms with its Power Apps family including Power Automate, Power BI and much more. One of your key design decisions is when to use model-driven apps, canvas apps and portals.

One place to start is with your database.  The most low code approach is to use model-driven apps with your data stored in the Dataverse data platform that comes with Power Apps. This is the same database that powers Dynamics 365 apps such as Sales, Marketing, Field Service and Customer Service. Dataverse makes it easy to create a database and data relationships, and has the largest number of built-in functions that require no coding.  If you want integration with Excel, Word, or Outlook, these are all out-of-the-box features.  Your data will be hosted in the Microsoft cloud and accessed via Office 365 login. The more standard your application is, the more likely there is already a Power App to handle it, whether from Microsoft or third party app providers.  Microsoft AppSource provides a catalog of Apps you can download at no charge or purchase. Microsoft provides standard interfaces to model-driven apps, so you can build a form and let the system generate its own menus, views, dashboards and other screens.  

If you want to tap a different database and do not want to move your data to Dataverse, Canvas apps may be suitable for your needs.  As the name implies, canvas apps give you a blank canvas and tools to build screens to your design. Microsoft offers over 200 connectors to different data sources from many vendors.  You can build a canvas app to look they way you want it to look and connect to one or more data sources.  AppSource also contains canvas app.  If you do not want the standard look that model-driven apps provide in Power Apps, you may prefer canvas apps. 

Power Apps portals are a third path for interacting with your data.  They allow you to quickly create a website which accesses your Power Apps data, including ability to create and maintain user accounts and publish static web pages to go along with data forms.  Some Microsoft Dynamics 365 apps such as Customer Service come with their own portals which can be the baseline for your solution.

One of the best things about Power Apps is that these four options are not mutually exclusive.  You can add different apps and portals to access your data whenever you want.  You can also have canvas apps inside model-driven apps.  You may find that some groups of users need different user experiences, and provide multiple paths to enter, edit and view the same data.  Power Apps shines by providing no code, low code and full coding options to help you make your business solutions complete.

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