Microsoft Popfly: Yahoo Pipes for the rest of us

Popfly, Microsoft's new tool for building mash-ups, has many of the same high-level goals as Yahoo Pipes. But unlike Pipes, Popfly is designed for mere mortals.

Popfly, Microsoft's newest Web mash-up development tool that the company released in alpha form on May 18, isn't really like Yahoo Pipes. It's more like Yahoo Pipes for mere mortals.

To see what Popfly looks like, check out this collection of Microsoft Popfly screen shots.

Microsoft PopFly
Popfly, the product previously codenamed "Springfield," is "for the class of people who don't want to program -- they want to create," said Product Manager Dan Fernandez.

"Yahoo Pipes is more about using syndicated data. This (Popfly) is about making application development more social," Fernandez said.

Popfly is designed to allow non-professional programmers and hobbyists to build mash-ups, gadgets, Web sites and applications using pre-built "blocks." As of now, there are 40 of these Web-programming blocks from which they can choose, including Flickr, Windows Live Spaces, Virtual Earth and news service blocks. (More are coming from Microsoft and third parties, Fernandez said.) Popfly users can tie together these data-source, transformation and display blocks to create their own customized mash-ups.

Popfly is more than a visual mash-up designer, however. It also includes the Office Online Web-page building tool that is part of Office Live for individuals who prefer to build full Web pages.

Popfly mash-ups, pages and apps are all stored in the Windows Live Storage cloud. Users can use Ajax, HTML or Microsoft Silverlight (Microsoft's Flash alternative) to display their creations. (Popfly was built in Silverlight.)

Microsoft has begun distributing a few Popfly alpha invitations and plans to allow the initial group of testers to distribute more invitations virally. Microsoft plans to make Popfly available for free; some third-party building blocks may require a subscription fee. Some blocks will be restricted to non-commercial use only, the company said.

Currently, the company is not sharing a timetable for when it plans to make the Popfly code publicly available as a beta or final release.