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Microsoft ports free RPA tools to Windows 10 with Power Platform updates

Improvements across Microsoft’s RPA suite aim to boost the firm’s low code ecosystem

Microsoft has announced additional capabilities across its Power Platform suite of robotic process automation (RPA) tools, including automation across Windows 10 apps as well as low code programming.

Power Automate Desktop, now available to all Windows 10 users at no additional cost, provides RPA functionality to automate tasks across any application. Microsoft has launched this alongside Power Fx, a low code open-source programming language, and new artificial intelligence (AI) functionality in Power Virtual Agents.

The advancements across Microsoft’s Power Platform suite, announced at the Ignite 2021 conference, aim to give business users, analysts, IT admins and developers additional tools to build and delivery applications more effectively. 

Microsoft first delved into RPA in 2019 as a means of automating back-office tasks across its existing products and platforms, with Power Platform manifesting as Power BI, PowerApps and Power Automate. The Power Platform is being positioned as an answer to the need to build millions of applications in the next few years coupled with the lack of development expertise to satisfy this future demand. 

“An easy way to try to solve that may be, say, teach everybody how to code. But that's not really tractable, that's not really possible,” said Microsoft’s corporate vice president for low code application platform, Charles Lamanna. “Instead, we have to turn everyone into a developer with low code tools. We have to make it so that no matter what your background is, you could become a developer to automate things and understand data. 

“Whether you're a business user, or a citizen developer, or an IT professional or IT admin, or a pro developer, or a coder, low code in the Power Platform makes it so you can build digital solutions faster, and go respond to all these incredible challenges that we face right now when it comes to technology in the workplace.”

Users can deploy Power Automate Desktop to automate tasks across apps such as SharePoint, Excel, Outlook and many third-party business apps. The firm has designed a user-friendly GUI to capture steps in any automation and has included a visual drag-and-drop designer to organise workflows logically. 

Windows 10 users can download the app and get started with more than 370 prebuilt actions that connect to existing apps, while also using the authoring interface to finetune the processes they wish to automate.

This launch is in addition to new capabilities in Power Virtual Agents, Microsoft’s toolset for allowing customers to create chatbots using a no-code GUI. Added AI functionality will allow bots to learn and improve over time without customers needing to make interventions or investments down the line. These include national language learning that allows bots to learn from user conversations and improve natural language understanding. 

Power Fx, meanwhile, is an open source language based on Microsoft Excel for expressing logic in low code environments. 

This brings the familiarity of Microsoft Excel functions to low-code development and workflow automation, meaning anyone with spreadsheet skills can express advanced logic and work with data in low-code tools. While it’s already the basis for Power Apps, Microsoft Power Fx will soon expand across Dataverse, Power Virtual Agents, and Power Automate.  

Additional enhancements to Microsoft’s Power Platform ecosystem include greater manageability and governance for IT professionals, such as data loss prevention, as well as security capabilities in Power BI. 

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