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Microsoft's Popfly caters to mashup, gadget development

Popfly is both a set of tools for creating Web pages, gadgets and mashup applications and a community for hosting, sharing and remixing those applications. A recent partnership between Microsoft and Facebook means Popfly could be in the hands of millions of users.

Microsoft has released Popfly, a free set of tools for creating Web pages, gadgets and mashups and a community for sharing those applications. A recent partnership with Facebook means Popfly could be in the hands of millions of users.

Popfly is aimed primarily at non-professional developers and draws heavily upon the recently released Silverlight 1.0 Beta.

Popfly Creator, the toolset, includes a mashup creator and a Web page creator. The mashup creator let users take information like photos and display them in Silverlight blocks, which are, in essence, chunks of code that wrap up the operation being performed. Users familiar with HTML, CSS or JavaScript can write custom code, too. The Web page creator offers visual design capabilities that mirror the Microsoft Office Live Web Designer and makes it easy to embed mashups and gadgets.

Popfly Space, the community, gives users a place to host their projects. Users also have the ability to embed projects on blogging services like TypePad and Windows Live Spaces.

In addition, Microsoft has released Popfly Explorer Alpha for Visual Studio, which lets developers create and share Visual Studio 2005 projects in Popfly Space.

Use of Popfly requires Internet Explorer 6.0 and up or Firefox 2.0 and Silverlight 1.0 Beta. The storage limit for projects is 25 MB.

Popfly has been released as a private alpha. According to the Popfly FAQ page, Microsoft is using limited alpha tests so it can receive specific feedback from users while it tinkers with the user experience. Right now the test is being limited to 2,000 users.

To get Popfly, users must receive an invitation or sign into the Popfly site with a Windows Live ID and request an invitation. Additional quirks of the alpha release are detailed on the Popfly Alpha release notes page.

A final release date for Popfly has not been announced.

Popfly represents the latest move in Microsoft's endeavor to reach out to non-professional developers. Earlier this year Microsoft unveiled the Beginner Developer Learning Center, and in 2005 it released five free VS 2005 editions known as Visual Studio 2005 Express.

UPDATED June 1: The Popfly announcement had many bloggers and journalists making overt references to social networking applications. This was, it seems, part of the plan all along, for Microsoft has partnered with Facebook to let users of the latter customize their Facebook profiles by using Popfly.

Both Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's development unit, and Dan Fernandez, lead product manager for Visual Studio Express, have commented on the Facebook and Microsoft partnership in their blogs.

"Facebook users will have tools that let them create pages that reflect their personality even if they have no development experience," Somasegar writes.

Fernandez, meanwhile, opines, "Perhaps I'm biased, but this is the biggest developer partnership from Microsoft I can think of."

Microsoft has also released a Facebook Developer Toolkit for Visual Studio developers. This offers controls and samples for developing ASP.NET and Windows Presentation Foundation applications using the Facebook platform.

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