Guest blog post by Vinit Patel, Computer Science graduate

For a very long time, the ingredients needed to create your very own app, whether it be to supplement your personal website or your business were: a little creativity, some idea of functionality, a heavy amount of programming knowledge and a lot of time. Of course, if you weren’t able to acquire all of those ingredients yourself, you either abandoned the pursuit of having your very own app or you spent potentially thousands through hiring a developer to create it for you.

Microsoft, over the years has placed great importance on developers, positioning them at the forefront of technology by providing the platform and tools to express their ingenuity and creativity to produce beautiful programs for the world to use.

Up until now…

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A short few months ago, Microsoft quietly announced an app codenamed “Project Siena” - This app puts the power of app development in to the hands of anyone from a young student to a teacher or a business owner. It allows you to design, create and eventually publish a professional modern app to the Windows 8.1 app store with absolutely no cost and more importantly no prior programming knowledge!

For a quick overview of the power of this app, check out the video below!    

Project Siena - Currently still in Beta stages, boasts an enormous feature set conveniently packaged in a Windows 8 Modern app, and though it is aimed at businesses or people who don’t have the time or money to learn how to program, it can also be used by seasoned developers for experimenting with user interfaces, drawing mock ups and even creating prototypes.

In minutes anyone can select from a range of tools and position them exactly where you would want them in the app from a few touches of your fingertips, once you’ve placed your elements down, whether it be a button or an audio player you can quickly assign where you want the button to navigate to, or what audio file you would like the audio player to play.

 “Conceptualise, validate, and build your app ideas as easily as editing a document” - it really is as simple as that.

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The screenshot above is an example of a basic weekly meal planner app inside of the Project Siena environment

Some of the other fantastic Project Siena features you may be interested in for your app:

  • Connect to corporate data and web services
  • Compose rich interactive visuals and media to create unique apps
  • Add business logic and intelligence using the power of Excel-like expressions
  • Use the app yourself, share with colleagues or with the world

If you would like a more sophisticated app, Project Siena is also compatible with multiple data sources. This means, you can have your app pull data directly from an Excel file, Bing Search, Bing Translate, Azure Mobile Services as well as Facebook, SharePoint, RSS Feeds and more - all while conveniently wrapping this data inside predefined visual elements to create a rich, multi-faceted user experience.

The power of data sources…

The screenshot below shows a functional news reader app built entirely through Project Siena. Using just a few built in data sources, the app is able to pull in relevant news stories from Bing Search and translate them into a range of different languages using Bing Translate. Not only this, but the app also uses the Bing Translate data source to allow you to have your articles read out aloud in the language of your choice.

If you would like to see first-hand how the data sources in this app seamlessly combine and how they were implemented using Project Siena, check out the short tutorial video below.

Give your students something to put on their CV!

If you’re a teacher - Getting your students interested in the world of computing is an absolute no-brainer. Computer Science will be implemented into the core curriculum from September, 2014. This means there will be a learning curve involved for not only students, but yourselves as teachers. Of course, there is no easy way to introduce pupils to a foreign language and it is much the same with developing – So why not introduce them and yourself in a fun, friendly way through Project Siena?

It’s often a tough task to keep students engaged. Project Siena can be used to keep things fresh in the classroom. You could create an app with all the relevant tailored learning materials for your students. You can embed videos from the internet as well as add pictures and text into your app, allowing you to have highly interactive lesson plans to keep your pupils involved.

Looking ahead…

Though Project Siena is still in its early Beta testing phase, it packs an enormous punch. The Project Siena development team are consistently working on bringing new tools to future updates. These are some of the features to look out for in the coming weeks and months:

  • Apps that run across multiple device platforms
  • Support for global languages
  • Connections to Office 365 services
  • Ever-easier app building with contextually generated rules

If you’ve always wanted to create an app for yourself why not give Project Siena a try today? You can download the app, learn using video tutorials and download various samples of Project Siena apps to get yourself familiar with things for free here.