Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen, Colorado on July 14, 2014.
Stuart Isett/Fortune Brainstorm TECH
By Barb Darrow
November 30, 2015

Microsoft on Monday announced PowerApps, software that aims to make it easier to build or connect mobile business applications using Microsoft Azure’s cloud as the back end. This was a badly kept secret—word of PowerApps leaked last spring and again more recently.

This is another example of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s “mobile-first, cloud-first” directive. PowerApps includes an array of Azure-based services for “employee-facing apps” like expense accounts, human resources management, employee benefits, etc. They will also serve as connective tissue to link new apps to applications that already run in-house.

In theory, non-techies can use PowerApps to create applications that run on any device (i.e. not just Windows phones) and paint them with a “Microsoft Office-like experience,” according to a blog post by Bill Staples, Microsoft(MSFT) corporate vice president for application platform. (Quibble: How may new-age business users are really pining for an Office-like interface on their devices? But then again, Office is a cash cow for Microsoft so it can’t ignore it.)

In theory, templates will help developers and novices alike get going fast, and a visual tool will help them automate the workflow without having to write code. Clearly, Microsoft has its eye on both non-techies and skilled in-house developers as potential users.

PowerApps is “basically coding for non coders. Democratizing apps creation for normal peeps. Think Salesforce Lightning,” said Ray Wang, chief executive and founder of Constellation Research. Lightning is the revamped, mobile-focused version of Salesforce’s flagship customer relationship management (CRM) software and represents a pretty dramatic facelift of that 15-year-old product.

Built-in connections will be available to the usual array of Microsoft brands including Office 365, Dynamics CRM, and OneDrive, as well as competitive products from Salesforce (CRM) and Dropbox.

The PowerApps preview is available now for free for tire kickers. A final version with connections to Software-as-a-Service applications like office 365, Salesforce etc., will also be free but users needing “IT and developer capabilities” must contact Microsoft for pricing info.

Microsoft is not alone in its quest to ease mobile app delivery. Virtually every tech company from Adobe (ADBE) to Salesforce, is in the hunt here.

For more on Nadella’s mobile-and-cloud strategy check out this Fortune Q&A.

For more from Barb, follow her on Twitter @gigabarb; Read her Fortune coverage at fortune.com/barb-darrow or subscribe via RSS feed.

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