Updated Tools to Build and Configure Dynamics 365 Applications

Summary

2018 was a busy year for Microsoft as they released many new features and restructured the entire Dynamics 365 platform to run on top of the Common Data Service. Along with these structural changes, Microsoft introduced a new user interface and new “maker” tools to and configure and create a unique line of business applications, aka PowerApps.

The great thing is, you don’t need to have a “hard” switch to use these new features. If you are running Dynamics 365 Online, chances are that you have (or will have soon) access to these new components, and can try them out or roll them out gradually to key users while still having full access to the “old” way of doing things.

Unified Interface

A lot has already been blogged and written about the new Unified Interface. A quick recap; the idea behind the new Unified Interface is to create role-based applications as well create one set of forms, views and user interface controls for the web, mobile, tablet, etc.

On my projects, I have been creating “Apps” that contain specific functionality and slowing rolling these out to key users to try them out. As mentioned above, users can still have access to the “classic” interface and all data updates will appear in both interfaces. There doesn’t have to be an epic changeover process.

There really is no excuse to not start migrating over to the new UI. I find the user interface much more intuitive, faster and fewer clicks to interact with Dynamics 365 data. An entire form can be broken out in tabs, related data is easier to access and view other records is easier with the side navigation.

While there still may be a few bugs, Microsoft is dealing with these quickly and worst case scenarios, users can flip back to the classic UI to deal with specific functionality issues. For the most part, I am finding that end-users much prefer the new interface.

The “Classic” Dynamics 365 User Interface
The New Unified Interface

More information on the new Unified Interface can be found here:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/customer-engagement/admin/about-unified-interface

Note: Also make sure you are using the “new” New Unified Interface. If you configure a new Unified Interface Application and get a User Interface that looks like this:

New but newest Unified Interface

Then I highly suggest you load Natraj Yegnaraman‘s Level Up tool and run the “Enable New Navigation” to get the latest version (the setting will be organization-wide)

Level Up Tool to Enable New New Navigation

Get started on using the new Unified Interface TODAY!

Solution Manager

The Solution Manager in Dynamics 365 has not changed much since Dynamics CRM 2011 when the concept of solutions was first introduced.

With Dynamics 365 v9, you may have noticed that the solution manager screen now says “PowerApps” which reflects the fact that the way Dynamics 365 professionals have been building xRM applications since v3.0 is now called “Model Driven PowerApps”. However, that was only one small cosmetic change. The solution explorer is still essentially the same tool.

Classic Solution Manager

Moving forward, Dynamics 365 Solutions can be managed in the new PowerApps Maker Portal This new Solution Manager tool has been greatly improved in the last few weeks. I really like the ability to be able to search for components, I can now add specific components from entities and also can much more quickly add multiple entities. No much “scrolling” through thousands of Web Resource records! I also find the new Solution Explorer faster. Of course, you can now add Flow and Canvas-based PowerApps to the Solution through this interface.

While there were gaps in earlier iterations, I find that I can now do pretty much everything that I could in the classic Solution Explorer. I couldn’t yet add “existing components”. In those situations, you still have the option to switch back to the classic Solution Explorer as required.

New Solution Explorer

More information: https://powerapps.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/solutions-in-powerapps/

Form Designer

The Form Designer really has not changed much over the years. While it also recently got the “PowerApps” logo, but overall, the designer tool is a tool that Dynamics 365 configurators have gotten quite comfortable with.

The new Form Designer is a true WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor. (Looking more like the Canvas based Apps editor) You can easily add new fields, sections and tabs and there is a convenient tree-view that outlines your form design. The big bonus is that the Publish button will both save your form changes and Publish the form. The new Form Editor is still in preview and is one of those things that you will likely find yourself flipping back to the classic editor.

You cannot add or configure sub-grids (yet) and I also couldn’t find where to add JavaScript event handlers. While the classic editor did have a preview function, you can now easily see what your form will look like as well as flip to different resolutions and mobile and tablet modes.

Note that the new editor is for Unified Interface forms only.

View Designer

The classic View Designer worked well for many years and most of the shortcomings were addressed using various XrmToolBox tools. There were a few things that we learned to live with like fixed with columns (50px, 100px, etc) and having faith that the filters worked.

The new View Editor is a lot more intuitive and you can finally adjust the column widths, just like you could in Excel 97! One thing I really like is the fact that it will display actual data from your CDS so you can see your filtered results as well as adjust the columns to your actual data sizes!

Solution Checker

While many of the features are shiny new replacements, Microsoft has also thrown in some new stuff. One of the new tools is the “Solution Checker” that will check your solution to ensure that it is designed and configured following a set of best practices.

The solution checker currently gets installed as its own solution from AppSource. Once installed, from the PowerApps Solution listing you can run the Solution checker against any of your solutions.

The progress and results can be viewed from the Solution Heath Hub, a new Unified Interface, Model Driven, PowerApp that will be added to your Dynamics 365 instance.

Solution Checker running against a Solution

When the solution checker completes, an email will be sent to the administrator and the option to download the report (in an Excel format).

Solution checked!

More info: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/business-applications-release-notes/october18/powerapps/build-model-driven-apps-of-higher-quality-with-solution-checker

It would definitely be a good practice to confirm that your solutions are configured optimally.

Conclusion

I would highly recommend that anyone configuring Dynamics 365 applications to start rolling out the new Unified Interface (if you haven’t already) and start trying out the new PowerApp Maker tools. As I mentioned, the classic way of using and configuring Dynamics 365 is still available so there is really no downside, asides from a small investment of time that will actually give you a foot forward with your projects.

Photo by Fleur Treurniet on Unsplash

Nick Doelman is a Microsoft Business Applications MVP and has been busy making updating and making new model-driven PowerApps using the new tools where possible.  Nick will at times bang his thumb and need to go back to the classic way of doing things.  For now.

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