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Ballmer Announces Popfly Beta

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer today unveiled the beta version of Popfly, Microsoft's Web-dev tool for nondevelopers.

Ballmer showcased Microsoft's Silverlight-based mashup maker during a Q&A session at the Web 2.0 Summit conference in San Francisco. Popfly is an online tool for creating Web-based composite apps, widgets and live Web pages that requires little-to-no coding. Ballmer referred to Popfly as "a tool for end users, not necessarily for codeheads."

The demo and release come amid ongoing speculation that Microsoft may be looking at acquiring a stake in the popular social networking site Facebook. Microsoft announced a partnership with Facebook earlier this year.

"We've got a great partnership with Facebook on the advertising side," Ballmer said when asked about the partnership. "We'll see where it takes us."

Sometimes Redmond has outright dismissed Facebook as a potential rival. However, when asked by journalist and professor John Battelle, the conference cohost, about the thousands of coders developing for Facebook, Ballmer gave this view:

"I don't look at it and see it as a threat," he said. "They've done a really nice job on the developer platform. Basically, any really exciting application will have a developer story, and yet it doesn't really replace the operating system."

Dan Fernandez, Microsoft's lead product manager for the Popfly mashup toolset and Visual Studio Express,  joined Ballmer in the demo of the Popfly beta by creating a series of mashups that combined photos from the popular Facebook social-networking site, a Whack-a-Mole-type game and a blogosphere popularity evaluator based on Technorati searches. He built the mashups by dragging and dropping code blocks, without actually writing any code.

The new Popfly public beta also allows users to publish applications directly to Facebook. Facebook supports Silverlight, and the two companies collaborated on the Facebook Developer Toolkit to provide tools for coders using Popfly and Visual Studio Express.

Ballmer appeared at the Web 2.0 Summit before a standing-room-only crowd gathered here at the Palace Hotel. He touched on several topics, including his company's acquisition plans and its competition with Google.

"Microsoft will continue to invest in buying technology, products and market share," Ballmer said. "We'll buy 20 companies a year consistently for the next five years for anywhere between 50 million and one billion bucks."

He pointedly left the acquisition door open for open sourcers, saying that Microsoft's expansion plans do not rule out buying companies with some nonproprietary tech.

"We don't want to discourage people who would talk with us just because they do some open source," he said.

Ballmer skirted questions about Google, the Mountain View, Calif.-based search engine juggernaut, which he had called "a one-trick pony" earlier this year. He tempered that comment by saying he that was referring specifically to Google's focus on search.

"There's one thing true about most tech companies," he said, "they start in one area, and then fill out around that core.…What's unique about Microsoft is that we started as a desktop software company, and now we have a large enterprise business. Now we've moved into devices and entertainment, and we're moving into advertising and the Web."

"We're trying to be a three- and four-trick pony," he added.

Popfly works with the Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers, and you will also need Silverlight. The free Popfly beta is available here.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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