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5 best and 5 worst things about Power Automate Desktop
Part three of a four-part series of blogs

To help understand what software can do, it can be useful to look at its strengths and weaknesses - which is what this blog aims to do for Power Automate Desktop!

  1. 5 best and 5 worst things about Power Automate Desktop
  2. 5 best things about Power Automate Desktop
  3. 5 worst things about Power Automate Desktop (this blog)
  4. Overall recommendation

Posted by Andy Brown on 29 March 2022

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5 worst things about Power Automate Desktop

Having looked at the 5 best things about PAD, what are the worst ones (again, this is in my highly subjective personal opinion).

1 - Everything is held on the server

Here's a list of flows that I've written for a particular Microsoft account:

Some sample flows

A few sample flows - I can double-click on each one to see its contents.

 

They're held in the cloud in an opaque format, so I can't copy them onto my desktop, email them to anyone, back them up or publish answers to any exercises I set.

I would guess that the flows are translated into an underlying language like PowerShell, Python or C#, but I don't know and can't tell (Wikipedia suggest that the flows are written in a language called Robin Script, but I have no way of knowing whether this is true).

2 - There is a limit to how far you can automate a desktop

In theory you can get a flow to fill in a web form for you, but in practice you will waste many hours (days?) trying to automate the completion of a web-based form:

Sample form

Even automating something as simple as running a Google search is not straightforward, and many authors make their websites intentionally resistant to robots (that's what Captchas are for!).

Likewise, it's possible to automate an Excel worksheet, but at the end of the day you're going to find this quicker to do in VBA:

Excel actions

You can do an impressive range of actions in Excel, but this is a tiny subset of what you can do using VBA macros.

3 - Limited debugging

There's a good debugger in PAD, which allows you to step through actions line by line, but there are two serious limitations:

Limitiation Notes
No immediate window This is possibly my number one gripe about PAD.  Although you can debug your actions to see the contents of variables and use message boxes to display their values, there's no equivalent of an immediate window or trace command (you end up having to write lines of debug output to text file instead).
Other actions have effects While you're debugging I've found that if you start using your mouse or keyboard it can have unintended consequences, particularly if your flow is trying to fill in a web form.

4 - The user interface can be a bit clunky

Here are some examples of this.  To insert a variable in an expression, you click on the [x] symbol:

Variable symbol

Who thought this was a good idea? You would expect this to clear the current field, not add something to it.

 

Selecting multiple actions, particularly in flows containing conditions and loops, is not as easy as it should be:

Selecting multiple actions

I still haven't worked out a reliable way to select a range of actions. You can click and drag with the mouse and hold down the Shift and Ctrl keys, but you never quite seem to get what you want.

 

Finally, the order of actions within a category can be bizarre:

Order of actions

These loop actions are in alphabetical order, but why? PAD doesn't follow this rule for other categories, and the order of the actions makes no sense.

 

5 - Flows can be frustrating for a programmer

This objection is unfair, since PAD isn't aimed at programmers (indeed, it tries to protect you from programming altogether).  But many readers of this blog will be programmers, and you - like me - will find it frustrating having to drag an IF action into a flow rather than just typing in the word (to take one example).

Programming by commands

Ask yourself if choosing commands from a menu is going to help ... or annoy.

 

 

So those are my views: perhaps I should end with my recommendation!

This blog has 1 thread Add post
01 Apr 22 at 06:36

I'd add - missing basic flows (like copying to/from local machine, renaming files, etc.).

01 Apr 22 at 08:57

But PAD is excellent at renaming files, both individually and in bulk, and you can certainly copy files to your heart's content?