Power Automate Desktop for Windows 10 free

I saw this article “Microsoft’s β€œPower Automate Desktop” Is Now Free and Can Do Your Work for You” that had a link to “Automate tasks with Power Automate Desktop for Windows 10β€”no additional cost” and if someone is offering free automation tools tthen I’m up for trying them out.

You can download it here.

This looks like MS Flow that was free, but limited with a bit more beef. In the intro video it refers to it as an RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and it has an interface similar to Upath. In some ways, its doing what AHK’s does but in a non code manner with drag & drop. So I’m keen to explore it.

There is a list of some templates here to explore, looks a bit like Zapier and IFTTT. Power Automate Templates.

This is a limited version by the look of it, so you do not get all the bells and whistles. That is fine but they are not particularly explicit about its limitations.

MS Ecosystem bias

Looking at templates they all seem to be around the MS ecosystem, so its encouraging/forcing you to use those processes, so using something like Google Sheets would not be part of the process.

This needs to be considered when looking at using the tool strategically depending on what are your current preffered methods of doing things. Fortunately I do not think you need to use Edge but can use FireFox instead for browser and web automation.

Copy Flows? & other limitations

One thing I’ve noticed is that you can only save a flow. When I went to look where it was saved I couldn’t find the file. After a bit of exploring I’ve found out that you can have flows, you just can’t share them with your basic account. So they are just for you. On the positive side, it saves them to your oneDrive account so that you can open them on another PC if you are logged in on that account and have Power Automate Desktop on that account.

I tried the above and although I’d installed a new setup of PA the flows didn’t show up, so I had to log out & log back in again then the flows on OneDrive appeared.

Also, on exploring, there were a whole lot of templates, like Zapier, but you needed a different (“paid”) account to be able to use them I think, so they are a bit of waste of time looking through those, apart from overview with linkages. What I mean by that is I saw a Google Sheets connection, so maybe its not all MS ecosystem. Something I’ll have to test.

I also think that the list of actions are more limited than the full programme. So it’s a cut down version to tempt people to play with it rather than go to UiPath. I think you need the cloud to also get the full benefit from it.

You need to be running the process in the background for the flows to run, which is expected, I just need to see what resources its taking up. Also it starts the apps in Startup (I’ve just disabled that) so on booting it stats them and puts them in your task tray.

Current items that could be automated

I’ve been working on barcode scanning plants and Freezer Inventory and Beer Brewing & timesheets. These are all being sent to text files of some type.

I can now think of post-processing to do something with these files like copy the data across to Excel and clean and Possibly graph data? Definitely look at plants and dud info for cleaning, and also for Freezer and alerts.

Process- 1st attempt- Report from Freezer Inventory stocks low

I have my freezer inventory, currently sitting at 22 rows of info in a text file.

The flow I want is to check certain items and see if their quantity falls below a specific amount, if so, to flag it somehow so that the items can be replenished.

The process so far is:

  1. Get the text file
  2. create variable that you want to look for
  3. loop through the text file and find that line of data and assign it to a variable
  4. Get a sub string of the variable (sub text), the quantities, which are count/portion/container ,
  5. Strip out comma’s between them and create a list (Split text). This converts into a list
  6. Loop through reduced list to find out which one is non-null (ie not “00”) and also count, so you can find out which of 3 loops its in.

I’ve only got as far as that in the process, it’s a bit time consuming to do and I’m only devoting a little time in the morning to it. I really need the flow done so I can run it at specific intervals (daily?) on the programme. This is where I think it may come to the fore.

I find it hard to setup and run, getting the logic right and understanding the nodes is the bit I’m trying to figure out. So I am unfamiliar with the programme. Maybe once its setup and its triggers are set it may be nice to use and manage.

It is just so bloody slow to set up with drag and drop, doing an if/else if /else statement in a loop and adding 3 variables, each one a drag and drop. Even copy paste is so SLOW!!!!!!!!

I’ll give up on this flow as I’m so frustrated with the slowness of it, even the running of it, you see it looping SO SLOWLY through the list, AAAAAGGHHH

I’ll rewrite in AHK, so much faster building and running report.

To get to the point where I’ve set a variable, looked through a list and found the item quantity has taken me 3 mornings (an hour at least) to do, and it is so so tedious. I think I’m more annoyed knowing that I can do it so quickly with cut/paste in a coding scenario that his fuels the frustration.

32 lines of actions, 3-4 hours!!!!! No, not the most productive use of my time.

End comment

Its definitely slower than AHK. But visually easier to setup in a way. I’m not sure that its easier for non-coders as you still have to figure out about loops, variables etc. You just are not looking at code.

As you have to download the flows from oneDrive it takes time to load the flow in a separate window.

running the flow is painful, and editing also, although the {Enter} key is handy. Its just sluggish.

I’ll finish off this as an exercise and then write the same process in AHK and see which is quicker. I think you may get a better presentation at the end from PA but AHK will be faster.

I’m having to write a separate flow to run a sub-task to test it more quickly without it going through all the steps. I’ll be interested to see if I have to re-write it all in the main programme again after the testing in a separate flow.

In some ways this is just simply getting familiar with a new programme and it is a bit of a nuisance. So a bit of grizzling about a different process.

The particular process I’ve chosen to do may not be the best use case. Maybe that is better in AHK with a trigger timer like task scheduler.

There are things like “sentiment analysis” but that is not in my area of interest at all. Sometimes these programmes have some useful tools and some “glamour” ones that have no personal practical value.

At this point in time, I’ll stick with AHK as its quick and dirty. Gets things done and is very versatile.

Both work in the windows environment, so are not transportable to other OS’s. PA is a personal tool unless you pay for an upgrade and get cloud version, but AHK is free and can share a script and compile it.

Maybe the web browsing/scraping stuff might be useful and that’s where I may need to explore to get some reporting done. An exercise for that might be to trigger the Video views on Google Sheets and write a report on it.

I think I chose the wronng example to start with.

Pros & Cons?

Pros

  1. free
  2. drag and drop (easy to use)
  3. stores in 1Drive (so accessible on all PC’s with program)
  4. good for short processes (as building a long bit of code will take you ages)
  5. Run in background to activate at different times
  6. Interacts with MS programmes easily
  7. Does Web stuff, and will use firefox (not default to Ie, Edge, Chrome)
  8. Maybe better presentations with MS stuff
  9. Does have a few interesting packages, just need the right use case for them.

Cons

  1. drag & drop (SLOW to BUILD)
  2. Cannot share with others unless paying
  3. Tedious to build- drag & drop SLOW. Am on a i& machine and still slow
  4. Running tasks to test SLOW (see looping process going very slow)
  5. compared to AHK, quite crude and SLOW (if I haven’t mentioned that before)