Microsoft Corp. Friday announced the alpha release of Popfly, http://www.popfly.ms/ a combination tool set and social network that can help nontechnical users build and share mashups, gadgets, Web pages and applications. Built with Microsoft's new Silverlight 1.0 Flash-like rich media tool, Popfly is the company's latest pitch to nontechnical programmers, wrote Soma Somasegar, vice president of Microsoft's developer division on his blog. "Today's generation is seeking an easier way to build, customize and share experiences with their family and friends -- to express themselves in creative ways through software," he wrote. "Visual Studio 2005 Express Editions was the first step in this direction." Popfly, which he positions as an easy way to begin using Silverlight, is the next step in that evolution, he added. The Popfly Creator tool enables users to connect "blocks," or pieces of code for retrieving data from a Web site or performing other tasks like getting their photos from Live Spaces or Flickr and displaying them like a slide show -- all without writing code, Microsoft said. The tool also allows users to drag and drop blocks and connect them to build applications. In addition, the Popfly Space Web site is an online community where users can host, share, rate, comment and remix creations from other users, Microsoft said. Microsoft is inviting a limited number of users to test the alpha version of the tool. This announcement comes on the heels of Yahoo Inc.'s February launch of a prototype tool that would let users create mashups without programming skills. The unforeseen popularity of that site forced Yahoo to shut it down the same day it was launched so the company could boost its capacity.