Happy Holidays! I wasn’t kidding when I shared to keep posted for more updates last week. Although the Public Preview of Power BI was intended to be quietly and humbly unwrapped by the elves at Microsoft, the official blog announcement lit up social media networks near and far. For loyal Microsoft BI followers, the modernized microsite was a nice surprise.  Here is a summary of what has been unveiled. (Note: I am not allowed to share much info, my personal thoughts or technical details yet.  I do promise that my historically technical blog will not evolve into “fluff“. For my technical audience, please check out the publicly shared technical resources at the end to dig in deeper.  As soon as I am allowed to get technical with you, I will.)

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Turnkey Analytics Platform with Unlimited Scale

Power BI is a true, turnkey analytics platform with unlimited scale. In a matter of minutes you could spin-up and roll out a scalable and extendable, enterprise analytics environment with real-time, streaming HTML5 dashboard support.  You can now directly connect to SaaS services or directly connect to on-premise Analysis Services Tabular models with support for role-based security. What is available in the preview right now is an early sneak peek. There is much more work to do. During PASS Summit 2014 BI keynote, Microsoft shared that weekly feature releases are possible.  Power Query has been releasing monthly updates.  It is exciting to see Power BI enhancements being released faster and more furiously than you have in the past when we used to wait years for the next release.

Authoring in Web Browser or New Power BI Designer

While it might not be readily apparent, the Public Power BI Preview does allow for report authoring and natural language query in an HTML5-friendly web browser for a variety of data sources including Excel, Excel on One Drive and Analysis Services. It also has out-of-the-box SaaS template dashboards for applications like Salesforce, Dynamics CRM, SendGrid, GitHub, ZenDesk and more. The Power BI Preview YouTube Video Library includes this video demo of Salesforce shown below that illustrates the SaaS integration.

 

The web browser user interface was made to be touch-friendly for drag-and-drop authoring, data exploration or report viewing…anytime, anywhere.

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Power BI Designer (32-bit and 64-bit) is a stand-alone, Power BI desktop content authoring tool that can be installed side-by-side with any flavor of Office or Excel on Windows.  Power BI Designer content created on the desktop can be optionally published and shared in the Power BI site.  Power BI Designer unifies the formerly separate power tools: Power Query, Power Pivot and Power View into one enriched user experience and one power name.

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At the moment Power BI Designer has Power Pivot v1 automatic relationship detection and relationship / blending / mash-up cooked in across the wide array of data sources supported by Power Query today.

  • Text, Excel, CSV or XML files
  • OLEDB/ODBC connections
  • SAP Business Objects Universes
  • Salesforce, Dynamics and other SaaS partners
  • SQL Server and Analysis Services
  • Web page content
  • Azure SQL databases
  • Access databases
  • Oracle databases
  • IBM DB2 databases
  • MySQL databases
  • SharePoint lists
  • Hadoop, HDFS, Hive and Spark
  • Windows Azure HDInsight
  • OData feeds
  • Windows Azure Marketplace
  • Active Directory
  • Facebook
  • PostgreSQL databases
  • Teradata databases
  • …continually adding more data sources

Once data is loaded, you can combine, transform and build calculated columns in Power BI Designer’s query view.  From there you can build contextual, fully interactive reports by dragging-and-dropping fields onto the canvas and filters. You can also create flexible, user-defined, visualization drill-down paths by stacking fields on an axis. (Few folks realize that you can already do this today with existing Power View in Excel 2013 or in SharePoint.) Last but not least, you will notice more data visualizations including:

  • Combination charts
  • Dual axis combination charts
  • Tree maps
  • Filled geospatial maps
  • Funnels
  • Gauges

If you do review Power BI today, keep in mind to check back often to see if enhancements have been added.

What about Excel? Excel is still Microsoft’s premier data-crunching tool.  The Power BI preview does support Power BI content created with Excel’s power tool add-ins.  In one of my examples above, I used Excel 2013 for the light blue and white background image, chart labels and logo.

Mobile BI Native Apps

For weeks there were rumors in the media of iOS first for mobile BI. Well, those rumors were true! On Saturday, a new native app for Apple iPad was released and is also available for preview.  The Power BI mobile app displays fluid dashboard tiles and Power View reports that automatically scale to fit device screen size and orientation. The mobile-friendly, responsive design allows for a design-once, deploy anywhere approach to mobile BI.  Update: 1/30/2015: iPhone app was added with data-driven alerting and annotations.

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A video overview of the new iPad Power BI mobile app is shown below.

Developer APIs

The Power BI REST API samples showcased in the new developer portal at http://msdn.microsoft.com/powerbi are provided in a variety of programming languages including but not limited to Java, JavaScript, PHP, Python – not just C# and VB.NET.

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There is an excellent video shown below on how to get started with the new Power BI REST API for delivering real-time, streaming dashboards if you want to play with that over the holidays.

 

Giving Your Feedback

I can’t emphasize this point enough. The Power BI engineering team wants and needs your feedback to help prioritize features. To submit your comments and requests, the team has added a new, dedicated feedback forum. Don’t be shy or assume someone else has already requested that “obviously needed” requirement. Please tell the team what you need, want, wish for and vote on peer suggestions.

For More Information

I have merely skimmed over the surface of what was delivered last week. If you’d like more information on the new Power BI Public Preview, there is nothing better than a hands-on evaluation. Sign up for a free preview account and check out the following resources:

If you are an existing Power BI customer, you should have already received an invitation and/or seen an option on your account to review these new enhancements. Note the preview is currently English only and available for customers with a United States address today. Microsoft has shared that additional languages and countries around the world will be added in the coming months.