Licensing of Power BI moves away from Office 365

The gap between Power BI and Excel keeps on getting wider. As there is conflicting information about the Excel/Power BI break-up on various places on the internet, I wanted to clarify some of the common discussion questions.  One place where you can get definitive answers is in the new Licensing Information for Power BI which I linked in case you missed it. Unfortunately for those of us who have been paying the higher fees for Power BI, the price reduction to ten dollars isn’t immediate. Although I am disappointed, the non-immediate fee reduction makes sense, since the new-Excel-free-version of Power BI is still preview edition. No one outside the US is able to even try it yet. The new pricing will be available when the new product is available. This also gives people a chance to migrate their existing reports to the new version of Power BI. Another way of saying this is, going forward you don’t need Excel or the Four Powers – Power Query, Power Map, Power Pivot and Power View – anymore. The only thing you’ll need is the New Power BI.

No SharePoint needed for Power BI

Another thing that the licensing document makes clear, is when the new Power BI is released, the Office 365 version of SharePoint will not be required. To be even clearer, SharePoint will not be needed to use Power BI. There are several places online where I have read conflicting information regarding the need to have SharePoint. Let me clarify by quoting from Microsoft’s Licensing Information for Power BI page just to make it perfectly clear “Power BI service will become a standalone service and will no longer require SharePoint Online”. Since the current version of Power BI is using SharePoint, if this is the only reason you have Office 365 SharePoint, you can get rid of SharePoint, which will be an additional cost savings. How much will it cost? Talk to Microsoft Support as the details must be worked out with them.

Why Did Microsoft Change Power BI to not use Excel ?

While at SQL Saturday in Albuquerque, which was even better than my high expectations, I had a chance to talk to someone from Microsoft, and of course Power BI came up. I asked why he thought Microsoft moved away from Power BI? While not divulging anything that is covered under an NDA, he mentioned that there were a lot of people who would like to use the features of Power BI, but they didn’t have the right version of Excel within their organizations. Microsoft removed this barrier to adoption by moving to a non-Excel version. Excel also had a lot of features that weren’t needed for data visualization, and support for some of the current features was sort of confusing. I agreed with him. For example there are three different ways of creating a data connection, which is definitely confusing.

Scheduled Updates in Excel

For those people who like the Power BI Add-ins to Excel and want to stay with them, there is one big issue, scheduled updates. Only with Power BI deployed to the Office 365 Cloud SharePoint can you get scheduled updates from all the places which you might be retrieving data. For all those people who for a variety of issues didn’t want to go with Power BI deployed that way, there is now a solution. If you are looking to update Excel, Power Update is what you need. Kudos to Rob Collie for providing this solution as I have heard from a number of people that they had SharePoint and didn’t want to go to the cloud for Power Query updates or didn’t want to have to deploy SharePoint. Keeping up with Excel and Power BI is now a wider world than just Microsoft.  The one thing you can count on is things will always be changing.


Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur

What is Power BI? Microsoft just changed the answer to the question

In reading the Power BI blog, it appears Microsoft has just changed what Power BI is. Since Power BI’s introduction last year, Power BI was a series of add-ins to Excel, which I liked to call the four powers, Power Pivot, Power Query, Power View and Power Map, and a web component. For people who weren’t interested in the web component, the most of the features listed in Power BI are available to anyone who has Office 2013 or Office 365. That now appears to have changed. Microsoft now says that Power BI is a Cloud Based service, and doesn’t mention Excel at all.

New Power BI

As I documented here, Microsoft released Power BI Designer as a web application and a stand alone application. It has been freely available since December 18, 2014 to anyone living in the US. This was the first step away from Excel as you no longer needed Excel to create dashboards. In the January 27 announcement, Microsoft has completely broken away from Excel. Now Power BI is new, and the new Power BI is the Designer of December. The old restrictions still apply. Sorry, if you are not in the US, you can’t use Power BI Designer aka the new Power BI. You can get an iPad version of the app in the Apple store and the Surface version in the Microsoft store, but phone support is not yet available for either iPhone or Android, but they are slated for release later this year.

New Product, New Price

It appears the mall is not the only place having sales in January. Microsoft just announced a major price reduction in Power BI too. Here’s the previous pricing model, which I saved from Microsoft’s website, just in case the Power BI webpage changed, which it did.


Here’s the new pricing model ,which doesn’t fit very well on my webpage.  To save you having to click on it, I will cut to the chase. Power BI is now $9.99.   Now that they product is targeted to the masses, the price isn’t an even number, just like everything Not Sold In Stores. It stands to reason that dropping the price will help in the  wider adoption of Power BI. The previous pricing made Power BI much more expensive than Office 365, which was probably a tough sell to many IT managers.

What’s Next with Power BI ?

To be honest, I have no idea what Microsoft is planning next. This announcement marks a big break with the past, which I guess we could call Power BI 1.0. The new direction to a standalone and web product makes Microsoft look more like its competitors, which I am sure was the idea. Personally I thought the break with Excel was quite surprising as I thought the plan was to leverage the knowledge of the current user base, so I didn’t expect it. I wonder if they are going to rebrand the four powers in Excel?  Based on today’s announcement I wouldn’t be surprised, and I will be watching Microsoft closely to see what happens next.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur


Running the local version of Power BI Designer Preview

Power BI Designer is available both as a web application and as an desktop application which you can download to your PC. As you might have surmised, the two versions are mirrors to one another when it comes to functionality, with the biggest difference is the need to upload the results. The local version allows people who have an older version of Excel loaded to do Power View-like report functionality which they may not be able to do with the version of Excel they have.

Getting Started

If you want to get started with Power BI Preview and you live in the United States, click here . You don’t need to be a current Power BI customer to download and use the preview. The best way to learn how to use it is through the videos which Microsoft has included on the application start up screen shown below. I highly recommend watching them as they succinctly describe how it works.PowerBIDesignerVidoes

Things to keep in Mind when using with Power BI Designer

This product is still in preview, so there are some things that you can’t do, like change the colors. It was also meant to be non-developer friendly, so Power BI Designer picks a lot of things for you, and then you can change them afterwards. This model may be a little disconcerting if you don’t care about line charts, which seem to be the default. Microsoft created this program with the intent that you would be uploading the finished product to a Power BI tenant, it isn’t designed to have any native security or data refresh. This is not Excel, as the files you save in Power BI Designer have the suffix PBIX, so you have to have Power BI Designer to open these files.

Generating Dashboards

The steps for creating a dashboard are identical to how the Power BI Designer works with the online preview. First you need to select a data set, which can be from nearly anywhere–Azure, HDFS, Facebook, SSAS, Sql Server, MySQL,Sales Force, csv, to name a few—and then it will attempt to visualize your data sets for you. If you don’t like the visualization, most likely a line chart, which was defualt selected you can select a different visualization format, such as a treemap, funnel chart or any of the different options. To complete the dashboard, merge your selections onto one screen by tiling smaller visualizations onto a dashboard. The data displayed on the dashboard is contextual, so if you change the value all of the corresponding visualizations will change along with the selection.

Wait, There’s More

Microsoft is just now rolling out with Power BI Designer, and like Ronco’s ginsu knives, there are a lot more things planned for the product in the future. Here’s a list of suggestions made so far. If you think the product really needs something, go tell Microsoft as it appears they are actively monitoring the feedback. When they do release something I find noteworthy, I’ll let you know in a later post.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur


Creating Couture Dashboards with Power BI Designer

On December 18, 2014 Microsoft release the preview of PowerBI Dashboards, as long as you live in the US. Since Power BI has an iterative deployment cycle, releases have been rapid and varying in detail.  This release is huge as takes a further step from separating Power BI from Excel.  With this release, creating data visualizations moves to a new tool, the Power BI Designer.  When this preview is fully released so countries outside of the US have the ability to play with it, Excel is no longer necessary. Of course the option to use Excel is still there, but creating visualizations, be they dashboards or not, can be done on the web with Power BI Designer.

Dashboards, the New Old feature

As anyone who has reviewed the marketing information from Microsoft knows, dashboards are not new in Power BI.  The ability to put multiple data representations on one report has been available since the product was first previewed.  The difference is Excel is no longer required.  Since the Power BI was released, it appeared to be just an expansion of Excel’s feature set.  The one power tool which was supposed to be only available to Power BI subscribers, Power Map, was released to existing Office 365 users after the preview version expired. It’s not exactly the same version of  PowerMap, as only Power BI users get updates but Excel users can still use the preview version. Power Query, Power Pivot and Power View have been included in Excel’s features for a while, which left many users thinking there was no reason to pay for Power BI, unless you wanted to distribute data visualizations in a Mobile Environment.  Being able to design reports completely in the cloud provides a more compelling reason to sign up for Power BI.

DIY – Implementing Dashboards on an Existing Power BI Account

The new dashboarding feature is still in preview, so I assume that a lot of the access methods for it are going to change, so keep in mind that these instructions may not work in the next release, which could be soon. Here’s what you see when logged into your PowerBI account.


The first time you click the try it now link, Microsoft will update your account, which means that you will need to wait until it loads to use it.  After they are done, this link will work to load the Power BI Dashboards.  Keep in mind since this is a US only preview, the new dashboards are not fully integrated into PowerBI, as the visualizations there don’t show up in your favorites, but it is logical to assume that it is coming.  Clicking on the Try It Now button brings up this screen.


Designing Dashboards is meant to be simple, so the steps involved to create them are few.  First you need to select a dataset, on my screen you will see that I have picked an Excel spreadsheet called TabularReports.  Then you select the data that you wish to display, and Microsoft picks a display format, which you can change to any of the standard visualization types, like the bar chart I have here.  The reports you wish to see here are pinned.  If you don’t pin them they lurk inn the background. Save this and you are done.

This first version away from Excel offers a lot of interesting features and definitely moves Microsoft closer to the features offered by their competitors.  Dashboard also provides a real reason to use Power BI instead of Excel, a topic I will definitely be exploring more in the future.

Yours Always

Ginger Grant

Data aficionado et SQL Raconteur