July 24th marked the General Availability release of major updates to Power BI Service and Power BI Desktop, Microsoft's cloud-based analytics and data visualization platform. Today's updates replace the previous "Power BI for Office 365" version and Power BI service that required either a subscription to Office 365 or Sharepoint Online for access. 

Power BI Desktop

Power BI Desktop – the upgrade of the existing "Power BI for Office 365" – is an interactive reporting tool providing new and enhanced interactive visualization effects now available for free at PowerBI.com. You can connect to your data through a variety of means - including local files and databases as well as Microsoft Azure SQL Database, Azure Data Warehouse, SQL Server Analysis Services, and Apache Spark for Azure HDInsight and then proceed to explore your data through drag-and-drop fashion then  publish your reports and visualizations to the Power BI service for collaboration and distribution. According to the official release post from James Phillips, Corporate Vice President of Power BI at Microsoft: "The Power BI Desktop will be enhanced to include: New visualizations including matrix, area, waterfall, and donut charts. New visualization formatting such as color setting, titles, labels, and legends. New data source support has also been extended to include Zendesk, Intuit Quickbooks Online, AppFigures, GitHub, Twilio, and SweetIQ."


Embracing Open Source

Microsoft continues to move towards the open source model by providing its visualization framework, test suite and tooling on GitHub at https://github.com/Microsoft/PowerBI-visuals. Looking towards the future, customers will be able to bring these custom visuals into Power BI for use in their own dashboards and reports.  Microsoft is also introducing Organizational Content Packs which allow users, BI professionals and system integrators to build their own Content Packs to share dashboards, reports and datasets within organizations.  One of those is quite interesting to me as an Enterprise DBA - SQL Sentry - as it will allow me to tap into the metadata collected from all of my SQL instances and provide reports and visualizations that have not yet been integrated into their commercial offerings.  This was a topic I've been selected to present on at the 2015 PASS Summit in Seattle and the advancements released on this past week just made building that presentation - and solutions for my clients - much easier!


Just Some of the New Features

I would hate to steal some of James' thunder - he's a really nice guy - so I strongly recommend reviewing his official post for more details.  What I want to highlight though are some of those features I'm most interested in and those I think will resonate with you.

New transformations including the option to specify the join type between two queries when merging multiple queries in the same report/visualization. 

Users can now switch between CSV quote style or using no quote when splitting a column by delimiter.

New visualizations for Donut, Waterfall, Area, and Matrix chart types with a promise for more released monthly (and of course the aforementioned ability to use your own through open source initiatives.)

Enhanced formatting for visualizations and reports.

Ability to add text boxes and images into your reports.

You can now explore Analysis Services Tabular models within the Report view and maintaining a live connection. This enables you to explore the data available in the remote model and build reports without having to import the data first.


Power BI Mobile Applications

A Power BI mobile app for the Android platform is now available.  This adds to the existing mobile support for Windows devices, iPhone, and iPad which are already in place. 


Licensing Changes

The Power BI service will become a standalone service and will no longer require SharePoint Online or an Office 365 paid subscription for the free tier of the Power BI Desktop.  The existing ‘Power BI for Office 365 Add-On’ and ‘Power BI for Office 365 Standalone’ licenses will be replaced by a single Power BI Pro license should you wish to take advantage of the additional features offered in Power BI Pro.  Existing paid users will be converted over to the Power BI Pro license at their time of renewal and those customers taking part via enterprise licensing will be converted upon their license anniversary but do not need to wait until renewal to take advantage of all the new features, services, and enhancements that come with Power BI Pro.  For full details on licensing I'd suggest reviewing the official FAQ on the subject.  The tier differences between Free and Pro tend to be around capacity (currently 1GB/user maximum for the Free tier contrasted with 10GB/user for the Pro tier) and refresh rate where streaming of data and refresh rates are obviously quite better for the paid (Pro) tier.  Collaboration and sharing of visualizations also shows differences between pricing models but surprisingly it appears the features of the Pro tier are mostly available in the Free tier.


Publishing Enhancements

It is now possible to publish reports to PowerBI.com directly from Power BI Desktop if they have a valid Power BI account. Reports will be published and available in the matter of seconds.  Furthermore re-publishing and refreshing elements on dashboards via manual or scheduled refresh is also an option. 

The article also provides a 40 minute video covering all the release features in detail.


Additional Information

Miguel Llopis, Program Manager for the Microsoft Power BI Team goes into great detail on these enhancements as well as providing recordings on content navigation on the Power BI blog post covering the release.

The pricing matrix providing an overview of what is (and is not) included in the two pricing tiers for Power BI is available on the Power BI Pricing Page.

There is also a new community site for Power BI located here.