Microsoft Releases 44 Features in Massive Power BI Desktop Update

Although a young product, Microsoft adds dozens of features and enhancements to its citizen business intelligence tool.

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Power BI Desktop, Microsoft's free business intelligence (BI) software tool formerly known as Power BI Designer, has been generally available since July 24. Now, nearly two months later, the company announced an update that contains 44 new features.

According to a lengthy Sept. 23 blog post from Miguel Llopis, program manager for Microsoft Power BI, the latest release "represents almost two new features per working day since our previous update." The 44 new features are spread across the software's Report Authoring, Data Modeling, Data Sources and Data Transformation capabilities, he noted.

Highlights include new report-level filters that help add consistency to report authors' data. "Before this update, users were able to define filters at the visualization and page levels, but it was not possible to define a filter that would apply across all visualizations in all pages on your report," LLopis explained. "We have added Report-level filters with this update, which can be found under the Filters pane in the Report view."

New page sizing and viewing options enable users to tailor their report pages to a variety of screen dimensions. For example, the new Page Size option "controls the size and aspect ratio of each page in the report," Llopis said. "Available page sizes are: 16:9, 4:3, Dynamic, Letter and Custom (fully control the width and height of the page in pixels)." Similarly, the Page View option "allows users to configure how pages should be rendered depending on the size of the report viewer (either Power BI Desktop or Power BI service)." Currently, the three available options include Fit to Page, Fit to Width and Actual Size.

Power BI Desktop's data modeling toolset gains a new Calculated Tables option along with enhanced Relationships and Data views. In terms of data sources, the software now supports connections with on-premises distributions of the Spark big data processing platform.

The latest update also now includes a SharePoint Lists connector that supports non-English sites and an Exchange connector that allows connections to multiple mailboxes, revealed Llopis. "Users can provide the email address to connect to as part of the Source dialog and then specify credentials for that source (which may or may not match the email address to connect to). This way, users can easily combine data from multiple Exchange mailboxes into a single report."

Power BI's mobile apps were also refreshed, said Romi Koifman, a program manager for Power BI Mobile, in a separate Sept. 23 announcement.

On the iOS flavor of the app for iPhones and iPads, Power BI now features a new Smart Ordering option that heuristically reorders the UI's tiles along with compatibility with iOS 9, the latest edition of Apple's mobile operating system.

On Android, the app can now refresh Office 365 Groups on demand. The app also will now alert users when they have been removed from a group. Finally, the Windows version of the app now displays labels on charts in Power BI dashboards and reports to help users more readily identify the data they are exploring.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...