Microsoft Updates Power BI Ahead of July 24 Launch

The business intelligence tool gains an Office 365 application launcher and storage management options days before it emerges from beta.

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Power BI, Microsoft's cloud-enabled business intelligence (BI) platform, officially launches as a stand-alone product backed by commercial support on July 24. In the meantime, the company is bulking up the software's capabilities.

A new Office 365 app launcher now provides quick access to the productivity suite's component software. "Now, you can easily move from Power BI to any of your other Office 365 applications. In next week's deployment you'll see even more integration with Power BI's usage of groups for Office 365," blogged the company's Power BI group. Support for the Office 365 groups' shared workspace technology is one of Power BI's major new collaboration features, allowing users to share and discuss their insights.

Also new is custom URL support for Power BI's tiles, which display the product's visualizations, metrics and desired data points. "You can configure this on the Tile Details, found by hovering over a tile and clicking the pencil icon," instructed Microsoft. "In the left panel, click 'Set custom link' and enter the URL you want users to navigate to when they click on the tile."

Another change to the user interface is new visual formatting for Q&A, a natural-language insight gathering module that allows users to explore data with plain-English searches.

"Once they get an answer, sometimes there are small tweaks or additions that users want to make to the visual returned as the answer," said the company. "To enable this we've added the Visualizations, Filter, and Field panes to Q&A. If I want to change the visual from line to bar chart, I just click on the bar chart icon."

Finally, users can keep a closer eye on Power BI's impact on their cloud storage. "As we approach GA [general availability], we want users to see how much and which datasets dominated their data usage in Power BI," said the team. "To manage your storage, click on the gear icon in the upper, right hand corner. Here you'll see how much storage you've used along with the limit for your account."

Office users who have instead settled on Excel for their BI needs are also being treated to new enhancements, courtesy of this month's update to the Power Query add-on.

These include a revamped ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) Connector that simplifies the process of importing data from multiple sources, according to Miguel Llopis, program manager of Microsoft Power Query.

"We improved the ODBC Connector by making the SQL statement optional instead of required," he stated in a July 15 announcement. "Now users can simply provide the Connection String for their ODBC source and navigate the list of tables available from the data source, pick up the ones they want to import, and apply any additional transformations needed in the Query Editor."

Other improvements to Power Query include tweaks to the Navigator pane, a new Fast Data Load option for accelerated query downloads and support for Salesforce Custom environments. Microsoft first launched a Salesforce connector for the Excel companion software in November.

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...