Recent updates to Microsoft Power BI allow Mac (and PC) users to create reports and dashboards in the cloud. Users can use a cloud version of Power Query to bring data in and use standard visuals to visualize it.
Microsoft has been hard at work improving the cloud version of Power BI over the last couple of years, and we’re happy to say that it’s finally at a point where users can get a lot of value out of it.
Power BI Cloud functionality is very close to what is possible using Power BI Desktop. With the aggressive update schedule, we’re optimistic that any missing features will be implemented in the near future.
Power BI Desktop is not available for Mac users. Microsoft has improved the PowerBI.com cloud service to the point where most reports can be built in a web browser. Mac users that want to use the Power BI Desktop version can install it on a Virtual Machine or run with Parallels.
Let’s take a look at the current state of Power BI and how Mac users can use it in the cloud!
Will Microsoft Publish Power BI Desktop for Mac?
Microsoft is highly unlikely to publish a version of Power BI that is compatible with MacBooks or other Apple products. Apple makes some fantastic products, and MacBooks running the M2 processors are some of the best on the market. However, the future of business intelligence products will be monthly subscriptions to cloud hosted services.
The three major business intelligence platforms, Tableau from Salesforce, Looker from Google, and Power BI from Microsoft all have cloud versions available.
We anticipate that desktop software versions will be deprecated over the coming years. Special versions will likely remain available for deployments on government clouds or large enterprise that require additional security. Most users will use versions backed by shared public cloud capacities.
Using Power Query in the Cloud through the Power BI Service
Power Query has been Microsoft’s go to data prep solution since it was introduced in 2010. It can be found in a number of software solutions ranging from Excel and Power BI to Azure Data Factory.
Power BI users have historically only had access to Power Query using Power BI Desktop. This meant that Mac users couldn’t perform ETL on their datasets.
That’s changed recently, with Dataflow Gen2 that brings Power Query to the Power BI Service, making it available in the cloud. Streaming datasets, like SQL connections and files saved on Azure Data Lake Gen 2 can also be accessed with Data Factory Dataflows.
Note: As of writing some of these features are a work in progress. Microsoft has not achieved full parity of Power Query in the Cloud as it has with Power BI desktop, but it’s on the roadmap. As of the 2023 Release Wave 1 notes, Microsoft has indicated that full parity is one of their goals.
In regard to Dataset Authoring in the Power BI Service as of Microsoft 2023 Release Wave 1, Microsoft states that the eventual goal is complete desktop parity in the web.
Accessing Power Query in the Power BI Service
Power Query functionality is available through Data Factory Dataflow Gen2. Currently in preview, this feature will continue to evolve. This is an update to Power BI Dataflows and the interface will look very similar.
After launching Dataflow gen 2, you will see a very familiar Power Query editor in your web browser.
To access this feature you may have to click on “See All” for all of the available options to bring data into the Power BI Service from the cloud.
Excel files can be imported from One Drive or SharePoint, accessed from on premises network storage using the Power BI Gateway, or by uploading them directly into the Power BI Service.
Using the Power BI Diagram View for Power Query
Power BI developers that appreciate a more modern approach to data preparation will find the Diagram View a welcome addition to Power BI.
Diagram View is only available through the Power BI Service, and is not available on Power BI Desktop
It gives users a similar way to work with data as they would see using other tools such as Alteryx or Tableau Prep. It is not as full featured as either of these solutions at this time, but we anticipate that more features will be added as Power Query and Data Factory see greater overlap in the future as Microsoft’s ETL solutions.
You can find out even more about Power BI Diagram view from Microsoft Learn
This is one of the most recent features to be added to Power BI, but since it’s not available on Power BI Desktop it makes us think that the future of many feature additions to Power BI will be cloud only as they rush to reach feature parity with Power BI Desktop.
Report Auto Generation and Microsoft Copilot for Power BI
Microsoft is investing heavily into AI features for Power BI.
After investing $10 billion into OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT, Microsoft has been integrating natural language processing features into most of their products. Microsoft is giving their AI integrated features the name Copilot.
While Microsoft hasn’t given too many feature descriptions for Power BI specifically, you can get an overview of Microsoft’s vision of AI assisted creating in the following video.
For now, users are able to auto generate recommended reports based on datasets in the Power BI Service. The feature is not available in Power BI Desktop. We expect more AI to be infused with the cloud version of Power BI so that all users can take advantage of it whether they’re running Windows on a Dell or MacOS on a Macbook.
The following is an example of an AI generated dashboard on PowerBI.com
Alternatives for Mac Users to Run Power BI Desktop
The cloud version of Power BI available at PowerBI.com has come a long way. It has many of the features needed to build out dashboards and reports but it’s still a work in progress.
If a Mac user wants to install Power BI Desktop they currently have two options.
Option 1.) Run Power BI Desktop using Parallels
Parallels is one of the most popular pieces of software to run Windows applications on a Mac. It used to be that you could dual boot a Mac with Windows, but the feature has since been deprecated on newer M1 and M2 macs that run on an ARM based architecture.
Luckily, Parallels is very easy to use and has a wide range of compatible applications.
They even recently announced that you can Run Windows on Mac – Parallels Desktop 18 Virtual Machine for Mac
Option 2.) Log Into a Virtual Machine
Virtual Machines (VMs) are computer hardware hosted in a data center. Users can log into them as a cloud service. This lets you have an actual instance of Windows that you log into via a remote desktop and you can utilize all of the features of Windows.
There are some limitations when attempting to connect to on premises data sources as the machine is in a data center instead of being part of your physical laptop.
Unless you’re very tech savvy or have a good IT team to support you, it may be a heavy lift to get a Windows VM setup. Recent solutions like Windows 365 make the process easier than it used to be, but you will still pay a premium for the convenience compared to setting up a VM on Azure.
Power BI Service and Cloud Features will Evolve with Microsoft Fabric
Microsoft released a gigantic Power BI update at the beginning of 2023.
The Power BI service is undergoing a partial rebrand and is becoming part of Microsoft Fabric.
Fabric is the combination of a number of different technologies that include Microsoft Azure Data Lake Storage, One Lake, and Data Factory. It’s the first major update that Microsoft has made to the way that Power BI ingests data in years.
Most users outside of data engineering won’t see many of the changes, but a very visible one for a lot of users will be dragging and dropping files into One Lake. A solution that looks and acts a lot like One Drive but the files will be easily accessible to Power BI and can be quickly modified or combined with an ETL process making them more accessible for others in the organization.
It’s all fairly new, and even looking around at PowerBI.com it can be a bit of a mess with all of the new features. We expect it will get cleaned up, continue to improve, and become the new normal over the coming years.
It used to be that there were not many options for Mac users that wanted to utilize Power BI.
Recent improvements in the Power BI service and addition of new cloud features mean that you can take advantage of nearly all of the features of Power BI in the cloud. The features that are missing will hopefully be added in the coming months.
Solutions like Parallels or running a Windows VM are robust options for installing and running Power BI Desktop. Between the two, we would choose Parallels. A VM can introduce a level of technical challenges that may not be worth the added effort.
While both Parallels and a Windows VM will work for running Power BI Desktop, we have to recognize that both come at an added cost. A user will need to weigh the pros and cons, and business users are best to coordinate with their IT department to ensure solution compatibility.
Users who are not currently tied to a business intelligence platform may also want to consider Tableau or Google Looker as an alternative solution that has a more mature cloud offering.