Power BI Desktop vs Power BI Pro Explained

The difference between Power BI Desktop and Power BI Pro are often confused when people are new to the platform. We explain the differences between Power BI Desktop and Pro and explain additional terminology to be aware of when getting up to speed quickly.

A data analyst looking at a computer screen

The biggest misconception is that there are multiple versions of a Power BI. A regular version, and a Pro version. The reality is that Microsoft only publishes a single version of Power BI but has premium features that are unlocked with different types of Power BI licenses.

All of the premium features that require a license are related to features in the Power BI Service rather than the Power BI Desktop application.

We’ll dig into what each one of these items are and what it means for your organization.

What is Power BI Desktop?

Power BI Desktop is a windows application used to create reports and dashboards. Users connect to data from Excel, CSV, databases, data warehouses and many other systems. Power BI supports over 200 different connectors to import data. After importing data, users drag and drop report elements such as graphs and charts to create interactive reports.

The following screenshot highlights the Power BI interface. Thes section on the left is the report being built with different filters, and KPIs that users can interact with. On the right side is a list of all of the available fields and chart types that can be configured and added to the report.

Screenshot of Power BI Desktop being used to drag and drop report elements to build a reporting dashboard.

Power BI Desktop is a Windows application that can be downloaded and installed on your laptop or computer.

Check out our detailed instructions on how to download Power BI to learn more.

What is the Power BI Service?

Reports created in Power BI desktop are meant to be shared with users across organizations. This makes them self service and gives managers and supervisors the ability to quickly find information that they want on demand. Power BI developers publish reports made in Power BI Desktop to the Power BI Service. The Power BI service for most people can be accessed at PowerBI.com. It’s hosted by the Microsoft cloud and enables report sharing, and automating data refreshes.

Screenshot of PowerBI.com being used to share reports within a workspace using a Power BI Pro license

Microsoft takes care of the infrastructure part of a report service that sits in the cloud.

Reports are published to it and can be accessed by users that have a Microsoft Power BI account. The lowest tier of a Power BI account, is called Power BI Pro.

What is Power BI Pro?

Power BI Pro is the lowest Power BI licensing tier that allows users to access the Power BI Service. At $10 per month per user it is necessary to publish and share reports with others in an organization. Each user that wants to view a report that’s been published also needs to have a Power BI Pro license. A Power BI Pro license is required to access the Power BI service, publish reports, and view reports that have already been published.

If you’re unsure if your organization currently has access to Power BI Pro, consult your IT department who can provide you additional information or acquire a license on your behalf. Power BI Pro licenses are currently included in Microsoft 365 E5 license tiers along with some other enterprise tiers.

Do Power BI Users need a Pro License to View Reports?

A Power BI Pro or Premium license is required to view reports that have been published to PowerBI.com. Microsoft provides a free trial period that new users can sign up for to view reports but will need to upgrade to at least a Power BI Pro license to continue viewing reports in most cases.

No license is required to download Power BI Desktop, and share reports through e-mail or Power BI .pbix files. A license is only required once a report is published and shared through the Power BI Service.

What is Power BI Premium?

Power BI Premium or Power BI Premium per User is another licensing tier to access the Power BI Service. It includes all of the features of Power BI Pro and adds capabilities designed for enterprise customers such as the ability to work with larger datasets, higher limits on the number of times a dataset can be refreshed in a 24 hour period, increased data model size, and higher maximum limits of storage space.

Differences Between Power BI Pro and Premium Licensing

Microsoft regularly adjusts Power BI licensing tiers, and the best resource to find the current pricing is through the Microsoft Power BI licensing page. To give a sense of the difference between licensing tiers, you can see that Premium includes additional enterprise features compared to Pro, and there is even a reserved resource tier called Power BI Premium per capacity that organizations can pay for which further extends the usability of Power BI.

Screenshot of Power BI Pro licensing costs and comparison of Power BI Pro vs Power BI Premium features

Most users who are new to the Power BI platform will be best served starting with a Power BI licensing tier.

You can also mix and match licenses across your organization as your needs evolve.

If you are considering a large deployment of Power BI, contact us, and we can walk you through some of the considerations that you should keep in mind when deploying Power BI at your organization.

Best Books to Learn Power BI

Power BI for the Excel Analyst is a great book for people starting to learn Power BI. Even if you’re a casual user or plan on having a team of analysts building dashboards on your behalf it gives a good overview of the platform and gives an intro to advanced view of the platform, and covers topics such as how to share reports, security groups, and beginner to advanced level formulas.

Power BI for the Excel Analyst

People looking for more advanced information about Power BI, or are considering a career path as a professional Power BI developer should check out our list of Best Power BI Books. The list highlights intermediate to advanced topics along with supporting skillsets that will help you become a better developer.


Power BI Desktop is a software application used to create drag and drop reporting dashboards. Power BI Pro is a licensing tier that allows users to publish and share their reports with other users on PowerBI.com. Power BI Premium is the next license tier above Power BI Pro and unlocks additional features aimed at enterprise customers. People viewing Power BI reports on the Power BI Service will also need a Power BI license to do so.

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