How to Use Power BI on a Mac

Microsoft does not publish a version of Power BI Desktop to build reports on a Mac, however there are several options that users can explore to still build reports in Power BI using their existing Apple computer. Options range from installing Power BI on a Windows Virtual Machine, running Parallels, or using the many report building features available directly in the Power BI Cloud.

When Will Power BI Desktop for Mac?

Power BI was initially released in 2015, to this point in time Microsoft has not published a version of Power BI Desktop that is compatible with Mac, meaning they are unlikely to do so in the near future. A majority of the investments that Microsoft is making into the Power BI platform revolve around Microsoft Fabric, an all-in-one data engineering, data science, and visualization product for the cloud. The most likely scenario for Power BI is that mac users will be able to build reports through Safari or other browsers before receiving a native desktop version.

Options to run Power BI on a Mac

Microsoft has added a number of features to PowerBI.com to build reports directly in the cloud, but it still does not have all of the features available in Power BI Desktop. To run Power BI Desktop, Mac users can use Parallels, setup a Windows Virtual Machine or Windows Remote Desktop.

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.

Parallels starts at $99/year (USD) and supports a wide range of applications. It’s even possible to 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 can be 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. Recent solutions like Windows 365 make setting up a virtual machine effortless, and you can even give it a try with a Windows 365 Business Free Trial | Microsoft 365

If you have access to a Windows machine, you could also Use Remote Desktop – Microsoft Support as an alternative to a cloud-based solution.

Using PowerBI.com to Create Reports on a Mac

PowerBI.com is continuously evolving. Microsoft adds new features on a monthly basis and publishes semi-annual roadmaps for people to see which features are coming soon. At the moment, PowerBI.com can create reports and even create semantic models with the use of Data Flows Gen2, an online Power Query style editor.

Microsoft provides the following visual to highlight what can be done in Power BI Desktop, a Windows application and the Power BI Service also known as PowerBI.com

Illustration from Microsoft highlighting the different features of Power BI Desktop and Power BI Service for creating reports
Comparing Power BI Desktop and the Power BI service – Power BI | Microsoft Learn

Creating Dashboards in the Cloud with PowerBI.com

Most of the features currently available revolve around being able to edit visuals, create filters and many of the dashboard layout tasks that you would expect to. The following screenshot shows a report being built directly in PowerBI.com, the interface looks nearly identical to Power BI Desktop.

A dashboard being created in Power BI Online using a Mac

The biggest limitation to the cloud experience is the lack of fully integrated Power Query to transform data and create semantic models.

Power Query in the Cloud with Data Flows Gen2.

Dataflow Gen2 brings a Power Query style interface to the Power BI Service as part of Microsoft Fabric. This effectively makes it possible to import and model data. Fabric is Microsoft’s integrated solution for data engineering where data is imported with a Data Factory and transformed with a Data Flow. The Output of these two are a semantic model that reports can be based off on.

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.

Microsoft is working towards feature parity of Power BI Desktop and the Power BI Cloud available in the Power BI Service

There is no published timeline on when Microsoft expects to reach full feature parity of Power BI Desktop with the Cloud.

Power BI Alternatives for Mac

If you’re looking for a fuller featured business intelligence product that works with Mac, your best options will be those that are cloud native. Google Looker and Looker Studio both offer cloud native options that run within a web browser where data can be modeled and visualized. Looker is somewhat newer to the scene than Power BI or Tableau but has quickly gained an enterprise following.

Tableau is the most mature business intelligence platform and may be a good fit for most people looking for a Power BI alternative, though it does come with higher subscription costs.

There are also dozens of other cloud options that cover the entire spectrum of business intelligence needs that can be surfaced with a quick search on Google. We would recommend finding one with a large community of support that’s widely adopted to make deployment and support easier within your organization.

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