There are two components to Power BI. You will need to download Power BI Desktop and install it on your computer to create reports and dashboards. The second component is PowerBI.com which enables you to publish and share reports. There are multiple versions and ways to install Power BI desktop that we’ll discuss the pros and cons for along with providing information regarding best practices for updating Power BI.
The version of Power BI that you install may also depend on external factors. People working at companies that require IT admin passwords to install software may have additional requirements that need to be considered prior to installing Power BI.
Let’s take a look at some of the things you should be aware of!
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What is Power BI Desktop?
Power BI Desktop is a windows application that lets you build dashboards and reports. They are created using a combination of Power Query for data modeling, and a report and dashboard builder view. Users can drag and drop graphs, charts, and tables into a dashboard canvas and assign data to them to populate the visualizations. The desktop software is required to be able to build and edit reports at this time.
The screenshot below shows the report builder view in Power BI Desktop. Fields or columns of data are shown on the far right side, a visualizations panel shows the configuration options for charts and visuals and the left side is a canvas that lets you drag and drop components from the visualizations panel onto it.
Microsoft continues to invest in moving Power BI Desktop features to an online cloud version, but it is not fully featured at this time.
Where to Download Power BI Desktop
Power BI Desktop can be downloaded from Downloads | Microsoft Power BI. When you navigate to the Microsoft Power BI Desktop download section there are two options. You can click on Download which links to the Microsoft Store, or you can click Advanced download options which links to a traditional install file.
We recommend downloading the traditional install file under Advanced Download Options.
Both methods will result in downloading Power BI Desktop, but we have run into issues with deploying Power BI Desktop in a corporate environment using the Windows Store Installer. IT departments are typically less knowledgeable with Window Store installs and there are different security requirements such as running a traditional installer with administrator permissions.
To avoid potential issues, we recommend the traditional installer. You should always consult your IT department prior to installing Power BI Desktop on a corporate laptop or other computer if admin permissions are required to install software.
The Advanced Download Option will prompt you to install the 32bit or x64 version of Power BI. Most modern computers will run the x64 version which takes advantage of more computer resources to build reports faster.
After downloading, launch the installer.
The remaining options are pretty standard stuff, agree to the Microsoft user agreement, click through next a bunch of times and Power BI Desktop will be installed on your computer.
What is the Power BI Service?
The other half of Power BI is the Power BI Service. This is the online service used to publish and share reports with other users. For most people they will access it through PowerBI.com. The service is hosted by Microsoft and backed by their Azure cloud services.
A separate version of the Power BI service is available to be hosted on local infrastructure. If your organization has their own implementation of the PowerBI service, the address to access it would be different. You will need to contact your internal IT department for more information.
Over time the PowerBI Service will become populated with workspaces, or shared areas for collaboration and reports that you have access to.
Reports are created in Power BI Desktop and Published to the Power BI Service.
When you first visit PowerBI.com you will see a prompt asking you to input your work e-mail address. Typically this is your windows login or password you use to log into Outlook, Excel or other software programs. However, it can differ based on corporate IT policies.
If you are trying to install Power BI to test it out, and try it with a Google Gmail account or a person e-mail address it is possible.
The following video from Guy in a Cube will explain several different options that you may have.
It’s worth mentioning that Power BI is constantly updated, and Microsoft policies are subject to change without notice.
How to Install Power BI Updates
Microsoft updates Power BI on a monthly basis. You can download the latest installer from the Power BI download website, run the installer and update your version of Power BI Desktop. Versions of Power BI that were installed through the Windows Store will automatically update based on your windows update schedule.
For corporate deployments, you may need IT to administer Power BI desktop upgrades.
Power BI also has a feature to automatically notify you when new versions are available. Microsoft typically releases new versions on a monthly basis. While there is no requirement to update Power BI Desktop, new versions will have additional features and bug fixes.
You can keep track of version changes and new features with the Power BI Blog—Updates and News | Microsoft Power BI
How to Check the Power BI Desktop Version Currently Installed
From Power BI Desktop, navigate to the Help section of the Power BI Ribbon, and click About. A small window will popup that displays the current Power BI Desktop version. Versions have both a version number, and a major release month and year. In the example below we can see that the September 2023 version of Power BI Desktop is installed.
Installing Power BI on Mac
Microsoft does not offer a Power BI Desktop installer for Mac Computers. If you work off of an Apple laptop, common workarounds include using parallels or logging into a Windows Virtual Machine. Both of these approaches have some limitations.
Recently, Microsoft has released several new features to make it easier to edit reports and build data models directly in the Power BI Service at PowerBI.com but not all of the features are currently available compared to the desktop version.
You can learn more about using Power BI on an Apple computer with our Power BI Desktop for Mac guide.
Books and Resources to Get Started with Power BI
After installing Power BI, we recommend new users navigate to the Help section at the top of the Power BI Desktop ribbon. There are links to resources from Microsoft that include Guided Learning, Training Videos, and Example Dashboards that can provide some great ideas for what’s possible.
If your brand new and just getting started with the platform we recommend Power BI for the Excel Analyst. It’s a well written guide that takes users from an introduction to Power BI to advanced concepts such as writing queries and security role considerations.
It also bridges the gap between transitioning from the Excel analyst world to the business intelligence and data visualization world.
There are also a number of books available to help you on your Power BI journey. We put together a list of highly books that will help you not only get started with Power BI, but master many of the concepts. Whether you are new to the platform and only expect to be a casual user or if you are working towards a Power BI certification on a path to becoming a professional developer.
Power BI is Microsoft’s premier data visualization tool. There are multiple components to the platform, Power BI Desktop and the Power BI Service. The desktop application is used to build and create reports. Once a report is created it is published to the Power BI Service, typically at PowerBI.com which enables reports to be shared with other users.
When sharing reports, additional licensing requirements apply, and report viewers will usually need a license. The exact licensing requirements vary from organization to organization.
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