For those wondering what exactly brought Microsoft’s product to such a success, it might be hard to establish one single factor.
Many might assume that it’s not merely Power BI’s advancement—it’s more about Tableau’s uncertain future. As less than a month ago Salesforce announced its purchase of Tableau for quite a heavy sum, many started to doubt what the future holds for this BI platform.
At the same time, it’s possible that Power BI’s great performance is mostly due to Microsoft’s constant investment into the tool. Indeed, for the last 12 months, Power BI has been continuously releasing monthly updates, improving reporting, modeling, data preparation, and other features. Its advancing functionality and relatively affordable price might have assured Power BI’s success over the rather expensive Tableau.
Whatever the reasons behind these market positions, there is little ground to assume that Tableau will wait long until it fires back. The history of “Tableau vs Power BI” debate is as old as the hills, and it’s unlikely to end so soon.
A Short History of Tableau and Power BI Competition
Released in 2003, Tableau didn’t wait long before becoming the gold standard in data visualization. With its sophisticated functionality, the tool literally ranked second to none. Indeed, Gartner recognized it as a leader among BI tools for seven consecutive years between 2012 and 2019. Besides, it seems like users feel right at home with Tableau: as stated on their website, the tool serves over 70,000 organizations globally.
Speaking of Power BI, it saw the light later, in 2011. Released as a part of the Microsoft pack, it picked up a lot from Excel, resembling a bunch of its add-ons combined with charts and dashboard sharing. As Microsoft continuously enhanced the tool, it shortly became quite a rival to Tableau, going up against it in the Gartner Magic Quadrant.
Tableau vs Power BI, Eventually Side-by-Side
All said above might look confusing: the global interest shows that Tableau is more in demand, but the reputable Gartner states Power BI is a hands-down leader. This tendency leaves many wondering whether Tableau is dropping off at all.
To try answering these concerns objectively and to finally bring this issue to the close, we made a side-by-side comparison of the tools. Indeed, we compared the current functionality of Tableau and Microsoft Power BI, looked at the tools’ performance with data, scrutinized their flexibility, availability and usability, and, finally, checked their price lists. This is what we got.
Overall Functionality and Data Visualization
Generally speaking, both Tableau and Power BI have quite the same capabilities. Indeed, it’s pretty hard to detect any bells and whistles in Power BI that miss in Tableau, and vice versa. As visualization and dashboard creation remain the central functions of these tools, both of them deliver more than 20 different types of baseline visualizations, including heat maps, line charts, scatter plots, histograms, packed bubbles, and others.
However, many believe that in terms of data visualization, Tableau is still a cut above Power BI. Due to Tableau’s ten-year head start, the tool has certain tiny but pretty valuable features that are absent in Power BI. For example, Tableau provides opportunities for visualizing geographical data with maps and including graphics in tables. What is more, Tableau allows using different forecasting models.
Regarding dashboard creation, both tools use drag-and-drop: a user simply needs to drag a visualization item and put it in an empty spot on the dashboard. Although Tableau traditionally offers more flexibility in dashboard design, Power BI is no less a handy tool here. Besides, it has quite a valuable feature missing in Tableau: with the focus mode, a user can zoom any visualization they want to see closer. With the visualization zoomed, users can interact with it and, consequently, generate more in-depth insights from their dashboard.
As a time-tested tool, Tableau boasts a large list of external data sources. Indeed, the tool offers support for online analytical processing, big data, and cloud options. It also has Web Connector supporting its integration with Marketo, Microsoft SQL Server, and other systems.
As for Power BI, its range of data sources seems no less sophisticated. Indeed, it’s possible to name at least 70 of them. Although some of Power BI’s connectors might still be in the beta testing stage, it’s typically not a big deal for users as Microsoft continuously releases updates and improves the available data sources.
Flexibility, Availability, Support
In practice, Power BI’s biggest pitfall is its tight integration with the Microsoft stack and Microsoft Azure in particular. Such integration might be very convenient for active users of Microsoft’s enterprise-grade products. At the same time, it makes Power BI not very flexible in deployment. For users needing to use Power BI independently of the Microsoft stack, this tight integration can become a stumbling block.
The good news is that Power BI provides the option of using it on its own, albeit at a price. Power BI’s more expensive Premium account offers an on-premise solution but requires installing Power BI Server and SQL Server regardless.
Tableau proves to be more flexible—one can install the Tableau on any Windows-run device and use it without Microsoft SQL Server.
As for availability, Power BI is a SaaS product with an on-premise option available only in the Premium license. Tableau also requires users to purchase a subscription to install the product either on-premises or in the cloud.
Those users in love with Microsoft products and familiar with their interface will definitely take a liking to Power BI. It is especially true after the tool’s latest update in June, as Microsoft has made Power BI look and work much more like a Microsoft application.
Indeed, the tool has new Office-like panes, footer, icons, and colors. Microsoft also promises to add a new default theme for reporting and an “object grouping” feature in September 2019. The latter strongly reminds PowerPoint’s function of grouping objects on the report page, moving and resizing them as containers.