Microsoft readies new free version of its Power BI business intelligence service

Microsoft is planning to introduce a free version of its Power BI business-intelligence tools/service, and will cut prices on its new, fully featured Pro version.

Microsoft is teeing up a new free version of its Power BI set of business-intelligence tools for managing, visualizing and interacting with data, company officials said on January 27.

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When Microsoft hits general availability of its updated Power BI version, which is currently available to test for free, it will introduce a new free version of the service, which it will call plain-old Power BI. It also will continue to offer a more feature-rich version it has christened "Power BI Pro" for $9.99 per user per month -- which is 75 percent cheaper than the cost of the existing version of Power BI.

(Microsoft officials are declining to say when they expect the new Power BI versions to be commercially available.)

The free Power BI version has a data capacity limit of 1 GB/user; Pro will have a 10 GB/user limit. There are also differences between the two versions in their data refresh and collaboration capabilities, as outlined in the chart below:

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(For a larger version of this chart, go here.)

The free Power BI version won't require an Office 365 subscription (it's a standalone service, Microsoft officials said) or even Excel. To use, customerssign up with an e-mail address -- no Microsoft Account required -- and access from a browser or Power BI client app.

Microsoft officials also reconfirmed today that it will be introducing in the coming months new client versions of Power BI for iPhone, Android and Universal Windows (for phones, tablets and PCs). Microsoft made available in December a preview version of its Power BI app for iPad.

Microsoft officials also reiterated plans for a number of the coming Power BI features the company announced in December 2014, including:

Dashboards: Power BI customers can now see all their data through a single pane of glass. Live Power BI dashboards show visualizations and key performance indicators (KPIs) from data that reside both on-premises and in the cloud.

New visualizations: Combo charts, fill maps, gauges, tree maps and funnel charts give customers more ways to view their data in Power BI.

Out-of-the-box connectors for SaaS services: These connectors help customers get started with Power BI more quickly. Supported services include Dynamics CRM Online and Dynamics Marketing, GitHub, Marketo, Salesforce, SendGrid and Zendesk.

Live connectivity to SQL Server Analysis Services: With the new Power BI connector for SQL Server Analysis Services, users can create a secure connection to Analysis Services on-premises from Power BI in the cloud.

Power BI Designer: For Power BI customers who don't have access to Excel 2013, the new Power BI Designer provides a solution designed for Power BI content creation. It can be used to import and model data, then author and publish Power BI reports to the Power BI service.

All of these new features are available for testing today, but currently for U.S. users only. Microsoft will expand international availability "in the future," according to today's blog post.

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