Microsoft adds natural language search to its Power BI preview

Microsoft's Q&A natural-language search technology is one of the new additions to its Power BI for Office 365 preview.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

In July, Microsoft announced plans for a public preview of a new suite of business intelligence tools, known as Power BI for Office 365. On September 25, Microsoft added a few new capabilities to that preview.


Power BI for Office 365 allows users with data analysis and visualization capabilities to get deeper insights from their on-premises and cloud data, as Microsoft described the technology earlier this year. Microsoft officials demonstrated Power BI at the company's Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston in July, highlighting the natural-language search capability in Power BI.

It turns out that the natural-language search technology, codenamed "InfoNav," wasn't actually in the public preview that Microsoft delivered this past summer. That technology is only being added to the public preview today, according to the Softies.

InfoNav, officially known as "Q&A," is a natural language query engine that helps users ask questions of their data by typing into a dialog box which the system then understands and generates answers in the form of interactive tables, charts and graphs." Q&A was developed together by Server and Tools, Microsoft Research and the Bing teams, as Microsoft officials told me earlier this year. Microsoft officials have declined to say if and when other Microsoft services would be powered by InfoNav/Q&A.

Other new additions to the Power BI preview include two preview add-ins for Excel with 3D mapping visualizations through Power Map and improved data search in Power Query.

Power BI is a suite of tools, including PowerPivot, Power View, Power Query and Power Maps. PowerPivot provides self-service data modeling. Power Query (formerly known as "Data Explorer," allows data to be imported into PowerPivot data models from a variety of sources, including FaceBook and the Hadoop Distributed File System (HDFS). Power View provides self-service data-visualization capabilities. Power Maps (formerly known as "GeoFlow") is for viewing data containing geographical attributes in Bing Maps. Microsoft is building a native mobile Power BI app for Windows 8 and Windows RT devices, as well as one for iPads.

The Power BI preview is available at http://www.office.com/powerbi. There's no word on when Microsoft expects to make Power BI commercially available.

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