Power BI vs Tableau – A Detailed Comparison

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- Written by Puneet

In today’s world, over 120 zettabytes of data are generated daily. Hence, businesses, including Fortune 500 companies, rely on data to make smart business decisions. The process of getting, processing, and analyzing raw datasets and presenting your findings in a visual format for easy grasp among individuals or stakeholders is called business intelligence (BI) analytics. This is possible with the help of tools known as business intelligence tools. 

Tableau and Power BI are two industrial-leading BI tools shaping how businesses analyze and interpret data. As a BI analyst, choosing the right tool can be a significant decision in your career. 

In this article, we compare Power BI and Tableau as business intelligence tools, exploring their similarities and differences, as well as their pros and cons. By the end, you should be able to decide which is right for your data science or analytic needs.

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Comparison of Power Bi vs Tableau in Visualization

Visualization in Power BI

visualization-in-tableau

Background And History of Business Intelligence Tools

Business intelligence tools such as Power BI and Tableau dated some years back and have evolved through several developmental stages to become the leading business analytics platforms, offering a comprehensive suite of data visualization, analysis, and collaboration tools.

Let’s see how these tools have evolved:

Power BI

Microsoft Power BI lets you quickly connect to data, prepare, model, visualize, and share insights. For instance, you can connect to an Excel spreadsheet, Salesforce, or Google Analytics, prepare, clean, transform, and model your data using DAX (Data Analysis Expressions), and create interactive dashboards to share with your team. You can also embed these reports into your website.

The development of Power BI can be traced to Microsoft’s earlier efforts in the business intelligence (BI) space:

Power Pivot

Power Pivot was first released as a free Excel add-in in 2010 by Microsoft. It is a data analysis tool that allows you to combine multiple Excel files into one file, create relationships between tables, and work with larger datasets than Excel can handle.

Power View

Power View, on the other hand, was released in 2012 in an attempt to compete with Tableau’s amazing visualizations. It is a strong visualization tool that you can use to access data in an Excel workbook or external source and create stunning visualizations.

Power Query

In 2013, Microsoft released ‘‘Data Explorer’’ and renamed it Power Query later the same year. The goal is to make data accessible for use in Power Pivot. The Power Query ( also known as ‘‘Get & Transform’’) performs the ETL process known as Extract, Transform, and Load. This means you can import data from different sources, such as an Excel workbook or SharePoint, transform and model the data, and then load it back into the Excel workbook. 

The good thing about Power Query is that you’re not limited to the number of rows and columns in Excel.

Power BI

Power BI was finally released in 2015 as a stand-alone application that integrates Power Pivot, Power View, and Power Query in one place. It allows you to visualize and analyze data from various sources to derive actionable insights.

power-bi-evolution

Tableau

Tableau is the king of data visualization. You can create interactive visuals and dashboards by a simple drag and drop of data fields into its canvas. It is a powerful and widely used data visualization and analytics tool that enables users to explore and understand their data quickly and easily. Organizations use it to create interactive and shareable dashboards, reports, and visualizations to gain insights and make data-driven decisions.

Tableau started as a data visualization tool with the main goal of helping businesses view their data visually. However, with the launch of Tableau Prep in recent versions, you can perform data preparation such as adding calculated columns, data modelling, and cleaning.

The idea of Tableau is to allow businesses to view their data visually. It was founded in 2003 by Chris Stolte, Christian Chatbot, and Pat Hanrahan in the United States and was later acquired by Salesforce in 2019.

Power BI vs Tableau: System Requirements

Power BI

  • Operating System: for Windows, Power BI Desktop is no longer supported on Windows 8.1. You need Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016. Power BI Desktop is not directly available to Mac users but can run on macOS using virtualization software like Parallels Desktop or Boot Camp.
  • Processor: 1.6 GHz or faster processor, 64-bit dual-core processor recommended.
  • RAM: Atleast 2GB RAM of free hard drive space for Power BI report server and 4GB or more for Power BI desktop.
  • Web browser: Microsoft Edge browser (Internet Explorer 11 no longer supported). 
  • Screen resolution: Minimum of 1440×900 or 1600×900 (16:9) required.  Lower resolutions such as 1024×768 or 1280×800 are not supported.
  • .Net Framework: Power BI Desktop requires .Net framework 4.7.2 or later. 

Learn more on Power BI system requirements.

Tableau

  • Operating System: Supports Windows 8 / 8.1, 10 or 11 (64-bit).  macOS Big Sur 11.4+, macOS Monterey 12.6+ (for Tableau 2022.3+), macOS Ventura (for Tableau 2022.3+) and macOS Sonoma (for Tableau 2022.3+).
  • RAM: 2GB memory and at least 1.5GB of free disk space. 
  • Processor: Windows CPUs must support SSE4.2 and POPCNT instruction sets. For MacOS, Intel processors, Apple Silicon processors (using Rosetta)

To learn more on Tableau compatibility with your system, visit Tableau website

Power BI vs Tableau

Ease of Use

Power BI and Tableau are both user-friendly. The question of ease of use depends on individual preference. Tableau’s drag-and-drop features and the flexibility of creating stunning visuals make it more desirable for data visualization against Power BI. However, Power BI has more robust data cleaning and modelling tools. We will consider ease-of-use based on the following criteria:

UI/UX Design

Tableau interface kind of feels like an Apple product. It is less clunky and easier to navigate when compared to Power BI. Power BI on the other hand is relatively complex and has a lot going on the interface. 

Integration

Power BI integrates smoothly with other Microsoft products such as Azure, SQL databases and more. If you are already in the Microsoft ecosystem, Power BI might feel natural to migrate to. Also, Tableau integrates seamlessly with various Microsoft products. You can also connect to Salesforce, Google Analytics and more. 

Data Manipulation / Cleaning

Power BI seems to win Tableau in terms of data manipulation and cleaning. With the availability of Power Query and DAX (Data Analysis Expression), people migrating from Excel to Power BI can easily manipulate and prepare data for analysis.

Data cleaning is not available by default in Tableau. In most cases, you work on cleaned data, or you can get Tableau Prep for data cleaning and manipulation. Tableau Public provides a data connector where you can model data by creating relationships between them. 

In summary, data Manipulation and cleaning can be done using Tableau and Power BI. However, you might need to purchase Tableau Prep and for those migrating from Excel, data cleaning and manipulation will feel like starting from scratch.  

Creating Visuals and Dashboard

Both Tableau and Power BI are user-friendly for creating charts and visualizations. However, Tableau offers more flexibility in creating stunning visuals; you can create eye-catching data visualizations that look like infographics, which you can’t easily create within Power BI. Tableau is described as an artist of the data world, while Power BI is limited in what you can do with your visuals.

Data Connection/ Performance

Tableau and Power BI work well with various data sources. Because Power BI is a Microsoft product, it integrates smoothly with Azure and other Microsoft products. With Tableau, you can also connect seamlessly to other data sources, including Microsoft SharePoint, SQL Server, and more. 

While Tableau can pick up an unlimited dataset, Power BI, depending on the version you’re using, has a maximum capacity of one hundred terabytes (100TB).

Power BI seems to have a lot more options when it comes to data connectivity. For example, you can use ‘Exchange Online’ in Power BI to pick up email attachments for analysis and visualization. Whereas in Tableau, you might need to work with other Software.

In summary, Power BI and Tableau connect to various data sources. Many organizations using Microsoft products can easily pull data from these sources and present it in Power BI. Tableau, a product of Salesforce, is less compatible with Microsoft products. 

Pricing and Licensing

The cost of purchasing Power BI or Tableau can be a determining factor, especially as a business, coach, or consultant. For practice, individuals can use free options like Power BI Desktop or Tableau Public. 

Power BI Price

  • Power BI Desktop_Free: Students and individuals who want to learn Power BI can practice with the free desktop version. One of the limitations of Power BI Desktop is that it doesn’t allow collaboration or sharing of reports. 
  • Power BI Pro_$10 per user/month: Offers lots of customization to your report and dashboards. It’s a cloud-based self-service BI solution that enables collaboration, publishing, sharing, and ad hoc analysis. 
  • Power BI Premium_$20 per user/ month: A cloud-based enterprise BI system supporting big data analytics, cloud, and on-premise reporting. It has a dedicated cloud computing and storage test and allows all users to consume Power BI content. 

Tableau Price

  • Tableau Public_Free: Users can download Tableau Public Desktop, create and share interactive dashboards via the web using Tableau Public Cloud at no cost.
  • Tableau Explorer_$42 per user/month: This is usually for occasional and simple reporting. It includes access to Tableau Server or Tableau Online. The Explorer license allows limited reporting in the browser.
  • Tableau Creator _ $75 per user/month: This is the most expensive license and provides the full functionality a data analyst or scientist needs, including Tableau Desktop, Tableau Prep Builder, and Tableau Server or Tableau Online.
  • Tableau Viewer _$15 per user/month: This is a consumer license designed for users who need to view and interact with dashboards created by others. It includes access to Tableau Server or Tableau Online. 

For detailed information, visit Tableau website.

Language Model

Power BI and Tableau use separate languages for data manipulation and performing calculations to reduce the granularity of data during analysis and visualization. 

Power BI

Power BI leverages two main languages for data cleaning and manipulation:

  • M Language: Power BI utilizes the M language in Power Query for data cleaning and transformation. You can perform various data preparation tasks such as extraction, transformation and Loading (ETL). 
  • DAX function: Power BI employs the data analysis expression (DAX) as in Microsoft Excel for data modelling and performing calculations such as calculated columns, measures and calculated tables.

Tableau

Tableau uses the Level of detailed expression (LOD) for performing calculations, providing greater flexibility in analysis. In addition to LOD, Tableau offers various functions such as date and Text functions to manipulate and transform data fields within the canvas. These functions allow users to aggregate and perform formatting operations on data fields to create insightful reports and dashboards. 

Collaboration and Sharing

Both Tableau and Power BI offer sharing and collaboration features enabling users to collaborate and share insight with colleagues and stakeholders. 

Tableau:

  • Tableau Public Server: You can publish and share reports and dashboards created with Tableau Public Desktop on Tableau Public Server. This report will be accessible to anyone on the Internet. There is no access control or permission settings for reports shared through the Tableau public platform.  
  • Tableau Server or Tableau Online: offers enterprise-level solutions that allow businesses and organizations to securely share their reports and dashboards. With Tableau Server and Tableau Online, you can publish your report to a private server and control access based on certain criteria. 

Either way, publishing and sharing reports is great for getting feedback on your report and showcasing your skills.

Power BI:

Previously, Power BI desktop didn’t allow users to publish and share reports through the Power BI Service. However, Microsoft recently incorporated Power BI Service in the free desktop version. Regardless of your Power BI licensing tier, you can share and publish reports on the Power BI website. 

It is important to note that you may experience certain limitations on some features and capabilities when sharing and publishing using the free desktop version.

Power BI vs Tableau: Advantage and Disadvantage

Power BI 

Pros:

  • Strong data cleaning and modelling. 
  • Integrates smoothly with other Microsoft services such as Teams, SharePoint or Azure. 
  • Enables pixel-perfect PDF report printouts. 
  • Integration of MS Excel plus Power Query functionality enables easy migration. 

Cons:

  • Need a longer learning curve. 
  • Need a corporate account to create advanced visualization. 

Tableau

Pros:

  • Flexible visualizations
  • Ease to use because of its intuitive interface. 
  • Faster learning curve when creating basic charts.
  • Simple switch between live connection and extract connection of data. 
  • Strong community support including internal support community.tableau.com and external community e.g., #datafam. 
  • Effective Dashboarding such as floating and fixed layout.

Cons:

  • The free version lacks strong data cleaning and modelling features. 

Software Update

Tableau updates every three to six months whereas Power BI updates every month with changes in user interface, adding new features and functionalities. 

Final Thought (Recommendation)

The question of which BI tool to use depends on your goals as an individual or a business. We suggest you ask yourself questions like, what are my goals? Or which organizations do I want to work with and what BI tool do they use? Finding answers to these questions may help you determine which tool meets your data science or analytics needs. Overall, businesses and organizations may want to consider cost, sharing options, and ease of integration with other software.

Last Updated: April 24, 2024