IT & Technology

Power BI vs. Tableau: 8 differences you should know

At a glance they might look the same, but at a closer look you get two different Data Solutions.

Power BI vs. Tableau: 8 differences you should know
Editorial Team
November 30, 2016
Power BI vs. Tableau: 8 differences you should know

Big data decisions: Tableau or Microsoft Power BI?

So, you need to get yourself, your team or your company on board the data analysis train, but are unsure of what program will meet your needs. Think of it like this:

If data analysis were a camera, what would you buy: 1. Nothing, my iPhone has a camera on it 2. The latest Nikon DSLR

If you answered nothing, then Power BI may be for you:

• It’s free with a Microsoft 365 subscription

• You can extract, connect and modify data from different sources

• You can make cool looking visuals, place them in reports and dashboards

• Post your reports and dashboards online and share with colleagues.

If you are into the details, customization, and willing to spend more time getting to know the intricate gadgets and features, then Tableau may be your pick:

• Mastering the program requires time, energy and training

• Tableau can manage tons of data - gigabytes

• It offers a wide selection of visually stunning charts and infographs to wow even the savviest analyst

• Just about every feature is customizable

Learnit wants to help you make the best decision, which is why we are providing you with this guide to compare Tableau to Power BI.

(Skip down to the bottom for an easy-to-read table on pros and cons of each).

1) First to show up on the scene

The 2016 Gartner Report stated that Tableau is the industry leader in data analytics, running the data analysis show since 2003. Tableau was designed to enable a wide range of data analysts (beginner to advanced) to: 1. Quickly learn the program 2. Effectively import and organize complex data sets 3. Turn data into easy to understand and catchy visuals, charts and graphs

Microsoft Power BI (Power BI) entered the scene this year, and is quickly proving to be Tableau’s competitor (see Figure 1). Power BI was created to ensure that anyone with a comfortable understanding of Excel, can effectively master data analysis. Power BI is one of the first data analysis programs focused on getting everyone, from engineers to project managers to financial analysts, and yes even CEOs and executives, to speak the same language. It is also free if you have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription!

2) Which is easier to use?

Learners find that Power BI is easy to use initially however, Power BI does require training if you want to dive deeper into its features. Watching a video or two can get you started on Tableau, but mastery the intricacies of the program require time, discipline and some training.

3) Creating stunning visuals

Tableau makes it easy to gather data and tell your story through incredible maps infographs, charts and dashboards. The wide selection of charts and endless customizations can keep you busy for hours.

One of the most exciting features about Power BI is the Power BI community-driven Visuals Gallery. Hundreds of visuals at your fingertips and weekly updates will ensure that you continue to be captivated and amazed.

We recommend checking these out: • BubblesSunburstInfographic DesignerWord Cloud


4) Geospatial mapping

With geospatial mapping, Tableau is more flexible than Power BI at accurately locating street addresses, states and cities. Power BI maps integrate with Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, to enable users to assign geo-coordinates to their data. The mapping feature has some progress to make. Bing does not always get the location correct, i.e. your data says “Washington,” and Bing picks up Washington, DC. You may have to add new columns of data (street address, or latitude/longitude) to create an accurate map.

5) Do you require the capability to customize?

Power BI limits customizations. For example, visuals from the Gallery are not always customizable. Along with downloading visuals in Power BI, users must reimport the visual each time for a new document, rather than being able to save it for next time. Tableau, by contrast has endless points of customization. Whatever you can think up, you can do.

Data points—Power BI limits users to 3,500 data points. If you have more data points included in the visual, the only way to see certain data will be to use the filter to pair it down to under 3,500. If you exceed that number, Power BI will only map some of the data randomly, and there will be a tiny warning message in the upper left corner explaining that data is missing from view. you can create and share your own visuals with Power BI users. W

6) Creating data models

For users familiar with Power Pivot, data modeling in Power BI is a natural shoe-in. Build data models directly in the program, including: • Create complex relationships across data sets • Combine data from multiple locations • Add columns and rows, combine and filter • Import data from one table to another • Normalize data

Tableau has all the capabilities above, plus some, including: • Sharing features that let team members model data and share • Modify and customize visuals based on models already created by others • Handles extremely large datasets (gigabytes of data) with better load time • Similar Excel function language making this program understandable to Excel users • More efficient writing SQL syntax

7) Integration with other applications

Power BI as part of Microsoft Office 365, is fully integrated into the Microsoft Suite and therefore works very well with Excel, Share Point, OneDrive and other Microsoft apps. Perks include: • Easy to refresh data. • Create queries from Excel, Power BI Desktop, the web Access, and Azure to name a few.

External data sources include and are not limited to:

Access • Active Directory • Azure SQL • DB2 • Excel • Exchange • Facebook GitHub Google AnalyticsHDFS HDInsigh Marketo Microsoft Dynamics CRMMicrosoft Dynamics MarketingMySQL OData Oracle Postgres • Power BI Designer • Salesforce SAPBusinessObjectsBI UniverseSendGridSharePointSQL Server • SQL Server Analysis Services • SybaseTeradataWeb tablesVisual Studio OnlineZendesk

Tableau Personal is restricted to six data sources; and Tableau Public (free version) can use four data sources. Tableau can import data effectively, even if it is not perfectly formatted. Tableau Professional can connect to a wide assortment of data sources, including: • Excel workbooks • Character- and tab-delimited files • Statistical files • Over 40 server types

8) On-the-go and sharing capabilities

Both programs are accessible on mobile devices. A key advantage of Power BI are the sharing capabilities. You can segment information based on consumer need, and hide and filter data for different audiences. Tableau has similar features, and has just released version 9.3 that has enhanced internal and external sharing and collaboration features to keep up with Power BI.


Deciding whether to choose Tableau vs. Power BI depends on your company’s or your own data analysis needs and available resources. Tableau has more capability, offers more customization of visuals and features, and enables users to import larger amounts of data, however the cost and time spent training are also significantly more. Power BI has less capability, however for non-data analysis employees or people who are comfortable with Excel, it is easier for to get up to speed, learn the fundamentals quickly and it is free.