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Greg_Deckler

First Impressions - Tabular Editor 3

Introduction

OK, so @DebbieE asked a question in the forums here. Essentially the question is about whether the new paid version of Tabular Editor is "worth it". For those of you that do not know, until recently Tabular Editor was a free, open source tool that allowed direct editing of tabular data models created by Power BI. With Tabular Editor you can do things that you can't do in Power BI Desktop, like create Calculation Groups for example. The free edition is still available but the new version, Tabular Editor 3 (TE3) is now a paid subscription. TE3 comes with a laundry list of new features but, the question remains, is it worth paying for?

 

Now, I gave a bit of a cheeky response to @DebbieE, which, I'm quite certain, surprises zero percent of the population. But...but...I ended up feeling that @DebbieE deserved an actual proper response to her inquiry and hence I figured I'd download the evaluation copy of TE3 and take a shot at some kind of review or something. Which, let's all be honest, is in all likelihood almost certain to come out quite cheeky but I can't help myself, it's in my nature. So, hoping I don't drown in a river, here we go!

 

Installation

Alright, first you have to download and install the tool before you can use it. You can download TE3 here. Nice, simple download page, there is even a 64-bit version. Nice! I downloaded that one. Nice, fast 40 MB download of an MSI package and double-click. A short next, next, finish later and we're all set apparently. I fired up Power BI Desktop and was pleasantly surprised to find that TE3 had registered itself in the External Tools section of the Power BI ribbon and, even better, had not replaced my original installation of TE2. Very nice. I was actually worried that it was going to blow away my access to TE2 so kudos to the TE3 team for that!

Greg_Deckler_0-1629858489344.png

Figure 1: External Tools in Power BI Desktop

 

And, just in case you are wondering and want to install the free version of Tabular Editor, you can still do that here.

 

So, as far as installation is concerned, 10 out of 10! Thanks for not making my Tabular Editor 2 version unusable.

 

First Impression

OK, so I opened up my latest "working" file, the one I use to help me answer questions on the forums. And yes, as you can see in the image above, I am on my eighty first file for that. And, go to External Tools and click on both Tabular Editor and Tabular Editor 3. Now, let's start comparing. First Tabular Editor 2 launched in under 5 seconds with my data model all loaded up. TE3 on the other hand, by comparison, took forever. A good 20 seconds ticked by before it launched and, booo, it is requesting personal information in order to activate the 30-day free trial. So, enter my email address and, huh, blank TOM Explorer. Alright, close TE3, relaunch it from Power BI Desktop and 20-30 seconds later I have it open and my data model loads this time. Great.

 

Now, asking for personal information, not loading the data model the first time and the loooong loading time aside, the interface is definitely more polished and less stark as you can see in the following images:

Greg_Deckler_1-1629859567271.png

Figure 2: Tabular Editor 2.x

 

Greg_Deckler_2-1629859630778.png

Figure 3: Tabular Editor 3

 

So, great, doesn't look like an open source project any longer, which is good, because it's not. Fantastic. Oh, but let's take a quick peak at Task Manager. 

Greg_Deckler_3-1629859884162.png

Figure 4: TE3 is a memory hog

OK, OUCH! Almost 10 times the memory utilization running against the same model as the original Tabular Editor. I guess all that fancy chrome costs memory! Maybe that's why it took so long to load, it was busy sucking up all of my memory. And yes, ha ha, I run way too many browser tabs.

 

Alright, so let's score this thing. We have it asking for personal information to use something that is touted as free, which, I'll be honest, I personally despise that sort of thing and then, to add insult to injury, it didn't even load my model the first time because it was busy extorting me for personal information. Oh, and it's dog slow to load and eats memory worse than Teams (or even Outlook). And here we all thought Outlook was the biggest memory hog of all time. But, on the plus side, it looks pretty.

 

C, I give it a C for first impression. Certainly worthy of a passing grade but, meh, nothing to write home about.

 

Usability

Alright, usability is always hard because it's easy to fall into the "moved my cheese" trap. So let's try not to do that. Let's start by trying to create a Calculation Group because that's one of the hallmark things you might use TE for. In TE2, you can click on Model in the menu and then Calculation Group and no matter where you are in the TOM Explorer, you can create a Calculation Group. Now, I searched for a good 5-10 minutes trying to figure out how to create a Calculation Group in TE3 without success. I got so desparate I even humbled myself to click on Help and searched the online documentation. No dice. I finally, finally, discovered that if I right-click on Tables in the TOM Explorer I get a Create and then Calcluation Group. Or, if I click on Tables, a contextual menu item appears called Tables and I can click that, then Create and then Calculation Group. Damnit. They moved my cheese!! Alright, cheese aside, not nearly as nice of an experience overall and a minimum of 4 clicks versus 2. 

 

OK, not the end of the world. But, there is an interface bug here. So, you still can't create Relationships and it is kind of nice that when you right-click Relationships in the TOM Explorer you don't get the grayed-out option that makes you think you are doing something wrong, you just get no options other than Properties, which is already present in the default layout soooo... In any case, the bug is in those contextual menu items. So, in the TOM Explorer if you click on Data Sources, Relationships or Shared Expressions a corresponding contextual item appears in the menu. Except that when you click that contextual menu item there are no options. Worse, the contextual elements in the menu cease to appear clicking on the other top-level items in the TOM Explorer. So, close TE3, reopen after 20-30 seconds and back in business. Note to self, don't use those contextual menu items as they mess things up. Also note, that's not the only way to make the contextual menu items stop appearing. There are apparently other ways but that one works every time.

 

At the end of the day, creating Calculations Groups really hasn't changed any, you still do it in that Properties pane essentially after you create the Calculation Group, expand it and so on. 

 

So, in any case, more clicks to do things, interface bugs, I have to rate usability a 2 out of 5 stars. Yes, sure the ability to customize the interface is nice and the type ahead is nice and while you could do the equivalent of the Vertipaq Analyzer before, the new menu options for it are very nice. But bugs are bugs and clicks are clicks. Can't have a neutral or positive score if you can find an interface bug in 10 minutes.

 

Features

OK, let's be clear, I don't consider interface changes as features. Also, being able to do the same thing as before with slightly fewer steps, also not a feature (Veripaq Analyzer for example). Also, slightly improved things like the new Find and Replace dialogs, again, that more falls into the usability camp. OK, so the new type ahead functionality for entering code is nice. The new diagram view with the ability to create relationships is nice, but not anywhere close as nice as Power BI Desktop. It's just plain rudimentary by comparison. The ability to view data in a table is cool I guess although, again, doesn't hold a candle to viewing the data in a table in Power BI Desktop. Pivot grid is also kind of interesting. But again, why am I doing that here and not in Power BI Desktop?

 

Honestly, I struggled to find that "killer", have to have feature for TE3. There are some cool and interesting new features to be sure but I couldn't find that one thing that I had to have. Admittedly, I could be missing it. Bottom line though I use Tabular Editor when I have to do something that I can't do in Power BI Desktop like Calculation Groups and localization. So adding features that equate to things that I can already do better in Power BI Desktop are lost on me. 

 

OK, so a rating. Well, there are new features. I don't find any of them a "must have" personally but you may feel differently.

 

Documentation

Well, my mother always told me that if I didn't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all. Sooo...

 

Conclusion

OK, so the question remains, is TE3 worth paying for? Well, download it and see for yourself.

 

Alright, fine. I won't cop-out. Honestly, here I am quite torn. On the one hand, I am thrilled to see open source fail once again and people realize that open source harms, versus helps, innovation. So, yet another open source project dies on the vine? Oooooo weee, what a surprise. Open source is perhaps the worst idea in history and the entire concept should die the most excruciating, painful death imaginable. So, good riddance! On the other hand, I don't see anything I would be willing to pay for as long as I have access to the free, open source version. Which, by the way, exactly proves my point about how awful open source is. I would rather use the open source version than pay for the continued development of Tabular Editor, which ends up harming innovation and progress and... You get the idea. Hold on while I descend from my soap box.

 

I think beyond that, I have a real problem with the licensing. Basically it starts at $10/user/month and you don't even get the full feature set for that price. To think about this another way, if you had $10 to spend per month, would you buy Power BI Pro or Tabular Editor? Without question, I'm going with Power BI Pro. Is adding features that I can do for free in Power BI Desktop or Visual Studio going to compel me to buy it? No, not likely. And then the pricing gets really steep, $35/user/month and then $95/user/month. I mean, you probably spend less on a Tableau license, and that's saying something! 🙂

 

Anyway, this review likely came out a bit harsher than intended. It is obvious there has been a tremendous amount of time and effort put into the product and it remains one of those gems that allows you to do really awesome things that are more difficult or impossible to do otherwise. So, I really, really appreciate all of the hard work, time, sweat and effort that has been put into it and I deeply value the contributions the Tabular Editor team have made to the community. But I'm still not shelling out $120, $420 or over $1000 a year for it. Sorry.

 

I mean, sure, if you can get the company to pay for it, knock yourself out. Companies pay for software they never use all the time...

Comments

The pricing scheme is absurd, and definitely meant to rip off large companies. 

Thanks for providing this honest review @Greg_Deckler. We're already working on improving the startup time and reducing the application footprint, and those bugs you identified will also be addressed - thanks for letting us know!

 

I feel that some clarification on our pricing model and intended audience is in order:

Tabular Editor (both versions) were originally designed with Analysis Services developers in mind. Comparing the price of Tabular Editor 3 to a Power BI Pro license doesn't make much sense, since Tabular Editor 3 is a tool for model developers - not BI consumers. We decided to offer the Desktop Edition (10$/month) for self-service analysts or model developers who exclusively use Power BI Desktop for their data modeling, thus offering a premium experience over the free open-source version of Tabular Editor, which is not going away.

 

The Business (35$/month) and Enterprise (95$/month) Editions primarily target Analysis Services developers, who would otherwise have to use SSDT/Visual Studio for Tabular model development. Compared to SSDT/VS, we believe that Tabular Editor 3 provides tremendous value in terms of productivity benefits and time saved. It also enables parallel development, source control integration, workflow automation, etc., which is all something that is very difficult to achieve using only the standard products. When deciding the pricing model, we looked at other productivity tools for DBAs and BI developers; tools such as Red Gate's productivity plugins for SSMS: It's certainly possible to make do without these tools, but everything just gets so much easier once you have them.

It's important to highlight that the Desktop Edition of Tabular Editor 3 does not have any feature limitations compared to the other editions (if you disregard that Power BI Desktop doesn't support all modeling operations - that will hopefully change in the future) - we only limit it such that you can't use it for Analysis Services Tabular development and development against the Power BI XMLA endpoint. The rationale here is that, if your company can afford paying for Power BI Premium Capacity, Azure AS or SQL Server on-premises, then they should be able to afford premium developer tooling as well. And honestly, if you've ever used SSDT/VS for Tabular development, you will see that the productivity benefits gained from switching over to Tabular Editor should return that investment quite fast.

But just to be perfectly clear: The open source version of Tabular Editor is not going anywhere, so if you don't feel like you get your money's worth of productivity benefits with Tabular Editor 3, by all means please use the open source version, and please continue to submit feature requests and bug reports!

@dotykier Comparing Tabular editor 3 to Redgate Tools is like comparing a Toyota Prius to a Mercedes E class and still expecting them to pay more for the Toyota.

The second problem with your pricing model and argument is, in my opinion, those of us who only use modeling tool's part time is we are paying monthly for something we might not use.

 

Personally, I would be a lot happier paying an Upfront fee and a much smaller on going fee so maintenance and upgrades

Personally, I would be a lot happier paying an Upfront fee and a much smaller on going fee so maintenance and upgrades

You mean, like RedGate does? 😉

I agree.

This is fantastic. Thanks so much @Greg_Deckler 

Hi,

 

here are my thoughts regarding TE3.


1.Documentation
... is not sufficient for a commercial product in this price range.

Example 1:
I want to start with Desktop usage and I am confused that it is not possible to open a PBIX file
Both "How-to-Guides" apply only to Business and Enterprise, not Desktop.
The documentation does not describe how this works.

Example 2:
I want to try what the menu "view" offers, e.g. Macros. I don't find the information what it does and how this works in the documentation.


2. Evaluation
It is difficult or rather impossible to understand, which functions within the product-UI will be available depending on the license type. I would like to evaluate the full product first, but if I come to the conclusion that the benefits are not high enough for purchasing it, I would like to continue with the Business or Desktop scope.
It would be good if it were possible to have a switch in the product, only usable within the trial phase, that would allow to change the behaviour according to the license type that the user wants to evaluate.


3. Price
I want to add to the discussion, that the benefits alone are not the only criteria that are relevant.
The product prices on the software give an indication of what development capacity, speed of development, support and so on one can get for a specific price.
So even if they are totally different products, 10$ Software like Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft 365 Business Standard, Power BI Pro give an indication of what a customer can expect: many many developers, capabilities, support capacity, documentation ...
The current state of Tabular Editor seems to be very good and maybe better than other software that was created with 10 times as many developers. But who knows whether it is possible to keep the necessary innovation speed to be up-to-date with Microsofts very fast product cycles.

 

I didn't make up my mind yet, which edition (if at all) I would suggest to use in our department.

 

However, if our company will not buy the software, I'm pretty sure that I will subscribe to at lease a year of personal edition for my learning and blogging work, to support the great work that has been done already with TE2.
(And for this case, something like a community edition not for productive work, but with all features, would be great)

 

Regards
Michael

 

I would like to add one specific question to Daniel 

 

What do you mean when you write "source control integration"? In Visual Studio I find a good integration for Analysis Services and actually we are using it with TFS. 

In TE3 I can't see anything that looks like "source control"

 

Thanks & Regards

Michael

Thanks @Michael_Mertens for your input.

 

1. Agreed. We need to do much better in this area. Regarding your example 1: It's not possible to load a PBIX file directly in Tabular Editor, since the PBIX file format is proprietary to Microsoft. Tabular Editor 3 Desktop Edition is only intended to be used as an External Tool for Power BI Desktop - see below.

2. What can we do to improve our communication in this area? When you click on the "Learn more" link on our front page, you are taken to this page which compares all 3 editions. As mentioned on that page, we provide the exact same features on all editions (including the evaluation edition), but we limit the data modeling scenarios on the Desktop and Business editions. For example, if you want to connect to the Power BI XMLA Endpoint of a Premium Per User workspace, you will need the Business Edition. If you want to connect to the XMLA Endpoint of a Premium Capacity workspace, you will need the Enterprise Edition.

3. We will continue to evaluate our pricing model over time. Keep in mind that Tabular Editor is a niche product - we don't have millions of users as the other products you mention, which all target a much broader audience than Tabular Editor. Specialty tools are always more expensive than commonly used ones.

Regarding my comment on source control integration: Tabular Editor offers a way to serialize the model metadata into a file/folder format where individual model objects (measures, partitions, etc.) are stored as small, individual json files, instead of storing all of the metadata in one huge file (the Model.bim json file produced by Visual Studio), or a binary file format (the .pbix file produced by Power BI Desktop). If you're used to working with version control such as Git, you'll immediately recognize the benefit of this. By splitting up the model metadata this way, parallel development scenarios become much easier, as you would otherwise often encounter merge conflicts. Now granted, you still need another tool to actually check-in/commit your files to source control, but we do have Git integration directly in Tabular Editor 3's UI on the roadmap for delivery later this year.

Again, thanks for the honest feedback - we really value this kind of discussion.

Hi Daniel,

 

thanks for your answers.

Let me start with the easy point, the source control integration. You convinced me already, the advanced storage (separate files vs. one big bim) has more benefits than the integration itself (and if this will come later -> perfect, (I hope you think about TFS on premises, too)).

 

2. is the difficult and complex point for me, I need to elaborate a little bit...


a) the concept


I'm used to work with a clear concept: there is one Visual Studio project with all the metadata, and you deploy against a server. When working with separate tools, it gets more difficult to understand, where the "version of the truth" of the metadata is.
The tools must sync somehow. I tried to understand how this works for example in Power BI Dektop mode.

My findings from https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/transform-model/desktop-external-tools are: PBI Desktop needs to pickup the changes that are done from an external tool directly in the runtime AS instance.
There is just a small set of supported operations ("supported write operations" in the Microsoft document above) and there are some limitations ("data modelling limitations").


Do I see this correctly, so is this the mechanism how TE and PBI Desktop work together?


b) PBI Desktop for Report Server


We are using the Desktop version for Report Server.
The document linked above says: "External tools are not supported in Power BI Desktop for Power BI Report Server."
However, it is not precise enough by Microsoft. Is the sync mechanism not supported or is is just not possible to start the external tool from within PBI Desktop for RS?

The sync mechanism works in my tests (but that doesn't mean that it is supported...)
The start of the external tool is only a comfort function. If the external tool has a possibility to find the local instance (and this is true for TE), it is no problem.


What is your view on PBI Report Server?


c) my initial question regarding the software functions by edition


I'm aware of the different editions. My question/request was about which functions directly in the software are enabled / disabled depending on the edition I buy. For example, "load/save model metada to disk" probably means, that "file save as *.bim" will not be enabled in the Desktop edition. Correct?
Which of the "open" functions will be available?
When I open a BIM that has perspectives with the Business Edition, will it not open at all or will it just not be possible to see/edit them?


Maybe you can explain a little bit of how the software/menus/functions will change depending on the edition.


Thanks & Regards
Michael

I just saw you answered the question under 2a already in your first reply together with the link to the Microsoft document...

Hi @Michael_Mertens 
Happy to clarify!


a) You are correct. The "source of truth" lives inside Power BI Desktop and TE3 is just an external tool that lets you modify/query the data model. With TE3 Desktop Edition you will still rely on Power BI Desktop for loading/saving/publishing your model. I have high hopes that Microsoft will add support for more modeling operations (i.e. adding/modifying tables, columns, relationships, partitions, etc.) in the future.

b) I believe the Report Server version of PBI Desktop does not show the External Tools ribbon at all. Not sure why this limitation exists. You would have to ask Microsoft that. "Not supported" in this case, means that even though you find some workaround that may work for you, there are no guarantees that technique will continue to work, and if something breaks, Microsoft Support can't help you.

c) I'll try to add some additional clarification to the editions document:

  1. Load/save model metadata to disk indeed means that the File > Save As option will not be available. You also won't be able to load a data model from disk using Desktop Edition, so only the File > Open > From DB... option is available, and the appearing dialog is limited to only allow connections to local instances of Power BI Desktop. We may allow loading .pbit files at some point, if Microsoft decides to open and document the file format.
  2. Since Desktop Edition can only be used with Power BI Desktop, the Model > Deploy menu option is not available either.
  3. Non-model metadata files can still be loaded/saved in all three editions (diagrams, DAX scripts, C# scripts).
  4. The remaining limitations on the list differentiate TE3 Business and TE3 Enterprise Edition, where the general principle is that you need TE3 Enterprise Edition if your company is using ANY of the following:
    • SQL Server Enterprise Edition
    • Azure AS Standard Tier
    • Power BI Premium/Embedded Capacity
  5. A model.bim file that has perspectives or multiple partitions per table cannot be opened at all in TE3 Business Edition, since this indicates that your company is using Azure AS Standard or SQL Server Enterprise, and at that point we regard your company as an Enterprise. Note, this does NOT apply to Power BI data models, since you can use perspectives/multiple partitions with the Power BI Premium Per User XMLA endpoint, in which case a TE3 Business Edition license is sufficient. 

Other than this, there should not be any differences on which menu options are available in the three editions. If something is still unclear, please let us know!

I enjoyed this review way more than I should have.

We are moving from building SSAS MD and SSAS Tabular Apps to Power BI PPU Apps. We use XMLA to do the publishing and my Devs swear by Tabular Editor and how much better it is to edit models than PBI Desktop.

 

However, my annoyance is that some customers may want to edit our models using Power BI Desktop, so my understanding was they could. This is not the case, as you can't take an existing BIM file and save to a PBIT ? Why ? I get PBIX files are proprietary (come on Microsot really ?) but you obviously understand PBIT files as you write away changes to existing ones.

Thought TE3 may have this extra capability, but No. So now I feel really stuck. We have models that work from Tabular Editor, but unless I install this on every customer site (which is not commercially viable in some cases), I guess I will need to pay for someone to convert my Tabular Editor models MANUALLY into PBIT/X files and then start the process again. Any ideas from anyone would be so much appreciated ? 

Have learnt that if you are starting from scratch, you can save a PBIT, then edit that in Tabular Editor and life is fine. Now with both PBI Desktop and Tabular Editor

Hi @Paul_EiB 

 

Nothing would make us happier than being able to save a model as a pbix/pbit file directly from within TE2/3, but Microsoft has not provided any way for us to do that, and we would technically be breaking the Power BI Desktop EULA if we tried to reverse engineer the pbit/pbix file formats.

 

Fingers crossed that the limitation that pbix files can not be downloaded from the service after being modified through the XMLA endpoint, will soon go away.

 

Best regards, Daniel

 

@Daniel

Thanks for a prompt reply, but you are writing PBIT files, just not initially ?

As per best practices (which we found too late), if I create the PBIX file first, save as PBIT and then edit in Tabular Editor (I can add Measures, Calcs etc) and then save as a PBIT, open in Power BI Desktop, add some more, save as PBIT and then edit again in Tabular Editor. So EVERYTHING works ideally and I genuinely have the best of both worlds (which is what we want, as we want to leave a PBIX file onsite, but our devs want to use Tabular Editor to update it).

 

I do need to now reverse engineeer the BIM file to a PBIT to work in the way I expressed above. Do you mind if I ask you how you would approach that exercise ? Looks like the DAX etc for Calculated Measures passes across OK, so from my point of view (in ignorance to some degree !!), we would need to :

  • Import the SQL datasource into the PPU model
  • Make the joins in the visual editor
  • Create the Time Dimension (Date Table from scratch). Can't reuse anything from the BIM ?
  • Create calculated measures - cut & paste formulas from BIM Tabular Editor
  • Add time intelligence YTD, LTD, Rolling 3 Months Avg etc
  • Manually recreate the Hierarchies in BIM Tabular Editor through drag and drop in PBI Desktop ?
  • Save as PBIT file
  • Check PBIT file opens in Tabular Editor
  • Use Tabular Editor to finish any further development
  • Save as PBIT file
  • Publish using XMLA file to PPU service
  • Open PBIT file in PBI Desktop and load PBIT file with Tabular Editor changes
  • Save as PBIX File

Do you see the above any differently ?

 

Best

Paul

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