Tableau picked a fight with Microsoft, posting a slideshow titled “10 Ways Power BI Falls Short”. Their ten criticisms were:
Of course, Microsoft did not take this sitting down, almost immediately responding with their own top 10 list of features available in Power BI which are missing from Tableau (http://mspoweruser.com/microsoft-responds-to-tableaus-criticism-on-power-bi):
Clearly, Tableau Training is the market leader, but the fact that they are directly calling out Microsoft shows that there is some concern about Power BI. So, how close is Power BI to matching the capabilities of Tableau? How many of the above points are accurate and how many are simply overblown? I’ve seen a few comparisons of the products, but I figured the only way for me to really understand the pros and cons of each package is to analyze the situation myself.
I’ve written a number of blog posts over the past few months and many of the visualizations included in those posts were created using Tableau Public. So what better way to analyze the capabilities of Power BI than to attempt to replicate those visualizations with the Power BI. I should note here that my experience with Power BI is limited; I’ve played with the tool a bit and created some basic visualizations, but I’m definitely nowhere close to being an expert, so much of this analysis will be initial impressions and it’s likely I’ll miss something here or there. If so, feel free to let me know.
I decided to start with my “Nate Silver Challenge” election map. Tableau’s implementation of maps is far better than any other product I’ve worked with, so I was really curious to see how well Power BI handled them. The results were not bad. Take a look (note: I did not take the time to bring Alaska and Hawaii into the map):
So what did I find in this analysis? Here are a few observations:
I then decided to get a little deeper with maps and attempt to recreate my county-level drug overdose map. This was a complete failure because of Tableau point # 1. The data set has information for 3,000+ counties for each year from 1999 to 2014, a total of over 50,000 data points. Because Power BI is limited to 3,500 data points, it only mapped some of the counties (seemingly in random fashion) and presented me with a small—so small, it’s easy to miss—warning in the top left corner. When I click on this warning, I get the following message:
Essentially, I am forced to filter my data in order to get it to properly display. I attempted to filter down to just one year, which should have resulted in less than 3,500 data points, but could not get it to work. This is very disappointing, but more importantly, could be very problematic to a visualization because it could, as Tableau noted, cause an analyst to miss outliers in the data set. It’s easily noticeable in my situation because of all the uncolored counties, but could be missed in a data set with say 4,000 data points.
Next, I decided to recreate some of the visualizations in my post on visualizing hierarchies. In that post, I used religion data to create a treemap, a sunburst, and packed bubbles in Tableau. So, I attempted to recreate those in Power BI. Here are some observations:
The treemap was easy to create, just like Tableau, but Tableau point # 4 came into play as the treemap is unable to display any more than two levels at one time. Instead, Power BI forces you to “drill down” to see the next level.
The Sunburst (or radial treemap) I created in Tableau is not an out-of-the-box visualization. Instead, I used a template created by another developer, formatted my data in the right way, then created the visualization. This was a somewhat difficult process. But, with Power BI’s community-driven visualization gallery (Microsoft point # 6), I was able to download a sunburst visualization and use it just like standard visualizations. This definitely made it much easier to create a sunburst.
The results are not bad. It does seem to have some trouble understanding that the levels of the hierarchy are not consistent across the board (some have two levels, while others have three), but I think there is likely a fix for this that I am just yet to discover.
Packed Bubbles requires a community visualization as well, so I downloaded “Super Bubbles”.
I attempted to display all three levels in the hierarchy but it didn’t show anything. I then tried to display only the lowest level and was able to get bubbles, but no text and no popup information. Eventually, I chose just the first level and was able to get bubbles, text, and popup info. Granted, this is a community visualization, so it’s difficult to point at Microsoft for this issue.
I did see one interesting take on the bubble chart though, which is worth sharing. A community visualization called “Aquarium” creates animated fish, the size of which is based on some metric. So I used it with the religion data. Take a look at the video below to see it in action.