Recently I started with creating Power BI dashboards and had to figure out what license we needed or if we even need a license at all. With most Office 365 (and Microsoft 365) plans you get Power BI Free, but is that enough or do you need Pro. So, how does Power BI Free compare to Pro? When is the Free plan sufficient and in what cases do you need the Pro plan?
Power BI is really powerful and easy to use. If you get the hang of it, you can really easily create stunning looking dashboards or reports and share them with your co-workers. The licensing on the other hand, well it’s a bit more complicated. So let me help you with explaining the differences.
What is Power BI
Let’s first start by explaining a bit more about what Power BI is. Power BI is a business analytics solution to visualize data. The strength of Power BI is that you can connect pretty much any data source to it. From a simple Excel sheet to an API from your ERP system.
You can combine all those datasets into one powerful reporting tool, and create visualization (charts) from the data. You can create your own formula’s on this data using the DAX query language, which is pretty similar to Excel formulas.
In Power BI you can create relations between the different data sets (or tables), allowing you to connect the data and easily filter it.
Power BI Free
The free plan of Power BI is included in most Office 365 and Microsoft 365 Plans. With the free plan, you can do pretty much everything to create a stunning dashboard. You can connect to all supported data sources (on-premise or cloud), export to Excel or PowerPoint or even to the web.
With Power BI Free you can use the Power BI Desktop or online version to create your reports, dashboard, and datasets. There is no limitation their either. Even the amount of data storage limit is the same as with Power BI Pro.
So what can’t you do with the Free plan then? Well, you can’t share your report or dashboard. To share it you will need to Pro plan. More about that later.
Power BI Pro
So what are then the advantages of Power BI Pro, except from sharing? Well, most of them are related to sharing with others. You can create Apps, which are a collection of datasets, dashboards, and reports that you can easily publish in your organization.
Or App Workspaces, so you can easily work together and analyze in Excel features. All great tools, but in the end, the only real reason you will need Power BI Pro is because you want to share your report or dashboard with others.
Power BI Viewer
No, there is no Power BI Viewer license. I know, we are all wanting it, but unfortunately, there is no Power BI Viewer plan. And this is something that most of us find really strange.
What I expected was that you would need a Pro license to create the reports/dashboards and the users with a Free license can only read the reports/dashboards. This would make the most sense. But with Power BI both the creator and the reader of a Power BI dashboard need a Pro license.
So yes, if you only have 2 people creating the dashboards, and 90 people want to view it. Then you will need to buy Power BI Pro licenses for 92 people (which will cost you $770 a month).
Sharing a report without the need for a license
There is one way to share a report with your co-workers that won’t require a license. And in some cases, this method can be more than enough for your users.
In Power BI you have to option to Publish to web. You can find it in the new layout under File in the toolbar. If you are using the older layout, you will find it under more options (…) > Embed > Publish to web
This option is not permitted by default, you probably get an error “Contact your admin to enabled embed code creation“. To enable this option you need to go to the Power BI Admin Center:
- Click on tenant settings
- Scroll a bit down to Export and sharing settings
- Expand publish to web
- Select Allow existing and new codes
- Click Apply
It can take up to 15 minutes before the settings are applied in your tenant, but my experience is that the settings are applied immediately.
When you share the report, you will get a link that is visible to everyone. The user won’t need to login, so this method is only practical if you are not sharing sensitive data. Also, the filters that you normally see on the right-side (the filters on this page and filters on all pages) are not available.
Users can click in the diagrams and filter the data this way. So if you need filtering, make sure you make on-page filters that the users can use.
Power BI Free vs Pro
Below you will find a table with all the important differences between the free and pro plan compared in a clear overview.
|Power BI Free
|Power BI Pro
|Connect to cloud and on-premise data
|Power BI Desktop
|Power BI Online
|Data storage limit
|10 GB per user
|10 GB per user
|Export to PowerPoint, Excel, csv
|Publish to Power BI services and public websites
|Analyze in Excel
|Sharing and collaboration
|Embed Power BI visual in SharePoint/Power Apps/Teams
So I hope this article helped you with explaining the differences between the Power BI Free and Pro plan. I would really recommend trying the public web sharing as an option to share the report with your co-workers if they only need to view it. This could save you a lot of money every month.
As always, if you have any questions, or additions just drop a comment below.
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