Over the past few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time discussing Power BI Report Server with my customers and colleagues. One of the most common questions I’m asked is:
What are the differences between “Power BI Desktop” and “Power BI Desktop optimized for Power BI Report Server”?
In this blog post, I’ll cover the similarities and differences between Power BI Desktop and Power BI Desktop Optimized for Power BI Report Server (shortened to “Desktop Optimized” for the sake of this article), including the following topics:
- Why are there two versions?
- Where do you find the installation media?
- Are the installation steps the same?
- Key application differences within the splash screen, options menu, and product functionality
Why are there two versions?
With Power BI Desktop, the intended publishing location is the Azure-hosted Power BI Service, which is updated frequently by Microsoft. From this perspective, you can continually upgrade to the monthly Power BI Desktop release and be sure that the reports will work when published to the Power BI Service because updates are being made on both sides.
This model changes with the introduction of Power BI Report Server, where the report server hosting the Power BI reports now resides within your environment. As a result, the server version (PBI Report Server) and the client version (Power BI Desktop optimized for PBI Report Server) need to be controlled a bit tighter to ensure compatibility. The published plan is to release a new version of the server and corresponding Desktop Optimized version roughly every 4 months.
Where do you find the installation media?
Power BI Desktop can be found here: https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/desktop/
The executable name is PBIDesktop.msi (for 32-bit installation) or PBIDesktop_X64.msi (for 64-bit installation).
Power BI Desktop Optimized for Power BI Report Server can be found under the "Advanced Download Options" link here: https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/report-server/
The executable name is PBIDesktopRS.msi (for 32-bit installation) or PBIDesktopRS_X64.msi (for 64-bit installation).
During the installation process, there are a few small differences between the versions.
Power BI Desktop does not contain the PBI RS message, while the Desktop Optimized version contains an additional information message on the setup page.
The default installation path is different for the two versions, with Power BI Desktop defaulting to %PROGRAMFILES%\Microsoft Power BI Desktop\, while Desktop Optimized defaults to %PROGRAMFILES%\Microsoft Power BI Desktop RS\.
When you launch the two applications, you’ll notice a small, but important, difference on the splash screen, where the Desktop Optimized version allows you to “Open from report server”. By selecting this, you provide the connection information to the Power BI Report Server, where you are then shown the list of reports that you have access to on the server. You can open those directly in PBI Optimized and then publish them back up to the PBI Report Server when finished.
The Power BI options menu is an area of the product where you can make optional changes, such as enabling tracing for troubleshooting, enabling preview features, updating security and privacy settings, etc. By comparing the options menus from the two versions, we see that the Power BI Desktop Optimized version does not include full feature parity. The biggest difference (that I noticed) is that Desktop Optimized does not allow for the use of preview features. My hunch for this goes back to the requirement of keeping the Report Server and the Desktop Optimized version in lock-step for compatibility/stability purposes, while the preview features are in the earlier stage of development and testing until they get moved out of preview and into the standard product.
Power BI Desktop Optimized for Power BI Report Server adds a new option to the “Save as” menu, where you can save directly to the Report Server.
The two versions can be installed on the same machine, with the startup menu labels being slightly different.
One additional item of note is that custom visuals are supported in the Power BI Desktop Optimized for Power BI Report Server version, with the same methods of adding the visuals (by web or by file share).
There are likely several other differences that I haven’t encountered yet. If you have discovered any differences not listed here, please share in the comments below and I will update the article.
Sam Lester (MSFT)