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Comment on Microsoft’s Mobile BI Roadmap

Posted by Alan on October 18, 2011

At the SQL PASS conference last week Microsoft made an announcement on their Mobile BI Roadmap.  For a quick synopsis you can read a post by Mary-Jo Foley over at the ZDNet site.  I wasn’t at PASS but based on her and some other posts and sources I have spoken with a couple of things jumped out at me on their announcements.

The first announcement is that some time in the first half of 2012 is that Microsoft will enable their existing corporate BI Web-based solutions to run in browsers on Apple’s iOS and Windows devices.  I guess the assumptions here is greater support natively for the Safari browser on iOS desktop (not iPad) and support for Windows Phone 7.5.  While this is a nice announcement I don’t think it was what most of us were hoping for.  The phone offering is great but I have not yet lost a deal due to support for displaying BI data on a phone regardless of the operating system.  The iOS announcement is better news but I really wonder what it means in terms of adoption.  Most of the companies I have worked with have Apple desktop users in-house.  Mostly these are the creative folk and in these clients the IT departments have also deployed things like Citrix or Terminal Services so these Apple uses can access all the non-creative applications they need to use on a daily basis.  I think the real take away here, and what I am happy to see, is that Microsoft has now publicly recognized that there is a business opportunity to be had with publishing the end-user BI interaction to devices other than Windows desktops.

The second announcement was for the second half of 2012 and is to add touch support for data exploration and visualization capabilities of those BI offerings on iOS, Microsoft and also Android platforms.  This is the one that really intrigued me and was the one that us in the Microsoft BI world were waiting on.  Right now we are getting lots of calls by corporate executives to present BI running on the iPad (no real requests for phones or Android up to this point to be honest).  While I have made things like Excel Services and PerformancePoint Services work on an iPad with cosmetic changes via CSS the end-user experience was less than desired.  The real question is how is Microsoft going to make this happen?  Although Microsoft BI was designed with a two button mouse in mind I think the lack of right-mouse click support on the iPad and the whole using your fingers thing can be dealt with by a relatively easy revamp to the interface.  However, many  of the Microsoft BI stack components rely upon Active X  and Silverlight plug-ins.  For instance, all of Power View (once known as Project Crescent) and the PerformancePoint Decomposition Tree are Silverlight-based and these are two of the more powerful features.  The iPad Safari Browser does not allow for plug-ins of any sort nor will the upcoming native Windows 8 browser in tablet mode.  So what is Microsoft going to do?  There was no information on the technology or approach they were taking with this announcement or what specific components will or will not be made available under iOS or Android.  Hopefully after SQL 2012 ships Microsoft will be ready to speak about this more publicly.  There is a video here of Power View running on a Windows Phone, iPad and Android slate that is pretty cool but you can’t tell anything about the architecture changes they made to make it happen. I am guessing it involved migrating the current Silverlight interface code to HTML5 but that is only a guess.  I really hope that Microsoft is making the other BI items available as well because as cool as Power View is, it is not the right tool for all situations.

As a side note, the Microsoft BI team tweated a clarification today that Power View will be available with the release of SQL 2012.  However the touch specific features will come later in the year.

So on the plus side having native iOS, iPad and Android support will be awesome and it can’t get here soon enough.  However, I am worried about what will be supported and what might we give up to get that support.  The announcements are certainly a mixed-bag of emotions.

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4 Responses to “Comment on Microsoft’s Mobile BI Roadmap”

  1. Claire said

    I’m still a bit touch-skeptical, but Power View seems very promising. We were guessing that the original Silverlight was ported to html5 in that Power View vid as well, since the science behind the PV extension is framework agnostic.

  2. Alan said

    I think that there is a big push to try to touch enable eveything including the family dog and the kitchen sink. However, BI for executives, where they want to see pre-configured charts and graphs and trends and don’t need deep dive or to really minipulate the data, does lend itself to touch very nicely. -Alan

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