One frequently asked question I see asked on Power BI forums is whether it’s possible to run Power BI Desktop on a Mac or indeed anything other than a Windows PC. There are already a lot of detailed blog posts and videos out there on this subject, such as this one from Guy In A Cube: the answer is no, you can’t run Power BI Desktop natively on a Mac or any other OS apart from Windows and there are no plans to port it over, so you need to either install Windows somehow (for example with Boot Camp) or use tools like Parallels or Turbo.Net to run Power BI Desktop. You can also spin up a Windows VM, for example in Azure, and run Power BI Desktop on that; Power BI Desktop is also now fully supported on Azure Virtual Desktop too although not on other virtual environments like Citrix.
Turning the question around, however, leads you to some aspects of the question that haven’t been fully explored. Instead of asking “Can I run Power BI Desktop on my Mac?”, you can instead ask “Can I do all of my Power BI development using only a browser?”. At Microsoft our long-term goal is to make all Power BI development web-based, but how close are we to that goal?
The first point to make is that it has always been possible to build Power BI reports (as opposed to datasets) in the browser without needing Power BI Desktop. You can even now build basic paginated reports in the browser too now. Historically I’ve never been a fan of encouraging users to do this because developing in Power BI Desktop gives you the chance to roll back to a previous version of the report if you need to – assuming you have saved those previous versions of your .pbix file. What’s more, if two or more people try to edit the same report at the same time then the last person to save wins and overwrites the other person’s changes, which can be dangerous. Fabric’s Git integration, which does work for Power BI reports, has changed my attitude somewhat though. As Rui Romano discusses here you can now safely make changes to reports in the Power BI Service, save them to source control and then roll back if you need to; this assumes your users are comfortable using Git, however, and it doesn’t solve the simultaneous development problem.
What about dataset development? Web editing for datasets has been in preview for a few months now and is getting better and better, although there are still several limitations and the focus up to now has been on modelling; connecting to data sources is on the public roadmap though. As a result Power BI Desktop is still needed for dataset development, at least for now.
Do datamarts change anything? Or Direct Lake mode in Fabric? Datamarts do solve the problem of being able to connect to and load data using just your browser and are available (if not GA yet) today. If you’re only using datamarts to avoid the need for a Windows PC to develop on, though, you’re paying a price: for a start you’ll either be loading the data twice if you want to use Import mode for your dataset (once to load data into the datamart, once to load the same data into the dataset) or taking the query performance hit of using DirectQuery mode. There are also some other limitations to watch out for. Fabric Direct Lake mode datasets, for me, offer all the benefits of Datamarts without so many of the limitations – Direct Lake mode means you only load the data once and still get near-Import mode performance, for example – and will be the obvious choice when Fabric GAs and once features like OneSecurity are available. With Fabric it will be possible to for most Power BI developers do all their work using only a browser, although for more complex projects (and to be clear this is only a small minority of projects) it will still be necessary to use other tools such as Tabular Editor, DAX Studio, SQL Server Management Studio and SQL Server Profiler which can only run on a Windows PC. I can imagine some of this more advanced developer functionality coming to the browser too in time, though.
In summary while Power BI Desktop and therefore Windows is still needed for Power BI development today, the day when you can do most and maybe all of your development in the browser is in sight. All you Mac owners need to be patient just a little while longer!