refreshed Surface tablets, the company has also quietly debuted several new tools for Microsoft Office.
Microsoft on Monday announced a new Translator app that could add particular value for those who use Microsoft Translator Hub, and last week the company added several new features to its Power BI for Office 365 public preview.
First released as a preview in July, Power BI for Office 365 is a set of business intelligence tools that allow regular Excel users to generated sophisticated analysis without assistance from specialized staff.
Power BI's new features include Q&A, which interprets natural language queries as they're inputted and immediately creates graphs and other visualizations of the relevant data. Q&A is designed to let workers explore data sets without aid from a dedicated analyst; users simply type queries in a text box. Q&A then crunches the numbers, finds meaningful intersections of data and presents the results in a series of charts, graphs, maps and other visuals.
[ Microsoft is gearing up for touch. Read Microsoft Creating New Office Touch Apps. ]
Q&A also serves up results dynamically; data visualizations begin appearing almost as soon as the user begins typing, and then adjust in real time as the query is refined.
Other Power BI additions include the ability to add color coding for geopolitical areas into the preview version of Power Map, which is a BI tool that uses Bing Maps to generate visualizations of geographic and chronological data.
The new Power BI features add to existing tools that include: PowerPivot for data modeling; Power Query, which lets users search for data sources and import them into PowerPivot; and Power View, which provides self-service data visualization capabilities.
Microsoft's new Translator app is a standalone tool but also lets Windows 8 and Windows RT users select any text within Word or PowerPoint and instantly translate it. In a blog post, Microsoft noted that organizations can use the app with custom translation systems built with the Microsoft Translator Hub. The company said over 1.3 million characters are translated each hour using Office's existing built-in translation features, and an average of 99 customized translation systems are built with Translator Hub each month.
Power BI is "important" for Microsoft and its customers, said Gartner analyst Rita Sallam in an email. Sallam noted that Microsoft has been working on the project for five years to gain a presence in the analytics market. In previous research, Sallam has praised Power BI not only for its powerful features, but also because it should pose a low barrier to entry for current Office users.
Power BI also demonstrates further evidence of progress in outgoing CEO Steve Ballmer's "one Microsoft" plan. The business intelligence suite combines disparate Microsoft technologies including not only Bing and Office but also Windows Azure -- a mixture that is in keeping with the more cohesive product catalogue to which Ballmer's plan aspires.
Power BI also falls into the company's newly-instituted "rapid release" mindset, in which important new features are regularly rolled out in bits and pieces at regular intervals, rather than released en masse in monolithic updates every few years. Some businesses are content to use old versions of Office, but thanks to Power BI, as well as other aspects of Office 365's cloud-based flexibility, more of them could feel motivated to stay current.
Microsoft has not yet confirmed Power BI's official launch data or pricing, although the tools presumably will be part of a subscription service. The company said the Translator app will be released Monday.