A short recap
At the PASS Summit 2011 a project that existed as part of the now-defunct SQL Azure Labs was announced – Data Explorer. I posted some initial thoughts at Thoughts on Data Explorer and continued to post some walkthroughs and feedback. Data Explorer was an interesting technology to me which in October 2011 I described as:
Data Explorer is an ETL tool and given my obvious SSIS affiliations that makes it very interesting to me. That it runs as a cloud service and will be available to non-developers only makes it more intriguing and I can't wait until Data Explorer becomes available for us to tinker with later this year.
That being said Data Explorer always felt uncomfortably as if it was an interesting piece of tech trying to find both a problem to solve and a place to live.
Now in preview
Today the second of those conundrums has been answered by the release of a new public preview; Data Explorer is going to live in Excel and its official title is now “Microsoft Data Explorer Preview for Excel” (I still dislike the name by the way):
Here’s a video that describes Data Explorer’s pitch today:
If the video doesn’t render properly check it out on YouTube instead.
From the video:
Data Explorer enhances the self-service experience in Excel by simplifying data discovery and access to a broad range of public and enterprise data sources enabling richer insights from data that has traditionally been difficult for users to get at.
(emphasis is mine)
In short, Data Explorer is targeted at Excel users (Microsoft calls them “Information Workers”) and now looks like this:
The data in this screenshot was imported from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Super_league.
which (I think) is neat and tidy and pretty intuitive whereas a year ago it looked like this:
and didn’t seemingly know what it wanted to be other than yet another tool for developers. It didn’t have an identity and it didn’t have a raison d’etre. Today’s preview release goes some way to solving those things.
One very interesting new feature is Online Search which enables you to search the web for datasets. In this example I use the feature to search for data on Apollo space missions:
I find a list of all the missions and with one click its in Excel:
where I can do all the normal stuff that one would normally do in Excel. Here I have used Excel 2013’s Flash Fill feature to extract the year and pivot the data to discover which rocket was most popular and in which year the most missions were launched:
You get the idea. This is powerful stuff! The workbook that I built for this simple demo is available for viewing online or download at 20130227 Apollo Missions - Simple Data Explorer Demo.xlsx.
Today’s release is also the first from a product team that has a number of other interesting projects in the pipeline that you will see more of in 2013 – watch this space.
Data Explorer. Is it A2P?
One last point I’ll make is that Data Explorer as it exists today ably fulfils the “Acquire” and “Processing” aspects of Mike Reich’s A2P approach which I talked about only twelve days ago at ETL is dead, long live AP2 ?. Interestingly Data Explorer in its October 2011 guise also provided the last part of A2P – “Publishing” (I demo’d the Publishing ability at Data Explorer walkthrough – Parsing a Twitter list) however that ability has been removed in this release in favour of landing the data into Excel. I remain hopeful that the ability to publish a Data Explorer feed returns in the future.
Get the bits
Download “Microsoft Data Explorer Preview for Excel” from http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=36803
I’m not the only one blogging about this. Check out: