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Microsoft unveils GeoFlow 3-D SQL Server mapping tool

Microsoft GeoFlow gives premium Excel users the ability to do 3-D mapping with SQL Server on the back end.

A public preview is now available for GeoFlow, a 3-D mapping tool that will be an add-on to Microsoft Excel 2013, and which can turn SQL Server data into three-dimensional graphs and animations.

The new tool is almost like a 3-D version of PowerView, the Excel-based data visualization add-on that came out with SQL Server 2012. Microsoft demoed the GeoFlow tool at the SQL Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) Business Analytics conference in Chicago this week, where about 900 business analysts descended to talk business intelligence, data visualization and big data.

"I thought it was f-ing cool," said Mark Vaillancourt, an information management consultant at Plymouth, Minn.-based consultancy Digineer and author of the Mark V SQL blog. "The flexibility of it and how it helps the data tell a story; I love that aspect. It blew me away."

GeoFlow is now in a public preview and available for download for customers running Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office 365 Plus. The download page also has some sample information sets, such as food inspection data in Seattle and numbers on the growth of U.S. electrical power generation from 1900 to 2008. Microsoft did not say when the tool would be ready for production, but some analysts and consultants at the conference indicated it would be later this year.

GeoFlow uses Microsoft Bing Maps and other technology to build data and display it on geographic maps. The data can then be animated on the maps over a time period, creating animations that business analysts can record and share with others. According to Microsoft, it can plot more than one million rows of data from an Excel workbook using columns, heat maps and bubble visualizations.

"I didn't even know they were working on it," said Peter Myers, owner of Australia-based Microsoft training company Bitwise Solutions. "I was impressed."

There are some limitations, according to Myers and other consultants. For one, it requires Office Professional Plus 2013 or Office 365 Plus, at least for the time being. Secondly, it's unclear exactly how a business analyst creating an animation would be able to share it with other employees or a company's clients.

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