Tableau adds new enticements to its free data visualization tool

Tableau's Web-based version of its analytics system allows data visualizations to be published, re-used, and embedded in Web pages as if they were YouTube videos. But the full product comes with a sizeable cost: $1K per user and up.

The newest version of Tableau's free Web-based offering, Tableau Public, expands the appeal of Tableau by way of new tools and datasets -- and shores up a defense against competing products with smaller, or no, pricetag.

Tableau Desktop Public, the Tableau Public client app now available for the Mac as well as Windows, takes data in Microsoft Access, Excel, or .CSV format. While The full-blown version of Tableau can connect to remote data sources like Splunk or Hadoop, the Public client is limited to OData and Windows Azure Marketplaces as backends, and will only work with up to one million rows of data.

By dragging and dropping elements from the ingested data, a user can create a visualization in much the same manner as an Excel chart, then upload the results to Tableau Public and share it. The resulting visualization is HTML5-powered and interactive, but it needs to be served either from Tableau Public's server or one's own server version of Tableau.

Publishing a visualization to Tableau Public obviates the need for an end user to download the Tableau Reader application to browse someone else's visualization, or to depend on that for publishing them in the first place. This is akin to how it used to be all but impossible to read a .PDF without Adobe Reader and its plug-ins; now, Chrome and Firefox can render .PDFs directly.

The most direct challenge to Tableau comes in the form of lower-cost competitors that offer similar functionality, typically for no upfront cost. Qlik Sense Desktop, announced at the time Tableau Public was available. is the most prominent one. Back then, though, Tableau didn't have a free tier, only a time-limited trial, so Tableau may have a leg up in that its free tier is constrained mainly by the size of the dataset and the data source types. But those limits may be no constraint to the smaller companies that would now find Tableau appealing.

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