Tableau adds new enticements to its free data visualization tool

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Tableau Public gets new tools and data sets to better withstand growing competition -- at the same free price

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The Web-based version of Tableau's analytics system allows data visualizations to be published, reused, and embedded in Web pages as if they were YouTube videos. But the full product comes at a sizable cost: $1,000 per user and up.

The newest version of Tableau's free Web-based offering, Tableau Public, expands its appeal with new tools and data sets -- and defends against competing products with smaller price tags.

Tableau Desktop Public, the Tableau Public client app now available for the Mac and 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 back ends and will only work with up to 1 million rows of data.

Tableau Public data visualization Tableau

A sample Tableau Public data visualization, with a fully interactive data set. Tableau Desktop Public allows you to create such visualizations from CSV, Excel, or Access data, then publish them as embeddable HTML5.

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 for sharing. The resulting visualization is HTML5-powered and interactive, but it must come from either Tableau Public's server or one's own server version of Tableau.

With visualizations that have been published to Tableau Public, a user would not need to download the Tableau Reader application to browse someone else's visualization or to depend on the app in the first place. Think back to how it was 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 from 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. Back then, the full-blown version of Tableau didn't have a free tier, only a time-limited trial. Tableau may currently have a leg up -- its free tier is constrained mainly by the size of the data set and the data source types. But those limits may be no barrier to smaller companies that would now find Tableau appealing.

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