Free data visualization tool brings clarity to analytics

Qlik Sense Desktop is designed to put Tableau-style data visualization in the hands of users, minus Tableau's price tag

Having a ton of data at your disposal isn't much good if you can't make sense of it, so users of big data analytics systems like Hadoop are also making use of data visualization tools. Chief among those tools is Tableau, which calls itself as "the Google of data visualization" and boasts a broad roster of A-list corporate customers.

Now one of its competitors, Qlik, is preparing to offer a free version of its Qlik Sense Desktop with no restrictions on either personal or commercial use. It, too, promises to provide end-users with ways to create interactive visualizations of data that can be shared with others.

Tableau's main claim to fame was being able to put analytics in the hands of people who weren't data scientists but were searching for answers to straightforward questions. While Tableau has a free trial version, it's time-limited. Qlik Sense Desktop, by contrast, is being offered for free in toto. One could conceivably upgrade to the full-blown server sedition, Qlik Sense (upselling users on the server product is a big part of Qlik's business model), but it's not mandatory.

As billed, Qlik can take in data from a variety of sources, from dragged-and-dropped Excel spreadsheets to ODBC databases, and examine the resulting data dynamically with dashboard views. For presentations, a feature called Data Storytelling offers the ability to add interactive explanations and discussions to a presentation, while also allowing the presenter to break out the data in detail.

Aside from the price tag, how does Qlik Sense Desktop stand out from its competition? Anthony Deighton, CTO and senior vice president of products for Qlik, explained that while the two products are the same, Qlik offers more freedom to "explore, associate, combine, and analyze information.... If a Tableau user wants to explore data, it can cause a productivity issue of needing to edit or re-create the existing visualization." He also cited features like smart search and global filtering, as well as native support for more complex data requirements than Tableau does by itself, as key differentiators.

Qlik also tries to stand apart in its rendering and distribution of visualizations. It publishes to HTML5, meaning the results can be examined in a conventional Web browser. Tableau can export visualizations to the Web with its Tableau Public service, but Tableau reports distributed on their own require a dedicated reader app.

Pricing, again, is likely to be the first place where Qlik Sense Desktop makes inroads. The Personal and Professional editions of Tableau run $999 and $1,999 per user, respectively; the former product only works with file-based data, while the later also accesses remote data sources. By contrast, Qlik Sense Desktop accesses both file-based and connection-based data sources. Qlik Sense Desktop is likely to find a footing in smaller outfits that want to wade deeper into working with BI visualization but are intimidated by the costs of the products, the complexity of finding useful insights with them, or both.

The full Qlik Sense product (no pricing has been set yet) will be generally available in September 2014. Qlik described it as "server-based" and "enabling server side development from any device, flexible mobile use, collaboration and sharing, custom development, and data integration."

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.