What is Tableau and How Does Tableau Work?

Tableau is a very popular visual analytics software. It can be used to map and visualize data sets in order to identify patterns and relationships.

The software is said to be relatively easy to use, but powerful.

In this article, you will learn about Tableau in detail, how it works, uses and its benefits etc.

So let’s begin!

What is Tableau

Tableau is a business data visualization software that permits its users to generate interactive data visualizations in minutes.

It offers an intuitive drag-and-drop interface and allows user-friendly navigation between overall data sets and that of in-depth analysis in order to extract insightful conclusions.

With Tableau, one can bring their tables alive by adding colors, widths, depths, graphics, animations, and more. In effect, the complex data sets can be easily understood and presented to other people.

The software is mainly used for analyzing business intelligence from large amounts of data that may include social media engagement, sales numbers or any other metrics that could help an organization or a company take decisions.

Tableau enables you to publish your interactive dashboards on Tableau Public, where anyone can view them.

How does Tableau work?

Tableau is a software table and graphics package. It’s used for getting numbers out of data and into pictures. You can mash up different data sources, creating visual representations of the data that you collect.

It’s a great way to get your result in front of people who have no clue about databases.


Tableau is used primarily by consultants and marketers. If you are having trouble getting someone on board with analytics, Tableau can provide some value, even if it’s not data-driven.

You can drag & drop, analyze data or even create your own visualizations in Tableau. The only thing you need is a connection to your data and analytic skills.

Tableau stores all its configuration in so called workspaces . Every workspace has one metadata file stored locally on the disk of every machine where it’s opened. This metadata is used to store information about the workspaces, fields, filters or any other data that was used to create visualizations.

Why Tableau?

Tableau helps you see and understand your data, from anywhere.

  • Tableau is the fastest way to analyze data to answer any question.
  • Connect to 500+ business data sources in a couple of clicks.
  • Gain new insights with interactive visualizations for free.

What is Tableau Workbook?

A workbook is made up of one or more sheets, which can be worksheets, dashboards, or stories. Workbooks allow you to organize, store, share, and publish your findings.

What is Tableau Prep?

Tableau Prep is a data preparation and management tool that enables you to convert unstructured and unruly data into a live Tableau dataset.

Its purpose is to provide an easy-to-use, robust, interactive environment for preparing your data for visualization in Tableau. You can prepare, cleanse and connect your data using the same interface you’ll use to visualize it.

Tableau Prep is free for anyone who has Tableau 10 Personal, Tableau Desktop Professional edition, or Tableau Server edition. It is also included with Tableau Online and Tableau Public.

Tableau Prep’s primary focus is to enable you to load a wide variety of data types, formats and sources into a single place for both cleansing and visualization.

Prep can be used as a stand-alone to load flat files or CSV files but it also integrates directly with other Tableau products such as Tableau Server and Tableau Online.

What is Tableau Server

Tableau Server is software that enables you to connect people with data in a manner that is natural, intuitive, and human.

Tableau Server is used by people who need to explore and understand large amounts of data, quickly. People use Tableau Server to gain insight into their data.

Tableau Server can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud. Whether you’re deploying Tableau Server on your own hardware or using a hosted instance, Tableau Server is easy to install, configure, and use.

What is Tableau Public

Tableau Public is a free online tool that provides simple drag-and-drop features for creating effective reports and stories.

You can use Tableau Public to visualize datasets of virtually any size, from small spreadsheets (including non-tabular data) to large databases.

You can also use the Tableau Public web data connector to connect to a spreadsheet or flat file and upload data from that source.

Data visualizations made with this tool are easy to share through embedding on websites, blogs and more. You can also share via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Tableau Public includes the following features:

  • Publish data visualizations to a web page or embed into a blog or website.
  • Customize color, size and transparency of shapes and lines.
  • Filter data points by clicking on them.
  • Choose from a variety of chart types including bar, line, area and scatter views.
  • Select from a variety of mathematical functions to create an area chart, line chart and scatter plot.
  • Adjust the view and choose between landscape and portrait views.
  • Save workbooks locally or publish them to Tableau Public.

What is Tableau Desktop

Tableau Desktop is a software product that allows users to create interactive and editable data visualizations without having any knowledge of programming.

Users “tell” Tableau how they want their data to appear and what filters they would like to use. It does this by mapping the data points in the visualization to pre-built shapes, shading patterns, or colors.

What is Tableau Reader

Tableau Reader is a free, easy-to-use plug-in for Tableau Online and Tableau Server. It’s a standalone reader, so you don’t have to have access to those tools in order to use it. The files created with Tableau Reader can be opened with or without a connection to the Internet. You can read more about it on the Tableau website: https://www.tableausoftware.com/products/reader

What are the Key Features of Tableau?

  • No programming skills are required for constructing explorative reports.
  • Data can be gathered from many sources, including text files, databases or APIs.
  • Simple drag-and-drop manipulations are used for creating interactive dashboards.
  • Visualizations are based on the HTML5 standard, which makes it easy to embed in any website.
  • Collaboration is made efficient by providing a public link for storing reports and allowing viewers to comment directly on elements of a report.
  • Reports can be created through a simple web interface, where the user only needs to define their data sources and visualizations.

What are the various products of Tableau?

The following are the different products of Tableau:

1. Tableau Desktop

2. Tableau Server

3. Tableau Online

Tableau Desktop allows the user to create and publish interactive data visualizations. It is a desktop application that runs on Windows and Mac OS X, and connects to databases and various online data sources.

The user can connect to multiple data resources at once in order to combine and analyze them, using drag-and-drop functionality to create visualizations.

Tableau Desktop is available in two versions: Tableau Public and Tableau Desktop. The difference between them is that the former one is free for anyone to use whereas the latter requires a license fee starting at $35 per user, which are paid annually or monthly.

Tableau Public has no restrictions on data size or number of users who can access the visualizations built with it, but has limited capabilities in terms of design and functionality.

Tableau Desktop comes bundled with several additional features such as geospatial analytics, text analysis tools, clustering algorithms, forecasting capabilities etc. There is also an option to use custom user-defined functions with Tableau Desktop.

Tableau Public is an online software as a service (SaaS) product offered by Tableau Software, which allows its users to publish interactive data visualizations on the internet.

This can be done without having to install anything on the user’s computer or the web server of the person sharing the data, so the sharing is fast and easy.

Tableau Public also has no restrictions on size or number of users who can access the visualizations built with it, but has limited design and functionality compared to the desktop version.

Tableau Server is a software product that allows users to share live interactive data visualizations published either in Tableau Desktop or Tableau Public via an intranet, extranet or the public internet.

It is hosted on-premises by an organization and can be integrated with their existing infrastructure, or run as a standalone product. Unlike Tableau Public where anyone can share data visualization online for free, Tableau Server allows users to control who has access to published views (visualizations).

Tableau Server comes in three editions: Essentials, Standard and Advanced. The former is for small organizations whereas the pricing is dependent on usage in the latter two cases.

All of them are available as physical or virtual machines, which can be installed either on-premises (on-site) or in external cloud environments such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure etc.

The physical or virtual machine hosting Tableau Server can be either on-site for private networks between users and the server, or in public or hybrid cloud environments.

Tableau Online is a cloud-based subscription service that allows organizations to share their published views (visualizations) and collaborate with others through a web browser.

Unlike the desktop and public versions, it does not require installation, and is available as a traditional software package that is installed on-premises at an organization’s data center or cloud environment.

Tableau Online offers features such as scheduling and email alerts for published views (visualizations), appointing content editors who can alter published views (visualizations) and share them with users within the organization, without requiring any software installation.

What are the Advantages of Using Tableau?

The following are the advantages of using Tableau:

  • The major advantage is that it can be used to present information in a storyboard format.
  • It also allows the user to create an interactive map.
  • It is a very simple application to use and it is easy for anyone with a basic understanding of data analysis, visualization and mapping concepts to use the software.
  • Tableau uses its own proprietary language that can be learnt from within the program itself.
  • Tableau is also extremely user-friendly and has many themes available for presenting data.
  • It can connect to other applications like Excel, Google Drive, Salesforce and it also has an API to which even high level programming languages like C# and Python can be integrated.
  • Tableau provides support for almost any data source that you can think of including custom files or databases.

Excel vs. Tableau

Tableau is a business intelligence and data visualization platform that’s easy to install, use, and customize. Tableau helps people see and understand data by turning raw numbers into meaningful stories.

Excel is Microsoft’s spreadsheet application which operates on an Apple or Windows PC. Excel provides you with all the essential functions of a database manager.

It allows the user to analyze and manage their data in a number of different ways: They can sort, filter, and view it in many different charts and graphs.

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