Tableau is a powerful data visualization tool used by many professionals and organizations to analyze and present data. Our book focuses on the free version, Tableau Public, a desktop application for Mac or Windows computers, which you can download at no cost by providing an email address. The free Tableau Public tool is very similar to the pricier Tableau versions sold by the company, with one important difference. All data visualizations you publish become public, as the product name suggests, so do not use Tableau Public for any sensitive or confidential data that you do not wish to share with others.
Tableau Public has several features that make it stand out from other drag-and-drop tools in this book. First, you can prepare, pivot, and join data inside Tableau Public, similar to some of the spreadsheet skills in Chapter 2, data cleaning methods in Chapter 4, and tools to transform map data coming up in Chapter 13. Second, Tableau Public offers a wider array of chart types than other free tools. Finally, with Tableau Public you can combine multiple visualizations (including tables, charts, and maps) into interactive dashboards or stories, which you can publish and embed on your website. Learn more about all of these features in the Tableau Public resources page.
But Tableau Public also has some drawbacks. First, it may take several minutes to install and start up the application the first time. Second, if you feel overwhelmed by its design interface, you’re not alone. Its drag-and-drop layout to build charts and maps initially can be confusing at first glance, and its internal vocabulary of data terms may seem unfamiliar. While Tableau Public is a powerful tool, perhaps it offers too many options.
In the next section we’ll keep things simple by starting with the basics of Tableau Public, with step-by-step tutorials to create two different types of charts. First, you’ll build on skills you already learned in the section above by building a scatter chart in Tableau Public. Second, you’ll learn how to create a filtered line chart, which demonstrates more of the tool’s strengths in interactive visualization design.