Tableau Announces Mac Support, R Integration

At the Tableau User Conference at National Harbor in Maryland, company Cofounders CEO Christian Chabot and CDO Chris Stoite announced a laundry list of upcoming improvements and additions to the popular data analysis and visualization platform to a cheering crowd of 3,200 customers, mostly end-users, and 700 employees.

The big announcements include a version of Tableau for the Macintosh, an overdue product given the large percentage of Tableau users that are Mac-based, a new data connection interface that allows users to visually join, reshape, and clean data all on one screen while viewing the results in real time, and a native connection to Open Source predictive analysis package R. They also announced the ability to copy and paste dashboards between workbooks, allowing users to refine a base dashboard and then reuse it for every analysis project, merely customizing it as needed rather than trying to recreate it completely each time.

They also announced that the entire package line from the enterprise to desktop has been rewritten in 64 bit code, allowing users to access as much processing power as they need for their analysis, along with an external load balancer and the addition of SAML open authentication for single sign on to the enterprise edition. SAML allows companies to use authentication services to provide easier and more secure access to users regardless of the platform they are on or their location. They also announced that the next upgrade will include IPv6 to support the next generation of networked applications.

Under “visual analytics for everyone”, Development Manager Michael Arvold demonstrated how version 8.1 allows users to create new chart types instantly with a single click and then can edit charts, add or remove data sets, and focus on specific areas of the data. He showed advanced features such as ranking using any of several different ranking models or improved forecasting including prediction bands that indicate the degree of confidence that the program assigns to the predictions.

These and a long list of other improvements are coming in version 8.1, already in open beta test and due for commercial release in 4Q13, or v 8.2 due early in 2014. Version 9.0 will follow late in 2014. This aggressive schedule is the start of an accelerated pace of development, Stoite said, that will continue beyond 2014 to meet user needs.

Developer Jason King demonstrated the Data Connection Interface that supports single click table joins, data parsing to specify the format for converting strings into dates and times, boxplots and percentile aggregation visualization, and improved forecasting.

The R integration, demonstrated by developer Dave Lion, was particularly impressive. Rather than having to open R separately and manually import data from Tableau and then manually export the resulting analysis, all users have to do is highlight the data sets they want to analyze, choose “external” from a pull-down and literally in a few seconds the result was back and displayed in Tableau. With it he showed how you could predict the likelihood of future flooding along Rock Creek, which runs through the middle of Washington, D.C., based on historic data, identifying outliers caused by unusual storms or hurricanes, to determine the likelihood that a new building complex would experience flooding.

Developer Robert Kosara demonstrated the new StoryPoint feature that will be a major addition to version 8.2. This allows users to create a storyboard of visualizations for easy presentation to show how analysis leads from an initial situation to important and sometimes unexpected conclusions. users can construct the storyboard by dragging individual visualizations into the flow and then present it simply by clicking on the visualizations in order as they explained their significance.

The energy level in the room was incredible, with the crowd greeting each feature announcement, even the smallest, with loud clapping and cheering. In some cases that may have been because Tableau was finally catching up on basic things they have needed for some time, while in others it may have been recognition of leading edge advances. But it left no doubt as to the enthusiasm of users, and the close connection between their desires and the company’s development direction. None of these announcements were boring — each was something that a large proportion of the users in the room wanted, needed, or could see using. The message was that Tableau developers and senior management are very close to their customers and are delivering the product that their users want.

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