I was accused by many that I like Tableau too much. That is wrong: in fact I love Tableau but I will try to show below that love can be “objective”. Tremendous success of TC15 (with 10000+ attendees, unmatched by any competitor; 1st conference in 2008 attracted only 187 people) convinced me to return to my blog to write about Tableau’s history – it is interesting how it came to be.
Tableau was spun out of Stanford in 2003, from project Polaris, led by professor Pat Hanrahan and Chris Stolte. It was originated at Stanford as a government-sponsored (DoD) research project to investigate new ways for users to interact (including VizQL) with relational and OLAP databases. In 2004 Tableau got $5M from VCs. In 2005, Hyperion (now Oracle owns Hyperion) began to offer a Tableau under the name “Hyperion Visual Explorer“.
By end of 2010 Tableau had 4 products: Tableau Desktop ($1999 for Pro edition), Tableau Server ($10000 for 10 users), Tableau (free) Reader and Tableau (free web service) Public. In 2010 Tableau had about $34M revenue and was one of the fastest growing software companies in the world (123% YoY). Even in Q3 of 2015 Tableau’s revenue was $171M, 64% up from Q3 of 2014 and it was twice more than entire Tableau’s revenue over period of 2003-10. Overall for last 5 years Tableau had explosive (and unsustainable by industry standards) 75% or above growth; that YoY revenue growth (and Tableau expects $650M for entire 2015) presented in bar chart below:
The text below is based on recent Tableau’s attempt to re-write own history, version by version. Also I reused some posts from this blog – I already covered in my blog versions 6.0 (in 2010) and then 6.1, 7.0, 8.0, 8.0 Desktop, 8.0 server, 8.1, 8.2, Tableau Online, Tableau Reader, Tableau Public.
I will follow this pattern with one exception (and I promise to avoid the marketing BS like “revolutionary innovation”). I will start with something which is still is not here yet at the end of 2015. Noted by me before: No MDI, no re-sharing of workbook infrastructure with other workbooks, no internal DB (ugly data blending instead), no in-memory columnstore, wrong approach to partners etc.
What is below is said by Tableau version by version, but interpreted by me (my blog, my opinions, my interpretation). Part 1 “Intro” covers 2004-7 from version 1 to 3, Part 2 “Catching-up” covers 2008-10 from versions 4 to 6, Part 3 “Competition” covers 2011-13 from version 6 to 8 and Part 4 “Leading the field” covers 2013-15 from version 8.1 to 9.1, including Tableau Online.
Introduction of VizQL allowed less coding (but required a lot of drag-drops, clicks, resizing and other gymnastics with mouse, which seems more acceptable to wider population – Tableau insists on “anyone, anywhere”). Tableau 1.0 can access to Access, Excel, Microsoft Analysis Services Cubes!), MySQL, SQL Server 2000. Data from multiple tables have to be denormalized (this proved overtime to be the weakest part of the tool) into one table before importing into Tableau.
I am not sure why even in 2015 the Tableau insists on its own self-assessment that it works as fast as you can think – that is offensive to thinkers.
Tableau 1.0 was available in three editions. The $999 Standard Edition can connect to Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Access, or plain text files. The $1299 Professional (MySQL) edition adds MySQL to the list of supported data sources, while the $1799 Professional edition extends the list to include Microsoft SQL Server and SQL Server Analysis Services.
Tableau 2.0 added the ability to join tables in the same database. Added the ability to create Data Extracts and work offline without live connection to data. New features: Distinct Counts and Median aggregations, new “Size” shelf (marks will be sized proportionally to the value of the field in that shelf), new “Page” shelf (useful for animations, see example of it I did a while ago):
Here the content of this video as the presentation with 24 Slides:
Tableau 2.0 also added optional trend and reference lines, calculated fields (can be used with formulas, with all functions and with custom SQL and MDX expressions). 3 Screenshots below preserved for us by Stephen Few in his reviews of Tableau 2.0 and 3.0.
Tableau 2.0 is priced at $995 for the standard edition and $1,799 for the professional edition, including one year of software maintenance and unlimited technical support.
Tableau Server introduced so people can see visualizations through browser over intranet or internet. When visualization application is published from Windows Desktop to Tableau Server (which is in fact, application server), it will be converted to web application: no downloads, plugins or coding required and all related data-sources will be published on that server.
Among other new features: new Sorting “shortcuts”,
as well as Ad-hoc grouping, Auto-calculated reference lines, annotations and most importantly, dashboards with global filters. Tableau missed the opportunity to introduce the MDI into multi-view dashboards and this design bug persisted even now in 2015 – tool still using non-MDI containers (panels) instead of MDI child-windows for each chart. Another problem (in Tableau 3.0) was that views in dashboard updated sequentially and not in-parallel.
By 2007 Tableau employed just 50 people but it was just a beginning:
In 2007 the Tableau Software company got lucky, because TIBCO bought Spotfire that year and it greatly restricted the ability of Spotfire to lead Data Visualization field. Another luck for Tableau was a strategic mistake by both Qliktech and Spotfire to leave development teams in Sweden while placing their HQs, sales, marketing etc. elsewhere in multiple US locations. Tableau got lucky one more time later thanks to gift from Qliktech but I will discuss it later in Part 3 or 4 of this blog-post. As mentioned above, I am planning the Part 2 of this post: Tableau is catching-up, 2008-10, then Part 3: Tableau competes, 2011-13 and finally the Part 4: Tableau the leader, 2013-15