Understanding the Differences of Tableau Public vs Desktop

If you’re getting more into business intelligence and want to learn Tableau for free, there is a great option called Tableau Public. While the tool has a few limitations compared to Tableau Desktop, it covers almost all of the regular features to evaluate the platform or get started on your learning journey.

Screenshot of signing up for Tableau Public on the Tableau Website. Tableau Public is essentially Tableau Desktop with a few key missing features.

Tableau is one of the leading data visualization tools on the market today and there are thousands of Tableau jobs available at companies small and large. Beyond learning a specific piece of software, you will also gain an understanding of how to work with, transform, prep, and blend large amounts of data and transform it into insightful. stories.

Data skills are universal and go well beyond the Tableau Platform and set you up for a successful career in business intelligence.

Let’s break down what Tableau Public is, how to download it, and what the limitations of the tool are.

What is Tableau Public?

Tableau Public is a free platform designed for sharing and discovering visualizations and data stories publicly on the web. While the public part of it is interesting, you can see a lot of really cool example dashboards, it is especially beneficial for people who want to explore Tableau’s capabilities without having fork out $900 (USD) a year to purchase a full Tableau Creator license.

Although limited in some features compared to its paid counterparts, Tableau Public offers a great jumping off point to get familiar with the platform and determine if you are interested enough in investing more money into licensing or have a decent working knowledge of the program when applying for jobs.

How to Download Tableau Public

To download Tableau public for free, go to public.tableau.com and click on the button to Sign Up for Tableau public. You’ll need to enter in some basic information about yourself before getting access to the download link. After downloading the install process is mostly the same as installing the regular version of Tableau Desktop.

Once you open it, you can import data and work with it on your desktop like you would with the full version.

Screenshot of Tableau Public that looks identical to Tableau Public

If it wasn’t for the Tableau Public label on the top left of the window you might not even know that it wasn’t Tableau Desktop. While the software is nearly identical to the paid version there are a few key differences.

Limitations of Tableau Public

There are several key limitations of Tableau Public that limit what you are able to do with the platform, and luckily most won’t impact your ability to explore and learn how the tool works. The following highlights the specific limitations of the public version of the platform.

Data Sources and Storage

Tableau Desktop offers extensive connectivity options, allowing you to connect to a wide variety of data sources like SQL databases on-premises or in the Cloud. Tableau Public is more limited, supporting connections only to Excel, text files, and Google Sheets.


Tableau public does not let you save dashboards when you’re working on them. You can only publish them to the public cloud where they will be visible to everyone on the internet. While not inherently a deal breaker for working with dummy datasets it can be a nuisance compared to saving it directly a file directly on your laptop.

Data Privacy

All visualizations created with Tableau Public are publicly accessible. This can be a non-starter for business users working with sensitive or confidential data. You could take the step of anonymizing the data in Excel prior to using, or use test data but it’s something to keep in mind.

Sharing and Collaboration

Tableau Public allows you to share your visualizations only through its gallery. With Tableau Desktop, you have the flexibility to share in multiple ways, including through Tableau Server and Tableau Online, which offer additional features like version control, and access controls limiting your ability to learn the data governance side of the platform.

Tableau Prep

Tableau Prep is arguable one of the most useful parts of the Tableau platform that you won’t have access to using Tableau Public. Prep lets you build out workflows for data prep and ingestion. It’s designed with complex data modeling in mind and is likely where a Tableau Creator would spend a majority of their time.

What Can You do with Tableau Public?

Even with some limitations there are still some great things that you can do with Tableau Public. It’s not limited to a 30-day trial like you would get from the Salesforce sales team, (Salesforce owns Tableau) giving you considerably more time to explore with the product.

Some of the things we recommend using Tableau Public for are:

Familiarize Yourself with the Interface

Tableau Public shares many of the same features and the user interface as Tableau Desktop. This allows you to familiarize yourself with the software without making a financial commitment.

Experiment and Create

You can still create robust visualizations and perform significant data analysis using Tableau Public. The skills you acquire here are directly transferable to Tableau Desktop.

Community and Resources

Tableau Public has a vibrant community of users. You can learn from others, participate in challenges, and even showcase your own work. This provides a fantastic learning platform for aspiring data visualization professionals.

The Public Gallery unto itself is worth signing up for, especially the daily dashboard to give yourself some fresh ideas as to what’s possible and how to present data in new and attention grabbing ways.

Summary of Tableau Public vs Tableau Desktop

The most obvious difference is the cost. Tableau Desktop comes with a price tag, which can be quite significant depending on the licensing model compared to free for Tableau Public. Here is a summary of the other features.

FeaturesTableau PublicTableau Desktop
Data SourcesLimitedExtensive
Data StoragePublic CloudLocal or Server
Data PrivacyPublicPrivate
SharingTableau Public GalleryServer/Online
User CommunityStudents, Freelancers, HobbyistsProfessionals, Businesses

We left Tableau Prep off of the list because sometimes it’s considered an unnecessary component of the platform, which to some degree is true. It used to be a paid add on that would give you some additional capabilities not found in regular Tableau desktop but you can still prep and blend data without it.

Tableau Desktop and Tableau Prep for Students

If you’re an active college student Tableau offers a free for one-year full version of Tableau Desktop and Tableau Prep if you’re enrolled at an accredited institution. To learn more check out, Tableau for Students and sign up. Even though a year sounds like a long period of time we might even start using Tableau Public to see if it’s something that we’re interested in, learn the basics then sign up for a free student trial of Tableau to continue our learning journey.

Free Trials to Tableau Prep and Tableau Desktop

Business users shopping for and evaluating Tableau as a platform, should consider signing up for a free 30-day trial and potentially working with a Tableau consulting partner.

A few tips for evaluating Tableau for business.

  • Plan timing and availability – If you sign up for a trial, try to do it in a time period that’s historically slow so your team has capacity to really dig in and test it out. For example, accounting groups wouldn’t want to evaluate it at quarter end, year end or during an audit period.
  • Scope the Number of Users and User Types – Tableau sells licenses based on number of users and their roles. Our Tableau Cost Calculator is a good place to start, and can be used to compare the cost of Power BI (A business intelligence alternative from Microsoft)
  • Identify Data Connections and Test Processes – To really test software you have to use it. Data connections to an ERP or SQL server can take time and coordination with your IT team to setup. Start coordinating with them early to have connections ready when a trial starts.

The trial period allows you to assess the capabilities of Tableau Desktop in depth, providing a risk-free way to determine if the investment is justified for your business needs. It’s an excellent opportunity to explore the extensive data connectivity options, sophisticated analysis tools, and privacy settings that are not available in the Tableau Public version.

If you have complex data governance needs, work with large datasets or are a decent sized organization with lots of moving pieces or limited time it could be worth bringing in a company familiar with Tableau to help you evaluate and plan a potential deployment.


Tableau Public and Tableau Desktop cater to different needs and budgets but share the core functionalities that make Tableau a leading tool in data visualization. For those looking to learn Tableau without incurring costs, Tableau Public is a great starting point.

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