Tableau Desktop: Data Visualization

Tableau Desktop allows users to take existing data sources (e.g. Excel spreadsheets or SQL databases) and build interactive and advanced data visualizations. It’s important to remember that Tableau Desktop is not like MS Excel – you do not create spreadsheets in Tableau. You use existing spreadsheets, databases, or other data sources to create interactive visualizations, like pie charts, bar graphs, and scatterplots.

Tufts recommends using at minimum Tableau Desktop Version 2021.4.2, as that is the current Tufts Tableau Server version.

Totally new and looking for an in-depth walkthrough? Here is an excellent Tableau tutorial to follow along with to learn the interface, the features, connect to data, and build graphs and dashboards. (Note: If this walkthrough uses a different version of Tableau Desktop than you have, don’t worry! These common features and functionality it covers are the same in every version).

Tableau desktop is not tableau server

Example using both Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server:

If you have an Excel spreadsheet with all your department’s purchase orders, you would:

  1. Use Tableau Desktop to create a dashboard of scatter plots showing order trends.
  2. Publish the finished scatter plots dashboard to Tableau Server to share with your team to view.

Specifically, Tableau Desktop

  • A program where you build and create graphs, tables, and other interactive visualizations.
  • Requires a Tableau Desktop license.
  • Can publish dashboards, worksheets, and data sources to Tableau Server.

Specifically, Tableau Server:

  • A website (accessed here, with your Tufts credentials: for viewing and interacting with existing visualizations.
  • Permissions based:
    • By default, anything you publish on Tableau Server is private! To share your projects, dashboards, data sources, etc with other Tufts personnel, you’ll explicitly grant access via security settings or specific user permissions.
  • A Tableau Desktop license is NOT required to access Tableau Server. If you have trouble connecting to Tableau Server, contact
  • More information on Tableau Server can be found here.

Departments wishing to purchase Tableau desktop software for administrative use must purchase a license. Submit a request to Tufts Technology Services ( or call 617-627-3376.

Please be sure to download the Tufts-recommended version listed above for compatibility with Tufts Tableau Server. Information on Server and Desktop Compatibility can be found here.

Tableau Desktop also offers a 14 day free trial. Please note that if you are using a Tufts computer or laptop, the download and installation of software may require an administrator; submit a request to TTS if you need administrator permission for your Tufts computer.

Importantly, access to Tableau Server does not grant your department a Tableau Desktop license; they are different products.