MicroStrategy releases free desktop dataviz software

In addtion to beefing up its flagship BI software, MicroStrategy last week lauched a free dataviz package. Called MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop, it's aimed to take on "fremium" competitors like Tableau Public -- the idea being to entice people with basic capabilities in hopes that someday they'll want more advanced offerings.

I finally had a chance to download and take a look at Desktop Analytics, and it didn't take long to conclude that if you're not familiar with MicroStrategy software (or maybe even if you are; I don't use it), you need to read documentation or watching tutotrial videos before doing something useful. For instance, I imported financial results by year into Analytics Desktop, and the year column came in as numbers. Then, it wasn't immediately apparent how to change that from number to year or character string. (It turns out, you do that editing during the import -- unfortunately, I didn't see any similar options after the data is in the system). I couldn't even see how to delete a data set after it's been uploaded; when I clicked the edit icon next to a listing, I just got a dialog to import more data.

Once you know what you're doing,  you can pull in data not only from spreadsheet and text files but also write custom SQL to import items from a relational database. In addition, Analytics Desktop can import from MapReduce databases such as Hadoop.

Once data is in Analytics Desktop, dashboards can include graphs, interactive spreadsheet-like grids, heat maps, geography maps or networks that show relationships between nodes.

After creating a visualization dashboard, you can share it with other Desktop users as a MicroStrategy file or export to image or Flash-enabled interactive PDF. Open-source purists will no doubt cringe at a phrase that contains both Flash and PDF, but it's certainly one way to share information with colleagues who aren't interested in installing and using this software -- and preferable in some use cases to uploading sensitive information to a public Web site. Nevertheless, my preference would be for generating an HTML file to upload on an intranet or even email as an attachment to allow interaction on devices that aren't Flash-enabled.

With many years on the market, Tableau Public is certainly a more mature application, offering a more sophisticated UI, visualization options and data-manipulation choices as well as lots more documentation and users. However, since Tableau Public is designed for sharing visualizations online, it's not for private data. Nor can you connect with databases other than Microsoft Access or the Azure Marketplace with Tableau Public; that requires one of Tableau's paid options. If your main goal is posting a data visualization online, though, Tableau Public is geared for that while Analytics Desktop is not.

I'll be waiting to see if MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop matures before I consider investing time in learning it. However, if you're looking for a Tableau Public-like free application that dosn't require public upload in order to share or that can connect to an existing database, this might be of interest. 

MicroStrategy Desktop Analytics runs within a browser on Windows.

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Creating a map visualization within MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop
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