Should I learn Tableau Desktop or Tableau Server?


Do you love to create engaging charts and graphs to identify hidden trends and patterns from data? If yes, then you should look for jobs that involve data visualization tasks on a daily basis. Representing tabular data in the form of maps or charts isn’t some new skill. However, it has gained prominence due to the advanced developments in data science. Today, we are dealing with a massive amount of data for which computational power wasn’t available in the past. Data visualization is integral to the data science process, and anyone willing to establish their career in this domain needs to have good visualization skills.


As we are generating an unprecedented amount of data, visualizing it manually isn’t feasible. We require advanced tools and techniques to represent big data and determine meaningful insights from them. When you start searching for the best data visualization tool, you will surely come across Tableau. A leader in the business analytics and data visualization space, Tableau has witnessed impressive growth since its inception, so much that it was acquired by Salesforce (the world’s number one CRM software). The tool empowers some of the renowned companies with its data visualization capabilities, like Wells Fargo, Verizon, Honeywell, the New York Times, the World Bank, Nike, and Skype.

Professionals who are seeking a data-related job role often take Tableau training to improve their data visualization skills. Now Tableau has different products to offer to its clients, the two important ones being Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server. This article lets you understand the difference between these two products and which one you should learn to advance your Tableau skills.

Tableau Desktop


Tableau Desktop offers you everything that is required to access, visualize, and analyze data. As the name suggests, it is a kind of desktop application that you can use even offline to unearth hidden trends and patterns to facilitate better decision-making. It allows you to connect to data sources both on-premise and cloud. It supports big data, a spreadsheet, a SQL database, and cloud apps for acquiring data. There is no need to write any code when combining and cleaning data. With the augmented analytics feature (powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning), data professionals can get answers and identify trends faster through natural language, statistics, and smart data prep.

Tableau Server

With Tableau Server, you can extend the value of your data across your entire organization. It gives you a trusted environment where you can explore data and go beyond the predefined questions, charts, or wizard types. Your organization’s data and analytics are secure, governed, and accurate with Tableau Server. The data professionals can choose from the on-prem or public cloud and configure servers, scale hardware capacity, and manage software upgrades as per your requirement. This product offers centralized governance, control, and visibility to ensure that the data is in safe hands with automated authentication and easy permission management.

Tableau Desktop vs. Tableau Server

Tableau Desktop, as the name suggests, is a desktop application that a person can install on their system. One can use Tableau Desktop to create workbooks, interactive dashboards, stories, or reports by connecting to any data source. Such work is stored on the local drive of the user’s computer system. Now, if they want to share the work with some other person in the organization, they can do so via email or transfer through any storage device. The catch here is that the person receiving the workbook can only view it if they have Tableau Desktop installed on their system. This scenario is quite similar to how people used to share files without having a cloud-based system in place.

This is where Tableau Server is helpful. A professional who creates a workbook or dashboard on Tableau Desktop can publish it on Tableau Server to let others view or modify them. Tableau Server is accessible through a browser, and there is no need to download anything on a local system. So, if the owner of the workbook uploads their work on Tableau Server, the recipient can view it online through a browser. Without Tableau Server, the Tableau Desktop file shared through conventional means leads to the creation of multiple versions of the same workbook in different locations. Any changes made to the original document later will not reflect on the other versions of it.

This problem is avoided in Tableau Server by using the access control option. The person who creates the workbook is called the Tableau Admin of the file. When uploading his work on Tableau Server, he can set permission for the list of recipients as to whether they can just view the workbook, make comments, or edit the file. This way, all the changes are reflected in the original file, and no separate versions are created. The admin can also track the changes made to the workbook by the recipients. This is how Tableau Server offers centralized governance, control, and visibility (as mentioned above).

Finally, when it comes to learning, it is better to go with Tableau Desktop first, as you will be using all the Tableau features to create dashboards and charts and identify hidden trends and patterns. Then, you can move on to Tableau Server, where you can learn how to publish your work and use the access controls. Happy Learning!