Tableau vs Excel: what are the differences?

Microsoft Excel is one of the most famous and oldest programs for data handling and visualization. On the other hand, Tableau is the new flashy program that more advanced data analysts need to master. There is no right answer to which software is better in a fight: Tableau vs Excel because these two programs have some different features and functionalities. These programs are now bread and butter for pure data analysts.

Tableau vs Excel

Excel vs Tableau: Pros and Cons

Microsoft Excel:


  • Program is top-rated;
  • Excel cost is low, most companies and education institutions have it;
  •  Older people are familiar with it;
  •  Wide selection of formulas;
  •  Intuitive manipulation of cells;
  •  You can edit any data in excel easily; 


  • Incompatibility with non-Microsoft products;
  • Not designed to work with BIG DATA;
  • Does not have a portal for reports;
  • VBA programming.



  • Portal for reports;
  • Interactivity;
  • Modern design;
  • Comprehensive amount of data sources and R programming;
  • Command-line;



  • High initial cost;
  • You can’t edit data easily like in Excel cells;
  • Complicated data preparation.

Tableau vs Excel: Main Differences


The primary purpose of working with Excel or Tableau is to find critical insights that could not be seen without complex analysis. While working with Excel, you mostly will know what understanding you are searching for from the data you have. However, Tableau lets you blend the data from different sources and browse through a wide selection of insights because it is so intuitive. Because of data blending and drill-down features built-in Tableau, you can spot trends and correlations, and then you can work on discovering what caused them to happen.


When working with Excel, you have to manipulate data on cells level before creating visualizations and presentations. To develop good visuals for Excel insights, you need to be an experienced user.

Tableau lets you create all kinds of good quality visuals with no additional data preparation. Just take some dimensions and measures, drag it to columns and rows, and here you have your recommended visual.



Most businesses need to live data from multiple sources to make relevant decisions. Excel and Tableau both support live data, but Tableau is better suited for that.

If you want your Excel data to be automatically refreshed, you need to create macros that update all the data when you open your spreadsheet. If you’re going to create or edit macros, you have to know at least basic VBA knowledge. While with Tableau, all the automation processes creation is much more intuitive and less repetitive.


Tableau is more suited to do business metrics evaluations, while Excel is best for data transformations and new metrics creation. Excel is the best solution while working with relatively small size data, while Tableau can quickly analyze big data problems. While experienced scientists and analysts are still choosing Microsoft Excel for data analysis and visualization, the new trend in business intelligence is to apply Tableau software for finding insights and communicate it to executives of the company.


Tableau, unlike Excel, can be used for free. With Tableau Public You can even use it for free in your company. Just be aware that all the data that you save on Tableau Public is “Public” so be smart and protect any data that can be confidential. Differently, Microsoft Excel is not for free, but most Schools, Universities, Public Libraries, and Offices have this program so you can always find some available version of MS Excel waiting for you.

The solution - Tableau and Excel tandem.

tableau vs excel

What I can say from my experience is that it’s easy to handle datasets in excel before uploading it to Tableau for analysis and visualizations. If you are having a hard time in Tableau not seeing what you are expecting to see, then most probably, you will fix those data source related problems in Excel.
This Tableau and Excel tandem is the best solution for ad hoc analysis that doesn’t have to be updated regularly. If you want daily updates on your Tableau dashboard, it is better to get your data from the SQL server.

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