What’s new in Tableau 8.2?

As of June 19th we have a new member in Tableau family! Tableau 8.2 brings many new features and is the first Tableau version that also runs natively on Mac.

The new in-house map service means better performance/responsiveness and quality so you can enjoy the new and beautiful map tiles designed in collaboration with Stamen on that retina display ;).

Story Points feature allows you to organize your visualizations into a compelling narrative and unleash the data journalist within.

The new REST API  (not to be confused with the JavaScript API or TDE API) allows you to manage Tableau server through an HTTP interface e.g. retrieve a list of workbooks or data sources, query data sources, retrieve workbook thumbnails and can come in handy if your organization wants to provide its own customized interface over Tableau server. The API also offers common server management tasks which previously were only available through command line.

There are also a number of Tableau server features that I will not get into here such as importing/exporting sites and easy log file access.

Now to my favorite features -I must admit, I may have a slight bias since I worked on these 😉  – and the reason I haven’t blogged in almost 3 months.

The New Connection Experience

Of course one of the first things you will notice when you launch Tableau 8.2 is the new Connection experience. The visual join diagram, data preview window, easy access to data source and extract filters so you can quickly build your data source, preview your data without having to deal with several layers of pop up windows. If the data source you’re connected to is fast enough, you will see the effects of your changes in real time in the preview grid.

You may ask “but where did Initial SQL go?” or “How can I convert my join diagram into Custom SQL?” You can find them conveniently located in the Data menu in the toolbar as well as the referential integrity (join culling) setting.  In 8.2 you can even convert tables in the join diagram into Custom SQL or write SQL yourself then drag more tables into the diagram and join with your custom SQL script!!

What if you don’t like drag-drop or you don’t even need to join anything? Maybe you just have one table and want to use your keyboard to quickly create your connection and move on? If you prefer keyboard, all you need to do is type into the search box, locate your result and hit enter. Tableau will help you navigate from selecting database to selecting a table and finally adding it to your data source. This is especially handy if you have really long table names that has a standard prefix since default is a “contains” search.

You will notice everything in the join diagram appear as pills. You can interact with the, pills to alias the table or access its properties which vary by the data source and type of pill. In the screenshot below we are looking at a text file so clicking the gear icon brought up the menu that allows us to adjust the delimiter, character set etc. For Excel workbooks the list would be much shorter and  for SAP HANA it looks completely different, instead you will find variables/input parameters here. Note that these settings can make a big difference e.g. your locale defines thousand and decimal separators.

Custom Properties dialog

Data grid gives you a preview of the results and also allows you to rename or hide columns using the context menu as well as setting the data type and geographic role for them. You can also do multi-select –> hide to quickly get rid of columns that you don’t need for your analysis.

You will notice that the data grid sorts the columns by table and within each table using the data source order unlike the rest of Tableau data windows so you can see your tables the way they were intended by the person who created them.

Multi-select and hide      Changing data type and geographic role from data grid

One of the hidden features in the new connection experience is automatic data modeling. You will notice that Tableau automatically makes the column names more human readable (e.g. NET_INCOME will become Net Income) and recognize numeric ID columns as discrete dimensions instead of measures.

New Excel and Text Connectors

Up until 8.2 Tableau relied on Microsoft Jet to connect to Excel and Text which has been enjoyed by some Tableau customers but not by many others. If you were at the Tableau Customer Conference last year you probably remember the positive reaction from the crowd when new connectors were announced. Of course one undeniable disadvantage of Jet is the fact that it is PC only. In 8.2 we developed new connectors for text and Excel so we can support these common connection types on Mac as well while addressing the limitations that frustrated many.

You can see the exhaustive list of differences HERE but to name a few major changes, with the new connectors there is no limit on table width (Jet only allowed 255 columns and silently dropped the rest) or the size of the column name (Jet allowed only 64 characters)and type detection is much more accurate  (Jet detects data type based on the first 8 rows of an Excel sheet, new connectors use 10000 rows). The down-side of new connectors is that using them with custom SQL is currently not supported. If you really need to use custom SQL, you can still use Jet on your Windows PC. You will see an “Open with Legacy Connection” option in File Open dialog.

Choosing whether to open Excel/Text files with Jet or new connectors

Microsoft not supporting Jet on the Mac also means Access is not an available connection option in Tableau 8.2 on the Mac.

Note that since Jet is not available on Mac, if you create a legacy connection on Windows and share your workbook with a colleague using Mac, Tableau will automatically attempt to upgrade the connection on the Mac so your colleague can make use of your workbook. However if your legacy Excel/text connection relies on Custom SQL, upgrade will fail.

Reconnecting to Data Sources

You probably ran into the case where you received a workbook from someone that had multiple remote database connections in it and upon opening the workbook, you were bombarded with one username/password dialog after another. With 8.2 this is no longer the case. You will see a widget embedded into the sheets that rely on the sources that have trouble connecting, using which if you want to use that specific worksheet, you can provide the necessary info to connect. If you don’t need that sheet, no pressure.

Non-blocking broken connection experience

SAP HANA Variables and Input Parameters

For SAP HANA, variables and input parameters serve as filters defined in the data source by the admin to limit the access to the data. For example the database admin may want users to first pick a Cost Center before they query for data. In Tableau 8.2 you will be able to take advantage of such sources by providing answers to questions imposed by the admin through the connection experience.

HANA variables and input parameters

Google Analytics and Big Query Improvements

Tableau 8.2 adds support for 62 new Google Analytics dimensions and metrics in addition to custom metrics and custom dimensions and the ability to retrieve data from Mobile properties.

We also introduced a native Big Query driver that is much faster, works on Mac and doesn’t require a separate installer anymore. Since now Tableau directly connects to Big Query service instead of going through a 3rd party ODBC driver, we are able to take advantage of more capabilities offered by Big Query. It also gives us the ability to adapt more quickly to changes and improvements in the API.

I hope you enjoy Tableau 8.2 (Stingray), I am looking forward to your feedback here or on Tableau forums!


6 thoughts on “What’s new in Tableau 8.2?

  1. Michael says:

    The big question I have is can you join multiple excel workbooks with the like of Left, Right, Inner, etc. It was a big thing lacking in 8.0 where Union All was the best you could hopefuly to joing multiple excel workbook data sources… Sometimes data blending just doesn’t work.

    • Unfortunately 8.2 doesn’t have a UNION function like you described (which works like joining tables using the UI). UNION or UNION ALL in Custom SQL still the way to do it.

      • Michael says:

        I know, what I was hoping that would release in this version is a way to do a custom SQL with joins to multiple excel workbooks eg. left join t2 on t1 t1.field1= t2.field2
        I can do it on different sheets within the same workbook but once it two different files it’s another story.
        Unless i’m missing something this functionality doesn’t exist in Tableau

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