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October 22, 2013

MicroStrategy Tries Out Free Software

Alex Woodie

MicroStrategy today unveiled Analytics Desktop, a new in-memory business intelligence tool that aims to deliver the same types of data analytic and discovery capabilities that Tableau Software, QlikTech, and TIBCO provide, but with one big exception: it’s free.

MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop installs on Windows PCs and allows users to connect to a variety of data sources and create visualizations from that data using pre-canned filters and templates. Once users have visualizations they like, the software helps them share it with others. Alternatively users can combine several visualizations into a single dashboard interface, and apply additional metrics to it.

The vendor says it’s aiming to help customers spot patterns, trends, and relationships in data that may be difficult to uncover. In addition to building visualizations and dashboards, it allows users to view, sort, pivot, drill, and use aggregations to apply statistical analysis. By combining the simplicity of drag-and-drop development with the power of data slicing and dicing, MicroStrategy hopes to attract a new generation of users.

This approach is not that different than the approach taken by Tableau, QlikTech, and TIBCO Spotfire, the undisputed leaders in the data discovery and visualization space. The idea is to free users to explore their data sets as they see fit, without embarking on time-consuming data warehousing projects.

Here’s an example of a visualization created by Analytics Desktop.

Tableau, QlikTech, and TIBCO have benefited greatly from this approach. Tableau, in particular, has rocketed to prominence in the data analytics and visualization space in just a couple of short years. More than others in this space, Tableau has capitalized on the high levels of dissatisfaction that users have with the big traditional BI vendors with its software, and its capability to allow users to “improvise in creative and unpredictable fashion,” as Tableau CEO Christian Chabot said during a keynote address last month.

Thanks to a successful IPO last year, the Seattle, Washington-based vendor now has a market capitalization of nearly $3.8 billion dollars, compared to 2012 revenues of about $128 million. Tableau’s success has to gnaw a bit on the MicroStrategy folks in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Despite having nearly 4.6 times the revenue of MicroStrategy last year (the firm recorded $594 million in total revenue in 2012), Tableau’s market capitalization is 3.3 times larger than MicroStrategy’s, which is about $1.1 billion. Such is how Wall Street separate actuals from potentials.

By giving away analytics and visualization software, MicroStrategy hopes to take some wind out of Tableau’s sail. “We expect a lot of people in the market to ask themselves ‘Why should I buy Tableau when I can get MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop for free?'” Glen Goldstein, senior vice president of corporate marketing and business development, told the Washington Business Journal. It’s a calculated move on MicroStrategy’s part, and one that Tableau would be wise to monitor.

Analytics Desktop is a free version of its Analytics Express and Analytics Enterprise offerings. The vendor says the free Analytics Desktop software differs from its bigger, un-free brothers in that it can’t build “pixel-perfect documents,” it doesn’t support automated deliveries, and it doesn’t support custom mobile interfaces. The free software also has a 100MB per-file size limit, and a total storage limit of 10GB.

Users can create heat maps with Desktop Analytics.

MicroStrategy is clearly hoping that, as users of its free software hit the limits of what Analytics Desktop can do, that they’ll upgrade to Analytics Express or Analytics Enterprise. Users who want to start exploring their reports, for example, can’t do that with the free software; they would need the Analytics Express offering.

Similarly, while Analytics Desktop can pull data directly from practically any relational database and some more exotic column-oriented and Hadoop file stores, Analytics Enterprise would be required to analyze data sources that are most often found in the enterprise, including multi-dimensional databases, operational databases supporting production ERP, CRM, and SCM, and SaaS-based applications, such as SugarCRM, Eloqua, NetSuite, and Facebook.

MicroStrategy’s two for-fee analytics products also offer considerably more functionality in the security, administration, and integration department, which is something to consider before trying to roll out Analytics Desktop in a large and established enterprise.

With that said, this stunt of giving away free software will likely give MicroStrategy the shot in the arm it desired. “The new MicroStrategy Analytics Desktop makes MicroStrategy a top-tier competitor in the red-hot visual discovery market,” Wayne Eckerson, a BI analyst with TechTarget, states in MicroStrategy’s announcement. “By offering a stand-alone desktop visual discovery tool and making it freely available, MicroStrategy places itself among the leaders in this new sector of business intelligence.”

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