Excel is often a first stop for exploratory data analysis and data wrangling, and can produce a number of data visualizations. PowerPoint can be good way to combine various visualizations with text to create infographics and visual presentations. Visio is specifically for creating drawings.
Microsoft also offers Power BI, a general-purpose visualization environment with a free version that can be published online via a subscription service.
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, and cloud (Office); Windows (Power BI).
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): free (Power BI desktop and service), although there are Pro versions that you pay for; $150 and up (Office) or $70 per year and up (Office 365 – cloud); $300 and up (Visio) or $13 per user per month (Visio for Office 365).
Support: available from Microsoft.
Publishing online: Power BI can publish to the Power BI service.
Tableau is a general-purpose visualization environment with powerful and easy-to-use tools for creating interactive data visualizations. You can combine them into dashboards, and combine dashboards into linear panels called stories.
The free version, Tableau Public, allows you to publish and reference your visualizations on the Tableau Public site (as long as you can let viewers download your data).
Platforms: Windows and Mac OS X (desktop or public); Windows (server); online via Web.
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): $999 (personal) or $1,999 (professional) for desktop; $10,000 and up for server; $500 per year for online; Public version free.
Support: extensive community of users, easy to find answers via web search, examples readily available.
Publishing online: Tableau Public (create a profile with 1GB space free); Tableau Online, or Tableau Server. Hosted visualizations can be easily embedded in other web pages.
ESRI’s ArcGIS is the gold standard in Geographical Information Systems software. It is a full-fledged professional tool, but even novice users can create simple maps. Developers can create highly custom and interactive Web pages and apps using ArcGIS servers, APIs and SDKs.
Platforms: Windows (desktop and server); online via Web; API for developing apps and web pages.
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): desktop – $1,500 and up; online - $2,500 for five users and up; server - $5,000 and up for perpetual license; $100 for personal use.
Support: paid support, conferences and user groups; extensive community of users, easy to find answers via web search.
Publishing online: via ESRI cloud (requires service credits) or your own ArcGIS server; can also support mobile apps.
R is a power tool for data wrangling and statistical computing that also supports graphic output. It is like a development environment – the basic package includes a command-line editor and interpreter. RStudio provides a nicer graphical development environment, but you still have to deal with scripts.
Several graphics packages make creating plots and charts fairly easy, and Shiny (also from RStudio) produces interactive Web pages.
Platforms: Linux/Unix, Windows, and Mac OS X.
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): free, open source (GNU General Public License).
Support: online documentation, extensive and active community; mature product.
Publishing online: through packages like Shiny by RStudio (which has both free and supported versions).
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): free, open source (BSD license).
Support: documentation online; extensive user community, easy to find answers on the Web; vast gallery of examples, many with source code shown.
Adobe’s Illustrator (a vector drawing program) and Photoshop (a bitmap image program) are often used to polish and enhance visualizations created with other products. Illustrator also includes a number of basic visualization types that can be created directly within the product. Adobe PDF is a common format for infographics.
Adobe Flash was one of the early drivers of interactive Web visualization, and its successor, Animate CC, is designed to support evolving Web and mobile standards.
Platforms: Windows and Mac OS X.
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): part of Creative Cloud, which has a subscription model starting at $9.99 per month for a single application.
Support: available from Adobe.
Publishing online: not applicable.
Qlik is a general-purpose visualization environment with a free version. It creates a series of dashboards with selection and filtering built in. Qlik is easy to use, with a wide selection of chart types. With a paid version or cloud hosting, you can embed visualizations or share them on the Web. Qlik provides an API that enables you to mashup and extend visualizations in sophisticated Web applications.
Platforms: Windows (desktop); online via Web; API for developing apps and web pages.
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): desktop – free for personal or internal business use, $20 per user per month for Qlik Sense Cloud, $1,500 per token (one user or ten logins per month).
Support: Qlik provides online forums, consulting, training, and conferences; active user community.
Publishing online: Qlik Sense Cloud (share with up to five others, 250 MB free, additional capacity available).
QGIS is a powerful yet free and open source Geographic Information System. Its capabilities are constantly evolving and can be extended through various free plugins. You can publish your maps on the Internet, if you have access the necessary equipment.
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android.
Cost: Free, open source (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0).
Support: online community; QGIS provides online documentation and tutorials; numerous books; commercial support contractors (including core contributors).
Publishing online: QGIS Server and Web Client; can export to Leaflet or other servers.
Trifacta enables analysts of all skill levels to work with and manipulate complex data. As much as 80% of effort in a visualization project can be absorbed by cleaning and formatting your data, and Trifacta automates parts of that task. Whether you are accessing complex big data or a simple spreadsheet, Trifacta can help you prepare it for a visualization tool like Tableau.
Platforms: Windows and Mac OS X.
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): free download (except Wrangler Enterprise – data wrangling for Hadoop).
Support: community support; Trifacta provides online training, videos, and basic documentation.
Publishing online: not applicable.
You can add charts and graphs to Google Sheets, and you can access those same visualizations and data through various Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). Google Maps is accessible via API, enabling various map-based visualizations.
Google also offers Fusion Tables, a web application to gather, explore and share data tables. With Fusion Tables, you can find public data or use your own, visualize it instantly, and host data and visualizations online.
Cost (as of April 30, 2016): free, under terms of Google APIs Terms of Service (https://developers.google.com/terms/).
Support: Google provides online documentation and forums; extensive community of users.