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A packaged workbook (.twbx) is the only type of file that Tableau Reader can open. Tableau Reader can only open the packaged workbooks that contain a data extract (packaged workbooks can be saved in Desktop without extracts, but you'll get a warning that a Live Connection is not compatible with reader). So you wouldn't be able to link directly to the Excel file on the server.
The packaged workbook (.twbx) is really just a zip file. If you change the extension to .zip you'll be able to see the contents. It contains the workbook file (.twb) and any data extracts. The data extracts are likely .tde (Tableau Data Extract) files, though they might also be the Excel file (.xls). In the later case, it might be possible to have some kind of process that would monthly replace the embedded xls file with a copy of the latest that is hosted on your server. I have never tried that with Reader.
Tableau 8 will additionally provide an API for creating extracts (.tde files) directly, so it would be possible (though quite technical) to build the extract file and then embed that into each packaged workbook for your Reader users.
Hope that helps!
We are using 8.0 and would be interested un using the API to create extracts directly and embed for reader users. Any documentation o the API in particular this area?
You can open an extract in Excel. Looks like it starts as XML and then goes into the data. I opened an extract in Notepad++ and it wasn't pretty.
As for Joshua's idea...oh boy, what a mess that would be. And good luck supporting it internally because it's not going to be supported by Tableau which means at any given upgrade Tableau could change how it encodes extracts and then your entire reporting environment would go down.
Lesson learned by Intel when I was there: Use out-of-the-box functionality with the least amount of customization as possible. It saves time,money, less support required, and faster responses to issues.
But Toby, what fun is "out-of-the-box"?
All kidding aside, you are absolutely right.