Apache Superset vs Looker

Srini Kadamati

Both Apache Superset and Looker are business intelligence platforms that provide data exploration, data visualization, and reporting capabilities to organizations. They enable users to access, analyze, and visualize information stored in a variety of databases and cloud data warehouses. These platforms also provide collaboration and sharing features, allowing teams to work together to share insights and reports.

While both BI platforms are popular among data analysts, this guide outlines why you might find Superset to be a compelling Looker alternative.

Open Source as in Freedom

In June 2019, the Looker team announced that they were being acquired by Google. The acquisition resulted in the transition from Google Data Studio to Looker Studio.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Due to the maturity and dynamism of the BI market, consolidation has been accelerating over the past few years:

  • Redash was acquired by Databricks
  • was acquired and shut down by Atlassian
  • Tableau was acquired by Salesforce
  • Periscope was acquired by Sisense
  • Mode Analytics was acquired by ThoughtSpot

Acquisitions often carry the risk of shutdowns or reduced investments in the acquired solutions, leaving customers to seek new services for their business analytics assets, which they will likely need to rebuild. Open-source BI applications mitigate this risk. If you're self-hosting an open-source tool, you are immune to vendor lock-in. If you choose to partner with a SaaS or hosted service provider of the open-source software, you will have numerous options, from alternative vendors to hiring expertise in the marketplace, all the way to taking ownership and operating the software on your own.

Superset vs Looker

Apache Superset is the most popular and mature open-source business intelligence platform. This BI tool provides in-depth data exploration functionality for both SQL-savvy technical users and non-technical business users seeking actionable insights for their business.

Below, we compare between Superset and Looker across key dimensions for a BI tool.

A) Data Modeling and Time-to-Dashboard

While connecting to databases is similar in both tools, Looker requires learning and modeling your data in LookML. This process entails expensive developer licenses and a significant amount of time due to the learning curve and implementation.

Superset allows you to dive straight into data exploration with SQL or drag-and-drop functionality. It also provides a straightforward semantic layer that isn't restricted by user licenses. Superset additionally enables CSV uploads and connections to Google Sheets, making it possible for users to work with data that isn't stored in your data lake / data warehouse without the need for complex workarounds or ETL solutions.

B) Pricing

The open-source Superset is, of course, free to install. However, there is an ongoing cost associated with maintaining Superset, which depends on your organization's scale and deployment complexity, ranging from fractional to full-time engineering resources.

If you don't have in-house resources to maintain Superset deployment, you might consider a hosted solution. Preset, a SaaS version of Superset, has no platform fee and offers an affordable user licensing fee of $20 per month. Unlike most BI tools that charge extra for additional capabilities, Preset's standard license includes all functionalities, including admin capabilities, and allows you to restrict functionality as needed.

Preset's standard license is most comparable to Looker's developer user, priced at $150 per month, which can force organizations to limit functionality, creating bottlenecks for the data team or significantly increasing costs and learning requirements. Looker's view-only license is listed at $30 per month and typically includes a platform fee that can start at tens of thousands of dollars per year.”

Evaluate popular analytics software tools such as Apache Superset, Tableau, Looker, and more.

C) Charts and Visualizations

Superset ships with a wide range of pre-installed visualization types. Moreover, it allows you to build and add in new custom visualizations.

Feature Looker Superset
Common charts (pie, line, bar, etc)
Funnel visualizations
Sankey diagrams ✅ ( for $10,000 )
Network visualization
Ability to add custom charts/visualizations
Number of default charts ~20 ~40 (and growing 📈)
Number of geospatial visualizations 7 10

D) SQL IDE (Query Builder)

Both Looker and Superset have SQL IDE for crafting SQL queries in UI.

Feature Looker Superset
Support common SQL operations (Select, Filter, GroupBy, etc)
Preview visualization during iteration
Preview generated SQL query during iteration
View data transformation results as a table
Use virtual datasets to build charts
Ability to join tables

E) Advanced SQL Editor

Both ship with a powerful SQL editor and a powerful semantic layer.

  1. Aggregate values across multiple columns and publish them as Metrics.
  2. Metrics can be certified as authoritative by a specific user.
  3. Transform specific columns and publish them as Calculated Columns.
  4. Write arbitrary SQL queries and publish them as a Virtual Dataset.
Feature Looker Superset
Export query results as CSV
Database metadata explorer
Linting and auto-complete
Multi-tab workflow
Save query for re-use
Semantic layer: save queries as virtual datasets
Semantic layer: define custom metrics
Semantic layer: calculated columns

F) No-code Chart Builder and Interactive Dashboards

Feature Looker Superset
Basic datetime, value, and range filters
Dashboard templating
Custom theming
Dashboard can contain charts from multiple data sources
Data drilling
Embedded Analytics
Organization and configuration

G) Enterprise Features

Preset offers a cloud-hosted service for Superset. In addition to all the features that Superset provides out of the box, Preset simplifies the management of deployments, user access, and data permissions while ensuring enterprise-grade security.

Below, you'll find comparisons between Looker and Preset regarding admin and data security functionalities.

Category Feature Looker Preset Cloud
Admin Multiple workspace deployment
Admin Usage and audit logs
Admin Admin API
Authentication Single sign-on (SSO)
Authentication SCIM integration
Data security Data connection via SSH Tunnels
Data security Row-level security
Hosting SaaS cloud option
Hosting Self-hosted / on-prem deployment ✅ (Superset)
Hosting Hybrid deployment
Integration Integration with transformation layers ❌ (custom LookML)
User access Chart or dashboard-level permissioning
User access Workspace level RBAC (role-based access control)
User access Viewer-only mode


Superset, Preset, and Looker are BI platforms that offer a robust set of visualization, dashboarding, and SQL querying capabilities. If you're seeking a data visualization solution with more affordable licenses, instant time-to-dashboard, and no vendor lock-in, we encourage you to give Superset or Preset a try!

Sign up for a free account on Preset. You don't need to be a LookML expert; you can start creating charts and interactive dashboards in just a few minutes by connecting to any of your organization's SQL-based data sources or even CSV files or Google Sheets.

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