Visio creates common drawings for artistically challenged users

Visio creates common drawings for artistically challenged users

Visio Standard has a simple interface,

It's not for rocket scientists'this package has CAD features at a price most users will find pleasing

By Edmund X. DeJesus

Special to GCN

There is a place for objectivity in technical journalism, but I cannot be objective when writing about drawing applications. Users don't consider just features and price when choosing them; they buy for the feel of them. For me, the drawing system of choice is Visio Corp.'s Visio Standard, no question.

It was not always so. I remember when
my editor suggested in no uncertain terms that I use a drawing tool more sophisticated than Adobe Paint for an illustration. I groaned and muttered and complained until a looming deadline forced me to get to work. I picked a copy of Visio off the shelf, and I've never looked back.

Hard-core engineering types might sneer at such a choice and even claim that Visio is not really for computer-aided design work. For the artistically challenged such as myself, there is no doubt that what Visio does is draw. And this odd little box that it runs on sure seems to be a computer. Ergo, Visio is a CAD application.

I don't claim that Visio can handle designing a jet engine, although maybe it could. I don't find myself designing many jet engines these days. What I do is create many everyday, common drawings, and Visio is a whiz at this.

The $150 package has a simple building block structure that it calls templates. For example, if you want to lay out a LAN, Visio has lots of well-drawn representations of routers, hubs and similar entities. You drag one of these from the template bin onto your drawing. Then you can manipulate the item'resize it, flip it, rotate it and move it around. You can attach formatted text to it. You can use it as a cookie cutter and make dozens of identical items.''

Best of all, you can attach it to other objects, which is my favorite part of Visio. There are all kinds of connectors that you can attach from item to item. They can be straight or curved or right-angled like water pipes. They can be lines or arrowheads or fancy set-logic symbols. They can be fat, thin, dotted or dashed.

But the fun starts after you attach two items with a connector because the connector knows what it attaches to. So if you move an item around on a drawing'and who has never had to jiggle things around a little to make everything fit right?'the connector stays attached. I've had to untangle some unholy messes of flowcharts, but Visio's smart connectors make it seem like a game of cat's cradle: I lift items over and around each other, confident they will stay attached where they're supposed to.

Many functions

I have used Visio to design a network layout for a magazine story, a flowchart for a software manual, an organizational chart for a client's brochure, a process diagram for a business re-engineering project and a blueprint for new furniture for my daughter's bedroom. It's not rocket science, but it's probably close to what most users of drawing packages do.

Visio is one of the pioneers of new CAD. It offers a simple interface, modest demands on resources, extensive import and output capabilities, and a large and expanding set of templates for performing a variety of tasks. It typifies the trend toward simplicity in modern CAD software because of its minimal hardware requirements, easy interaction with other applications and orientation toward common office drawing tasks.

The latest version of Visio is long overdue. Maybe the folks at Visio are concentrating more on Visio Technical'a souped-up version oriented toward tasks that are more, well, technical'and IntelliCAD, which hooks into AutoCAD.

Visio offers many attractive features, even for engineers. It's already won me over.

Edmund X. DeJesus is a free-lance technical consultant in Norwood, Mass. He cannot draw a crooked line properly.

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