If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a well-designed diagram may be worth several thousand. That's where Visio comes in.
We looked at Visio 2000 Standard Edition, a package designed for general business diagramming needs and the successor to Visio Standard 5.0. You don't need to be a graphics expert to use this package. The software is logical, intuitive and - dare we say it - fun. A complete novice can easily create snazzy, professional diagrams and charts.
Expecting to reap Visio's new benefits, the US Navy earlier this year signed a $US10.7 million, two-year blanket purchase agreement with Visio covering its entire line of products.
Visio 2000 Standard Edition offers a host of enhancements and new features that strengthen the package and deliver stronger Internet support.
One major new addition in Visio 2000 is a set of four anchored windows that provide a user quick access to key features.
The Custom Properties window displays data stored in selected shapes, such as part numbers. The Size & Position window displays object size and position information numerically, and you can edit the numbers to resize and reposition objects with precision. The Drawing Explorer window displays the contents of a drawing - down to the smallest element - in a navigable tree, similar to Microsoft's Internet Explorer. You can perform certain editing functions (depending on the element) by simply right-clicking on an entry.
Finally, the Pan & Zoom window provides a bird's-eye view of a drawing and enables you to select a portion of the drawing on which to zoom. You can drag the selection box within the Pan & Zoom window to quickly move around your drawing and zoom in and out of different areas.
Another nifty touch is that you can set each anchored window to stay open or automatically roll up when you move the cursor off it.
Visio 2000's richer Internet support enables users to easily publish diagrams in a variety of World Wide Web-ready formats, including Vector Markup Language, the new standard for creating and exchanging drawings on the Internet. With VML support, users can pan, zoom and navigate through multipage drawings in the Internet Explorer 5 browser with no additional software. VML-based graphics also download faster than conventional Web graphics such as GIF and JPEG.
You can also embed hyperlinks into your Visio diagrams, which can link to other pages within a file, another file of any type or a Web site. We found these links easy to create. Simply go to Insert-Hyperlinks on the menu and a window appears that lets you type in or browse for an address. A sub-address field lets you type in the name of a specific shape. You can create multiple hyperlinks for each file and shape in the diagram, and the links appear in the right-click shortcut menu.
Visio 2000 provides further flexibility with its Microsoft Windows and Office compatibility. You can paste Visio drawings into any Office document, spreadsheet or presentation. When pasting a drawing into a PowerPoint slide, you can set it to pick up the slide's colour scheme. Visio 2000 also integrates with Microsoft BackOffice applications such as SQL Server.
Visio 2000 Standard Edition offers a streamlined user interface and even more customising options than Visio Standard 5.0. The default interface is condensed into fewer toolbars, and users can customise toolbars and hide or show as many toolbars as they wish. Toolbars can also be undocked and floated, just as toolbars in Microsoft Office. Customising toolbars is easy with Visio 2000's Customize dialog box. Menu categories are listed on the left, and the commands under each category are shown on the right. Simply click and drag commands or icons from the Customize box to an existing toolbar or to a new blank toolbar.
Online help is abundant in Visio 2000 in the form of both words and pictures. Choosing a drawing type is even easier than before because Visio not only lists the drawing types and includes pop-up definitions of each, but it also includes graphical previews of each drawing type. Pop-up descriptions are also included with all drawing shapes.
When choosing a flow chart element, for example, you can make sure you select the appropriate shape for that step of the process. The pop-up help even lists which connectors you should use with certain shapes.
In addition to the graphical previews and pop-up help, Visio 2000 includes help based in Hypertext Markup Language. The help window looks similar to a Web browser, with Back, Forward, Print and Search buttons. You can use the Search feature to type in a natural-language question, such as `How do I change a colour scheme?' Links sprinkled throughout the help files enable you to quickly jump to subjects of interest. Within the browser-like help window you will find tabs for the familiar Contents and Index help listings similar to ones found in most Windows applications.
New formatting and editing tools make it easier to create a drawing to exact specifications and adjust even the smallest details. A new text-editing ruler enables you to set tabs, margins and hanging indents for individual text blocks.
Visio 2000 Standard Edition includes 30 new borders and titles, 18 new backgrounds and 16 new colour schemes, all of which can be applied with a single click.
Precision drawing tools enable you to size and align objects accurately. Real-time editing feedback shows you exactly how a shape is changing as you resize it. Shape extension lines - dotted lines extending beyond the shape's borders - provide visual feedback about shape angles, tangents and other geometric relationships. A dynamic grid offers intelligent object snapping so that shapes are evenly distributed and aligned, and nudge tools enable you to move an object in extremely small increments by using the arrow keys on your keyboard. We liked the nudge tools a lot, and so will anyone who has been frustrated trying to make tiny adjustments to an on-screen object with a mouse.
These new features, including a re-engineered Visio 2000 engine that makes the program run faster and supports larger drawings, make Visio 2000 Standard Edition an excellent diagramming package. If you have Visio Standard Edition 5.0, it's worth the upgrade.the bottom lineVisio 2000 Standard EditionBusiness Case: This drawing package is intelligent, intuitive and extremely easy to use. It's loaded with just about every feature you could need for creating all kinds of business diagrams. Visio 2000 enables users with no previous graphics experience to create snazzy, professional-quality drawings.
Price and Availability: Visio 2000 Standard Edition retails at $299. An upgrade costs $159. For higher-end graphics needs, consider the other products in the Visio 2000 family: Visio 2000 Professional Edition and Visio 2000 Technical Edition will be available this month for $710, and Visio 2000 Enterprise Edition, scheduled for release in Australia in December, will cost $1699.www.visio.com.au