Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 158 / NOVEMBER 1993 / PAGE 150

Viso. (presentation graphics software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Steven Anzovin

Few tasks are more daunting to nonartists than having to create good-looking business or technical graphics. For all their claimed ease of use, most drawing programs--with their multiple tools, drawing modes, and nested sets of features--aren't easy at all. Worse, with most applications it takes way too much time to create anything more complex than a pie chart, and if you're not artistically inclined, the results are likely to look amateurish.

Visio is one drawing program that does just what it says: It makes creating business graphics a snap. The key to Visio's simplicity is its drag-and-drop approach to drawing. If you've ever used technical-drawing stencils--those green plastic sheets with cutouts of flow chart symbols, architectural shapes, and the like--then you already know how to use Visio. Visio has its own versions of those plastic stencils, with intelligent symbols (called SmartShapes in Visio-speak) for engineering schematics, flow charts, organization charts, network layouts, and 11 other common types of drawings. Additional stencils are available from Shapeware, or you can create your own.

The stencil floats in a window next to the main drawing area, and all you have to do is drag the desired Smart-Shape from the stencil to its place on the drawing. You can drag the shapes around, group them, add text, and attach connecting lines that extend and contract as adjustments are made to the drawing. Each SmartShape is backed by a minispreadsheet that defines the shape's geometry, text style, and other characteristics. Spreadsheet users can program shapes to perform and display calculations. Though Visio lacks most of the mode-based drawing tools contained in other drawing programs, it does have a smart pencil tool that knows when you are trying to draw a straight line or a curve and creates a geometrically perfect line.

No professional artist will want to use Visio as his or her only drawing tool. It lacks many high-end features, such as 24-bit color and PostScript support, gradient blends, and object blending. But if you have to crank out lots of technical drawings of low-to-moderate complexity and don't want to spend a lot of time or money doing it, then Visio is for you.