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Visio was one of the earliest pieces of software to simplify how it was done by providing premade shapes and objects, rather than virtual pens and protractors. Visio, which has been owned by Microsoft since , is still one of the most important flowchart and diagramming apps available. It's powerful and chock-full of options, but it's best for bigger businesses with some IT support, as the purchasing and set-up process is confusing. Purchasing and Setup Getting Visio is tricky for a few reasons.
Part of the problem is that you can't just go to a website and buy Visio. You first have to make sure you have or sign up for the right kind of Microsoft account, either a business account when you sign up, you get an email address that ends in "onmicrosoft. Then, depending on what kind of account you have and which version of Office you have installed, you have to find out which version of Visio you can install.
Once you log into your Microsoft account, the website at least checks your eligibility and prompts you toward the right options, but getting to that point takes some doing. You can't use it on a Mac or Linux machine, and there is no browser-based version. Despite its name, Visio Online is not a fully functioning web app.
More on that in a bit. In an era when so much business software is solely web-based, and you can get to it from any machine with an internet connection, this might be frustrating enough to turn you away from the start.
All the other diagramming apps I've tested— Creately , Draw. Assuming you get this far, there are three up-to-date versions of Visio: Two older versions, Visio and Visio , are still kicking around and may be the right version for some people, depending on their system requirements and Microsoft account.
See Microsoft's Visio comparison chart for more information on Visio and Visio Pro for Office the version I tested and Visio Pro are nearly identical, except that with Pro for Office, you're buying a subscription that includes updates to the product as they're made available.
The Pro for Office version also has a few more templates and shapes, particularly those pertaining to education. Visio Standard, however, is different in that it does not include any support for collaboration and it has far fewer templates and shapes. Pricing and Comparisons Visio Pro for Office is sold on a subscription basis. Both of those latter two prices are one-time fees. Compared with other diagramming apps, Visio is expensive. Lucidchart is only available in the browser, so there's no need to worry about compatibility.
SmartDraw also has a desktop app for Windows, and it's available in three tiers: There are also other diagramming tools that cost even less. Two other apps, Gliffy and Creately, have a very low prices. Creately costs nearly the same. Getting Started Acquiring a copy of Visio may be confusing, but getting started with it once you launch the app is not.
It has a familiar Microsoft Office layout for navigating basic menus and options. Your workspace is in the center with a tabbed menu bar Ribbon interface at the top.
To the left is a panel that holds objects. What you find there changes based on what kind of diagram you're creating or editing. More options appear at right when they are relevant, such as formatting options when particular objects are selected. Templates can make or break a diagramming app, as a huge reason diagramming apps are useful in the first place is because they help you make flowcharts, floor plans, and other visuals without having to draw them by hand the way you would if you were using vector software.
Visio has dozens of templates. A few examples of the categories of templates you'll find are Business, Flowchart, Engineering, Network, and Floorplan. Within any of the categories are plenty of more specific templates.
Keep exploring and you'll find Gantt charts, brainstorming diagrams, and even very specific diagrams relating to SharePoint use. Some of the templates have content in them when you open them up. When I started an org chart, for example, it came pre-populated with a chief executive, a few managers below that position, and employees below them. But other templates start you out with a blank canvas and list of likely shapes and objects you'll use from the panel on the left.
Using Visio It's very easy to drag and drop objects, resize them, rotate them, add text, add connecting lines to show relationships, and so forth. The tools are straightforward, but there are a lot of them, and the interface could certainly stand to be pared down. It's clunky in the same way many Microsoft software products are. There's so much packed into one app that wading through menus and options can get tiresome.
Adobe, another company that struggled with how to fit hundreds of features into a single app, has had some success with creating customized workspace, so that depending on the kind of work you're doing, the interface is pared down to your needs.
Diagramming apps, Visio included, tend to do this same thing in terms of giving you appropriate object selections, but in the case of Visio, it might work well to pare down the rest of the interface, too, based on the template you select. Right-clicking on an object or group of objects brings up relevant tools, too. You can easily align and distribute objects, group and ungroup them, and make other changes, although once again the list of options is longer than it needs to be.
Visio does have a few conveniences, most of which are also offered by the competition. For example, I drew a floor plan and wanted to group together some objects. When I looped my cursor around the objects I wanted, the app intelligently did not select the walls or the shape representing the general floor space. Another example is the ability to quickly remap the org chart I had made into a different arrangement, such as side-by-side, vertical, or horizontal.
There are styling options as well, like the kind seen in Microsoft PowerPoint , that change the color scheme of the entire diagram in one click. If you work with a touch-enabled Windows machine, you can use a stylus or your finger to work with Visio as well.
Data-Driven Files One of the biggest selling points of Visio is that you can connect a diagram to a data set from another Office product and generate diagrams based on the data. It's similar to creating a chart in Excel based on data in other cells. When you change the core data, the diagram automatically updates. You can make data-driven diagrams and charts using data from a few different sources, such as Excel must be hosted on SharePoint and Microsoft Access, and you can output the final diagrams as web drawings so that anyone can view them, even people who don't have a copy of Visio.
Supported File Types When it comes to working with a wide variety of file types, Visio is the app to beat. It has more options for importing and exporting than any other diagramming app on the market.
Visio also has the strongest support for the types of files you can import: Supporting all these files types may be important to your work if you swap diagrams often with people using other tools, such as AutoCAD. Note that Visio doesn't support importing formats from competing diagramming apps, however, such as the proprietary file types used by Editors' Choice Lucidchart. Collaboration and Integration Visio supports some collaboration, but there are a few requirements you must first meet in order to get it working.
Collaboration is only supported by Visio Professional and Visio Pro for Office not Visio Standard , which means all the collaborators first have to meet all the requirements necessary to get one of those apps. Then, everyone who wants to collaborate needs either SharePoint or an Office account, in addition to having the Visio software. If you meet the requirements, then you get coauthoring, commenting, and annotation tools.
As with other Office products, you can also set up Skype for Business integration to meet virtually by Skype while working together. To put it more concretely, you can fully collaborate with others in Visio, but only if everyone has a working copy of Vision Professional or Visio Pro already installed. So it might work for intra-organization collaboration. How do you share diagrams with people outside the organization or those who don't have a copy of Visio? Microsoft released Visio Online recently it had been in beta since late , but it don't get too excited—the name it a bit misleading.
If what you're expecting is, say, an online app that offers the same functions as the Windows versions of Visio, you're in for disappointment. Visio Online is much more limited than that. Let's say I create a diagram and want to share it with Susan, who doesn't have a copy of Visio.
I can send her a link to a view-only version of my file that will appear in her web browser. Susan can see the file and add comments to it. But she can't edit it. She would still need a locally installed copy of Visio for that. If Susan does have a copy of Visio, she can go from looking at the online version to editing the diagram in just a click or two. Visio Online finds the file for her so she doesn't have to go searching for it. That's it—not particularly impressive.
If collaboration is important to your work, I would recommend scrapping Visio and looking at Lucidchart instead, because it offers real-time collaborative editing, and you don't have to jump through any hoops to get it. It works simply and easily, and it works for all tiers of service. The only word of warning is that the limitations of different account types still apply when collaborating.
For example, if someone with a Team subscription invites a free account holder to collaborate on a diagram, the free user can only edit the file if it has fewer than 60 objects on it and if it doesn't include any objects that are limited to paying users.
Better for Bigger Businesses Visio is an undeniably powerful app with a ton of capabilities. It's also tricky to get started with, expensive, and it only works on Windows computers. Plus, you can't collaborate with non-Visio users by sending them a link to a diagram and having them log into a web app. There are other diagramming apps that are easier to get, cost less, and do what most people need them to do.
Visio is quality software, but it's probably best suited to large organizations with IT administrators who are responsible for the purchasing and setup. Despite Visio's power, small business owners might find other choices more attractive. Editors' Choices Lucidchart and Smartdraw in particular are much easier to get started with and use.
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