I'm too old to change now -- I think I'll be a Visio man until I die (over the years I've become a "Diva" with Visio) -- but if I'd had access to SmartDraw when I first started writing, I could have saved myself literally hundreds of hours over the years.
I've been looking for a good alternative to Visio. I don't need it quite enough to justify the purchase, but I need it enough that having it would make my life easier.
I downloaded the SmartDraw free seven-day demo version and will be checking it out over the next few days. The biggest worry I have with it after a quick glance is that it may be too automated. I've found quite often that the more automated a piece of software is, the more restrictive it is. It's rare to find a good balance between the two. Hopefully, this will be it.
As far as image software goes, I use The Gimp. It seems to be more powerful than Paint.net, but it's probably more difficult to use. (That trade-off again). I've tried Paint.net but I've been using Gimp for so long that I end up sticking with it instead of trying to learn the new thing, as you did with Visio.
We switched over to SmartDraw at work a few years ago. Overall, I've been unhappy with it and wish we would go back to Visio. I agree that automation can be a killer for a product. There is much automation in SmartDraw, but you don't have to use most of it, which is a good thing. But when you must use it, you get inconsistent results.
I mainly make flow charts. Two of the things I really like in Visio is having the text/shape resize to fit the contents while typing and how you can exactly line up connecting lines. I have SmartDraw 2008 and it fails miserably for both of these.
While it can resize fonts/shapes, it does so inconsistently. For example, sometimes all of the lines of text shrink to fit; sometimes just 1 or 2 lines shrink, but the other lines stay the original size. Worse, once you "get it right" and then save, close, and reopen the document the next day you'll find some of those fonts have been resized again and may or may not look like when you saved!
A very similar thing happens with connecting lines. Sometimes you can line them up, sometimes they're off a pixel or two. When you print it, it makes for a very unprofessional looking document when they're off a bit. And when you save, close, and reopen, the lines sometimes shift "automatically" on you.
And that's all if you can get the lines to connect right in the first place. The way SmartDraw makes you right click to change a connecting line from a right-angle connector to a "bracket" connector is very un-user-friendly. (Visio is much better in that if you want to have an extra "bend" in the line, you click and drag the little square in the middle of the line.) But worse again, is that SmartDraw will sometimes automatically change your line style to what it thinks it should be, even if you manually change the style.
I have other rants about SmartDraw, so I hope you have better luck with the "VP" version that's out now -- maybe they've made significant improvements since 2008.
I noticed that in your response you say it is a good thing that you do not have to use most of the automation in SmartDraw.
We like to say that using SmartDraw without the automation is like trying to push a ride-on lawn mower. We definitely understand your frustration. Not only will you need an enormous amount of strength to push such a heavy piece of machinery, but you have to lean over and grab a steering wheel while still trying to push from the back. A ride-on lawn mower is a completely different appliance than a push lawn mower. It makes no sense to use it as one. Its so much easier to ride!
SmartDraw is designed to automatically add the connecting lines to a flowchart as you add and move shapes. Its not meant to be done manually. When you make flowcharts in SmartDraw, our connectors do the work for you. This is the same for the text. If you let SmartDraw do the work of formatting and leave the default settings as they are, your result is a chart that both looks familiar and follows the rules of visual grammar. By adhering to visual grammar (see this video to see what I mean: http://www.smartdraw.com/videos/enterprise/visual-grammar/), your flowcharts will have the proper alignment, equal spacing, and a left to right flow. These aspects makes it easy for anyone to understand. Instead of creating complex and difficult to understand flowcharts like this (http://calvinkaiser.com/sample%20documents/Writing%20for%20Clarity%20-%20Project%20Design.jpg), you can create complex and easy to understand flowcharts that look like this (http://www.smartdraw.com/enterprise/vpm/collections/printing-company/Prep_Job/index.html).
The beauty of SmartDraw is that the automation of formatting will save you time and create professionally formatted process flows in minutes. Trying to ignore, or worse, work against the automation SmartDraw provides is naturally going to lead to a poor result compared with using it the way it was designed to be used.
I was originally planning on looking at Gimp, but I heard Paint.net was easier to learn/use, and when it comes to image processing all I really need are basic functions like crop, resize, and color and contrast adjustment.
I know what you mean about automation getting in the way, but my impression of SmartDraw is that they have come up with a good balance -- and this really will make it easy for folks to create really professional-looking charts and diagrams and drawings.
One reason for sticking with Visio is that I can now use it with my eyes closed (well, almost :-)
Also I already paid for my Visio licenses.
But the biggest reason is two commands called Fragment and Union. These are incredibly powerful. With Fragment you can overlay two or more shapes, select them, and use the Fragment command to split them into their intersecting component parts. By comparison, Union allows you to merge multiple disparate shapes into one shape.
These are "power-user" commands, but I regularly wish to create quite complex diagrams and I find myself using them all the time.
The problem is that these commands don't exist in SmartDraw. This won't be of concern to the majority of users, but I can't imagine life without them (grin). One worrying thing is that the folks who create Visio seem to be pushing these commands into the background (see my blog http://bit.ly/fa5Vzw and especially the comments). If these commands ever disappear in a future version of Visio, then that's the point when I shall cease to upgrade.
Please do let me know how you get on with the SmartDraw demo. You can email me at max@CliveMaxfield.com -- if you wish I could publish your feedback in a future blog.
I would recomend you try FastStone image viewer. I have tried many and this one is not only free (although I have contributed donations many times) but it does everything you want from one screen easily and intuitively. You use the four sides of the screen to pop up varios cammand groups. It is so quick.
I'd recommend Dia, a free drawing package,
which I've been using for home projects recently:
- turn on and use layers to organize elements
- only vector text may be rotated
It's also scriptable in Python (which I haven't
actually tried out) :
Gimp is a totally different level of software from paint.net. Paint.net is a much simpler and more limited program - that makes it easier and faster to use, but it doesn't have anything like the facilities of Gimp.
Gimp is more often compared to Photoshop. There are a lot of things that Photoshop can do that Gimp can't (in particular, Gimp doesn't support more than 8-bit colour, or printing colour spaces). There are other things that Gimp does better than Photoshop - it has far more advanced scripting facilities.
As with all such choices, try them out and take your pick - there is no single "best" choice.
For vector drawings, look at Inkscape. It is powerful, open source, regularly updated, and cross-platform, so you have nothing to lose by giving it a try.
As an alternative for painting programs, have a look at TuxPaint. It is aimed at kids, but with its range of tools and clipart (or "stamps"), you can actually use it to make cheerful and colourful pictures very easily.
I haven't actually used Inkscape very much - I seldom need to make very advanced diagrams. In practice I use either Open Office Draw, my EDA Schematics program (it's fine for block diagrams), or sometimes graphviz for generating diagrams. And I've had occasion to use Dia in the past, though not much recently.
However, I would expect that Inkscape has "fragment" and "union" commands, or some equivalent.
And don't forget to try TuxPaint. You might not find much use for it professionally, but you can still have fun!
I tried the SmartDraw demo (after using Visio since version 4). SmartDraw may be good for some, but it is somewhat limiting ... I too, use the "Fragment", "Union" and other functions in Visio. If you need to do any "cad like" drawings ... Visio is much better. I also have a large library of Visio drawings (and shapes) that I can and do re-use.
I tried Google Sketchup but was not happy with the user interface. I really was looking for a more 3D capable package than Viso provides but Sketchup was too hard to get to work right given my need to fix sizes and relationships. I was hoping that it would be easier than a full blown 3D CAD tool, no luck. I will continue to use Visio but will always be looking for the next best thing..
If you're looking for 3D capability without too much of a price tag and don't like Google Sketchup, then you are where I was 6 months ago. I settled on Alibre. They have a amazingly good free version as well as some tempting paid for versions. It may not be what you are looking for, but it sounds like it just might be.
My problem is that I spend so much of my time creating diagrams -- and I've spent so many years honing my skills with Visio -- and I already have Visio licenses for all of my computers -- that it would be very difficult for me to justify migrating to another tool.
Isn't that always the way? I use Visio but not enough to not switch if something better comes along, but I've been using OrCAD Layout for almost 20 years and now Cadence has decided to switch everyone to something else. I've got so much time invested in footprints and experience in working around bugs that they never seem to fix, that I stopped upgrading 2 years ago (when they stopped updating Layout). If PCB design changes so much that I need to "upgrade", I will simply switch to a competitor that makes something less different than their offering.
Etmax, not to devaite too much from this thread, I feel your pain, since I am similary position. With regard to electronic schematics and PCB design, I have started to my migration to Altium, a totally new frame work (I am just a user, not a rep for them). Sometimes you have to re-evaluate where you stand and make a choice among products available on the market. By the same token, Eagle is another ACAD that has resonable pricing from entry to more advance. Just a personal opinion, here.
Dear Rene, also not wanting to hijack this thread :-) and I didn't want to name names, but yes Altium is exactly what I was contemplating. It has much better functionality and if I have to suffer the pain of migration why would I stick with a company that has offered so little over the years when there are new kids on the block? Not that Altium is really a new kid. And by the way, don't under estimate the value of your personal opinion, it's why ET-Times is so popular :-). Apologies for wandering.
I've been using StarOffice Draw (now OpenOffice Draw) for a couple years as a replacement for Visio. It allows you to create components and save them. I've created many standard electronic components that I use regularly. I don't use Visio enough to justify the cost.
Go with Paint.NET, you won't be sorry. I've been using it since the 2nd or 3rd release as a Photoshop alternative at work and it's dead simple. From the functions you mention you need to a few selection tricks that are way more difficult in Photoshop, IMHO, it is a great piece of software. For web content, its best feature is taking an existing image and using the color picker to get the RBG code to use in your HTML/CSS markup. For heavy photo editing, I would not recommed it, but it does handle the basics like brightness, contrast, levels, sharpening, etc., well enough that you may not care. If you need something more powerful, don't forget that Photoshop Elements has most of the power of regular Photoshop but at a 1/5 of the cost.
Another free image handling product I love is FastStone Image Viewer. It does far more than viewing, while being very simple and easy to work with. FastStone.org also offers a free image resizer, great for batch processing. Features complex renaming, resizing by percentage, to fixed pixel dimensions, fixed dimension on one axis, and more.
I do love Visio and I find it quite intuitive to use (the later versions not so intuitive as the others (i.e. those from 2004 and earlier) but it is too darned expensive for a retired guy to consider! I used it a lot (not at the high level you apparently do) and found it very handy for generating (mainly) drawings. Most of these drawings were incorporated in Word documents and used to both explain and document my work. Very valuable. BUT ... expensive. SmartDraw may be better BUT ... it is still expensive. Sigh.
"The Standard version retails at $249, the Professional version retails at $559, and the Premium version retails at $999 (theyre available from Amazon for $206, $435, and $632, respectively)."
Check out someone in college or take a course yourself. I just checked my local community college, and they have discounted software for students, staff, and faculty.
Download Microsoft Visio Premium 2010 Available to: Students/Faculty/Staff $138.18
Download Microsoft Visio Professional 2010 Available to: Students/Faculty/Staff $88.95
Mail Order Microsoft Visio Professional 2010 Available to: Students/Faculty/Staff $92.01
You must be a student, faculty member, or staff member and log into the site with an ID from the college.
So, taking one course, even a one-credit course, could save you a bundle on this software alone. I don't know if taking a non-credit course counts, but if you have a student ID and a college email address, that's all you need. This particular site is accessed through the college, so you'd need to check your own local community college. This college has some distance (online) courses, but out-of-county (Anne Arundel) or out-of-state (Maryland) you'd pay more for most of the courses the courses.
There are other savings on Office and Win7 as well as on Adobe. Both Windows and Mac versions are available for some items, and there are 6-month and 12-month licenses for other software (SAS and some engineering software).
Oh, yeah: in our county, tuition is free once you reach age 60. I took an Intro to Homeland Security course last year and am going to check out two courses that start the day after my 60th birthday to see if that qualifies me for free tuition. (A retired friend of mine in a nearby county says they have no discount for seniors and just had a tuition increase!).
The problem that I have found with automated programs in the past, (no, I have not tried SmartDraw), is that the automation is not set up for the way that I think. Not that the automation is wrong, but that my way of thinking is obviously way different from the way that the automation is intended to run. This does indeed cause problems! I have used Visio, but not recently, and while I found that it was able to do a lot, it was as bloated as any other microsft product, and that did make it less convenient for my use.
I just ran across this amazing program a few weeks. MS bought them several years ago and they offer their product for free - Creature House Expression 3. Even though it is several years old it has features I have not seen in today's tools.
There is a user group at:
Was this an advertisement or an article? I am still trying to understand why it is in a "quality" engineering magazine.
You pay top dollar for Visio for the same reason you pay more money for Mentor PADs, Altium Designer, etc. versus DipTrace, EasyPCB, PCB123, etc. You "MAY" be able to do almost anything with the low end packages, but at what ultimate cost? Usually your time. For me, time is money. I don't have a lot of it. I have likely recovered the cost of a higher end PCB CAD package in one contract when I look at the time I have saved and not to mention avoiding just one error that could set me back weeks.
Visio may not be mission critical software, but the results are still important.
That said, not being a mechanical CAD specialist, I do not have a strong need for the latest in Autocad and hence purchased a lower cost package mainly for viewing and making minor changes and markups.
For you who it seems drawings are mission critical, stick to Visio. If you make 100 drawings a year, that works out to $3.33 / drawing assuming a 3 year update cycle. Assuming it takes an hour to make a drawing, you are likely getting many times that value in salary/commission.
What is your time worth?
Hi -- this was simply a blog -- not an article or an advert -- just my off-the-head thoughts. I agree that for me Visio is well worth the money -- I have years of experience with it plus I have already paid for two Visio 2010 licenses.
Re why is this in a "quality engineering magazine" -- there are a lot of engineers out there who simply want to make professional looking presentations without a huge learning curve. I mean, have you sat through a typical presentation created by an engineer (other than myself) -- they need all the help they can get -- for them I think SmartDraw might be worth looking at -- the folks at SmartDraw where kind enough to give me an online demo and I thought I'd pass what I'd learned on.
Regards -- Max
I am a reasonably advanced user of all sorts of graphics tools and recently bought Visio, against SmartDraw, as I had hit a problem with my previous tool OpenOffice Draw.
OpenOffice Draw strengths are the consistent use of styles, which makes it easy to add structure to collections of objects; the intuitive powerpoint like use of multiple pages in a document; the XML document structure which we leverage through scripting; and the fact you can make it accessible to everyone everywhere. However the graphics rendering is 1990's, the text entry is primitive, the PNG rendering is locked into 72dpi, and the connector drawing is not only weak but can get corrupted on saves.
SmartDraw's strengths in the 3 hours that I used it were that it was user friendly, and the stamping multiple objects tool really did work. However I found the excessive advertising noise obtrusive, the help hard to get at and not that useful, and in the end I don't really need the extra automation as I am not in the business of simply cranking out chains of boxes. The graphics interactions also bothered me as they had some of the klunkiness of OpenOffice, for example in the way that it responded when you grabbed objects, and in the drawing of connectors.
It took me about an hour to redraw an improved version of my SmartDraw work from opening the Visio box. The connector drawing in it is really great, as are the text management and object alignment tools, and will save me a huge amount of distracting edit time. I'm looking forward to playing with the polygon union and the database diagram creation tools! Having used the two tools (SmartDraw / Visio) in rapid succession my most important comment is that the interactive graphic feel of Visio is much smoother and more accomplished, quite independently of how the buttons are laid out etc..
My only gripe is that it's not a package that we can afford to distribute to everyone, which strongly restricts what it can be used for.
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