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.
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'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!