Visio enhancements ease diagramming

The Business Bonus Pack comes free with the purchase of Visio Standard 5.0 and offers a snapshot of the next release of Visio Standard, due out in mid- to late 1999. The next release will be the package's first major upgrade since August 1997.

Government buyers have begun to discover Visio's functionality and ease of use. In 1998, Visio won contracts with the State Department, the Navy, the Air Force and the Internal Revenue Service. Agencies like Visio because the package—with its wizards, context-sensitive help and screen tips—is so easy to use. Building a diagram is a simple drag-and-drop process. Customizing your creations is a snap with Visio's intuitive and logical tools.

Visio Standard is organized as a series of templates. The six categories of diagrams, each containing multiple templates, are block diagrams, business diagrams, database, flow charts, maps and network diagrams. The Business Bonus Pack adds a calendar and support for cross-functional flow charts, organizational charts, Rummler-Brache project charts (which are used to create supersystem maps, function relationship maps, process relationship maps and cross-functional process maps) and simple timelines.

When you double-click on a category, a list of templates appears. When you select an item, a template opens with a blank workspace on the right and a list of diagram components, called stencils, on the left. For example, the flow chart stencil contains flow chart shapes and many types of connectors. The directional road map stencil contains straight and curved road pieces, different types of intersections, road signs and railroad tracks.

Designing your diagram is a simple process of dragging the shapes and connectors you need onto the blank workspace. Manipulating the diagram's components is easy using the many tools provided. The pointer tool lets you resize items by dragging edges and corners, and you can easily move them around within the workspace. One click on the rotation tool allows you to position your cursor over a corner of a shape and rotate it to any degree.

We were impressed by how smart the Visio Standard software is. For example, when you rearrange shapes in a flow chart diagram, the connector automatically reroutes, and the shapes stay connected. Also, double-clicking on a piece of clip art makes a caption text box appear. Timelines feature configuration boxes that allow you to specify begin and end dates for the timeline itself and for included intervals, and you can drag and drop markers that adapt to the timeline's style.

To make things even easier, Visio includes extensive help files. When you click on the name of a diagram type, for example, a box displays an explanation of what the diagram is and how it can be used. The help files even explain the methodology behind some of the diagram types, such as Rummler-Brache projects. The help files also contain step-by-step instructions that are easy to follow.

One of the most useful types of diagrams included in the Business Bonus Pack is the cross-functional flow chart. This type of flow chart includes a background that represents different functional areas that a process affects. For example, the background could be divided into areas such as policy, administration and public relations. The flow chart then is placed on top of the functional areas so that each shape is in the area it affects.

Flow chart shapes can be stretched so that they overlap more than one functional area, and the borders between the functional areas can be moved and bent to accommodate the shapes.

Organizational charts also feature some useful new functions, such as automation. Using the Org Chart '98 Wizard, you simply type your information into a Microsoft Corp. Excel spreadsheet and choose the chart style, and Visio creates the chart for you. You can even change the style of the chart once you have created it, and your information will remain intact.

The Business Bonus Pack also includes a calendar function that is extremely logical and intuitive. Other new features include color schemes that apply to both the diagram itself and the background. You can choose from many designs and borders to make your diagram look professional in one easy step.

Other types of diagrams you can create with Visio Standard with the Business Bonus Pack include marketing diagrams, mind map diagrams, office layout diagrams, marketing charts and project timelines.

We recommend Visio Standard 5.0 with the Business Bonus Pack to anyone who needs to create business diagrams but does not have graphics software experience. The package is easy to use and contains a long list of diagram types, so chances are good that you'll find what you need. New color schemes and patterns jazz up your work. With this kind of preview, the next version of Visio Standard promises to be even more functional and user-friendly than the existing package.

Visio Standard 5.0 with the Business Bonus Pack is available for $149 on the General Services Administration schedule. If you already have Visio Standard 5.0, you can download the Business Bonus Pack for free from Visio's World Wide Web site at

For IT professionals and developers who are interested in more complex networking design diagrams, take a look at Visio Enterprise, which sells for $995 on the GSA schedule.


Visio Corp.

(800) 24-VISIO

Price and Availability: Visio Standard 5.0 with the Business Bonus Pack is available on the GSA schedule for $149. If you already have Visio Standard 5.0, you can download the Business Bonus Pack from the Web for free at bonuspack.

Remarks: Visio Standard 5.0 already was an extremely logical, intuitive and useful software package before the addition of the Business Bonus Pack. The new functionality gives users even more options and further enables the typical office computer user to create polished, professional business diagrams with little effort.

Final Score: Excellent

Jan. 25, 1999

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