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Along with the release of mainstream Microsoft Office 2007 applications such as Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Access; Microsoft also updated other products in the family. One of these include the visual communication and diagramming tool Visio. Most persons probably have an indea of what Visio does, if you have ever had to create a diagram in PowerPoint or a Flowchart you have some basic concepts already of what Visio can do. This new update primarily continues on its same path as the previous release by providing a plethora of options for creating sophisticated diagrams that are more than static. In this review we take at look at the Professional SKU, a Standard edition is also available in addition to a Technical version for Visual Studio Developers.
Some of the highlights of version 2007 include:
·Integrate data into diagrams
·Show off your data in data graphics
·Visualize complex information by using PivotDiagrams
·Generate and view Visio digrams with other Office 2007 applications
For persons running older versions of Visio, there are no radical departures interface wise. Visio 2007 for instance does not utilize the new Office Fluent interface introduced in core Office 2007 applications, so there is little to the relearn.
Visio 2007 includes specific tools to support the diverse diagramming needs of IT and business professionals and lets you create a broader range of diagrams with new templates, such as the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) template and the Value Stream Mapping template. Use the predefined Microsoft SmartShapes symbols and powerful search capabilities to locate the right shape, whether it is saved on a computer or on the Web. You can also save time by quickly accessing templates you use often. In the new Getting Started window, find the template you need by browsing simplified template categories and using large template previews. Locate the templates you used recently by using the new Recent Templates view in the Getting Started window.
Get Inspired by Sample Diagrams
If you're not sure how to best display your important data, Visio 2007 can help by making it easy to find new sample diagrams. Simply open the new Getting Started window and use the new Samples category. View sample diagrams that are integrated with data to get ideas for creating your own diagrams, to realize how data provides more context for many diagram types, and to determine which template you want to use.
Display Data Attractively in Diagrams
The Data Graphics feature lets you display data attractively in diagrams, and you can choose from a number of data formatting options. With a single click, display data fields as callouts next to a shape, position fields in boxes below a shape, and place fields of data directly on top or to the side of a shape. You also have the option of easily refreshing data in diagrams, thanks to the new Refresh Data feature. If data conflicts arise, easily resolve them by using the Refresh Conflicts task pane.
Connect Shapes Without Drawing Connectors
You don't have to be a professional graphic designer to build interesting diagrams--Visio 2007 gives you the tools to connect shapes without drawing connectors. The new AutoConnect functionality connects shapes, distributes them evenly, and aligns them for you--all with only one click. In fact, when you move the connected shapes, they stay connected and the connectors automatically reroute between the shapes.
Identify Trends and Issues
One of the benefits of creating diagrams is that you can more readily identify trends and issues and then act on them. First, you might choose to make your diagrams even smarter by linking them to data to provide a more complete picture of a process, project, or system. Then it's a snap to visually explore information to identify key trends, issues, and exceptions, and then act on them. Finally, you can analyze, drill down into, and create multiple views of business data to gain insight into it.
Reach a Broader Audience
The Theme feature in Visio 2007 makes it easy to format the colors and effects (text, line, fill, shadow, and connector formatting) in an entire diagram with a single click. It even uses the same color palette as other 2007 Microsoft Office system programs so that you can design professional-looking Visio diagrams that match your presentations and documents. New 3-D Workflow shapes, which were designed with the new Theme feature in mind, command attention, while the option to save in PDF or XPS file format can help you reach a broader audience. You can even view Visio diagram attachments from within Microsoft Office Outlook 2007.
Automatically Connect Diagrams to Data Sources
With the new Data Link functionality, Visio 2007 gives you the option of automatically connecting diagrams to data sources, such as Excel 2007 spreadsheets or Access 2007 databases. You can also save time associating data with shapes by using intuitive new linking methods, which populate each shapes' properties (also known as shape data) with data values. For example, you can link all the shapes in a diagram to rows of data from connected data sources by using the new Automatic Link Wizard.
Effectively Track Reports
Visio 2007 also gives you the flexibility to generate reports directly from within Microsoft Office Project and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server that track project tasks, owners, roles, responsibilities, and depict complex project ownership structures. And it's no problem to add new details as they become available because Visio 2007 automatically modify the reports as project information changes.
Share Diagrams With Others
Visio 2007 gives you the option of saving your diagrams as Web pages complete with navigation controls, a shape data viewer, reports, choice of image format, and style sheet options. On intranets and extranets, anyone who's using Visio Viewer with Windows Internet Explorer can view the diagrams from within Internet Explorer. Additionally, shared workspace functionality supports collaboration with Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services. Visio diagrams saved on a Windows SharePoint Services sites can be opened directly in Visio 2007 from the site, and even checked in and out from within Visio 2007. Specifically, when a diagram is opened from a Windows SharePoint Services site, Visio 2007 opens a Shared Workspace task pane that contains all of the information in the workspace, including other files, members, tasks, and links.
With the Track Markup feature, multiple people can collaborate on the same Visio diagram. Generally used for reviewing a diagram and incorporating feedback, Track Markup helps make each reviewer's contributions clear to other reviewers and to the person who eventually incorporates the revisions in the diagram.
Customize and Extend Visio 2007
You have the option of extending Visio 2007 programmatically or by integrating it with other applications to fit your industry-specific scenarios or unique organizational requirements. Visualize custom solutions with Visio 2007 diagrams, such as Unified Modeling Language (UML), data flow, and Microsoft Windows user interface diagrams, by using templates in the Software and Database category. The Visio 2007 software development kit (SDK) includes extensive samples, tools, and documentation to simplify and speed up development of custom applications. The SDK provides a set of reusable functions, classes, and procedures for the most common Office Visio 2007 development tasks and includes support for a broad range of development languages, including Microsoft Visual Basic, Microsoft Visual Basic .NET, Microsoft Visual C# .NET, and Microsoft Visual C++.
Visio Drawing Control
Using the Visio Drawing Control, developers can embed and program the Visio drawing environment in custom applications. This opens up new opportunities for solution integration, making it easy to include the power of Visio 2007 in any smart client application. Because the Visio Drawing Control can be integrated with the host application's UI, developers can take advantage of Visio drawing functionality as a smooth part of their application without having to develop similar functionality themselves. In addition, you can control several new features in Visio 2007 programmatically, including connecting to a data source, linking shapes to data, displaying linked data graphically, connecting shapes to one another automatically (AutoConnect), monitoring and filtering mouse-drag actions, and applying theme colors and theme effects. Each of these features has an associated application programming interface (API) that makes it possible to control the feature programmatically and new objects and members associated with it in the Visio object model.
If you have installed Office 2007, you have installed Visio 2007, the process was a breeze and installed in less than 3 minutes. After installation I checked for updates and was presented with the Service Pack 1 update which I gladly installed.
Not much has changed, but the Getting Started reminds me of Office Publisher 2007, here you will see a small gallery of templates you recently used. On the left are Template Categories which feature a list of popular diagram types, some of these include Business, Engineering, Network and General to name a few. If you wish to not utilize a template, simply hit the new button on the Standard toolbar and start from scratch. Visio’s TaskPane will present a search field from where you can start discovering shapes to incorporate in your diagram. I notice that searching for shapes can take a rather long time and results are not specific to the query given. For instance, I searched for ‘Computer’ and was given a wide array of choices such as a PDA, Workstation, Cray (interesting enough) and all sorts of models. Yes, they are all computers but I would have liked the results to be a bit more specific. When I did a search for ‘desktop’, I was presented with various objects, which included the ‘Windows Desktop’ icon, Document shredder, Fax machine and other irrelevant results. So Visio’s search results left little to be impressed by, I hope this is something they improve on in a future release.
Another concern was the shapes, they are basically the same ones I have been seeing since at least Visio 4.0 and I would have hope that some of Office 2007’s and Vista’s visual aesthetics would creep in. I guess many persons who use the product are contented with the look of these pictorial representations for Microsoft to continue using them. Dragging icons on the canvas also seems clumsy, I wish the Shapes gallery supported a simple double click action.
Linking Data With Your Shapes
Data Link really is a visual way to connect data sources and rows and is made easy by the new Data menu in Visio 2007. It brings up a quick wizard that allows you to choose different data sources such as Office, Excel or even SharePoint including OLEDB and ODBC data sources. After the wizard completes an ‘External Data Window’ appears at the bottom of the diagram. The Visio Team has focused on making this just a three step process:
Linking the rows of data is quite easy, you simply drag a row out of the External Data Window and release on top of a shape on the canvas. Multiple shapes in the diagram can just as easily be linked up at the same time by using the Automatic Link Wizard. Viewing data on the shapes is done by the Data Graphics feature which allow you to view data multiple ways on a shape. For instance you could have text displayed around a shape, databound widgets that can change size according to data, different icons that reveal or hide on a shape based on data, change color of a shape based on data. Data graphics really make shapes in Visio not only visually dynamic but also visually communicative.
If you are involved with managing and detailing processes Visio can be a great tool for such individuals. Visio includes new templates that make visualizing workflow information to make steps understandable. You also have the ability to incorporate information about the steps in the diagram with the option of highlighting and updating if necessary.
This has also been simplified with a new feature called AutoConnect. It works by simple process of drag and drop, but when you drag and additional shape you drop it on one of the blue arrows that appears when you hover over the first shape. This process aligns and spaces it correctly in addition to connecting to the first shape which results in faster construction in fewer steps. Also, if you have a shape selected in the shapes window, instead of dragging and dropping you can just click on the blue arrows to add a shape to the page.
You are probably used to seeing and hearing that word associated with Office Excel, but Visio 2007 has added a visual dimension. To start using it, choose the Pivot Diagram template from the Visio Welcome Screen, after which a wizard will then begin called ‘Data Selector’, it will help you to choose the different data sources you would like to incoporate, options include Excel, Access, SQL Server, SharePoint list, OLE/DB or ODBC. Once the data has been selected it will be gathered into a single shape, displaying a sum total of all the rows in your data. If you want to make shapes relate better with information Pivot Diagrams gives you and other persons and easy way to define, search and communicate relevant data the way you want it. The ability to integrate and take advantage of Data Graphics is also a highlight that improves on how information further be presented in a graphically rich way.
Working With Themes
Improvements to themes are a welcome change since Visio has evolved so much over the years from being just a technical diagramming tool into a rich visual communication platform that is better integrated with products in the Microsoft Office family such as PowerPoint. Formatting is probably one of the tough areas most Visio users will encounter, but at the same time some would consider to be the easiest. Formatting objects in Visio 2003 for instance is rather time consuming and the results are not as good or similar to other Office products like Word.
Themes really is the answer to this problem and results show. With a pre-defined set of colors and effects, it allows you to format the entire document one time. You can choose from a number of line, fill styles, text formatting and shadows that make a great combination and look just way better than before. Visio 2007 provides about 36 sets of Theme Colors and 14 sets of Theme Effects, and by mixing and matching between these two, there are hundreds of formatting combinations. You can also define your own Theme Colors or Theme Effects.
Colorizing complex shapes provides better visual asthetics, so instead of seeing a two toned washed out color, results are more detailed. Speaking of shapes, although, some are still retro Visio 4.0 style, Visio 2007 introduces a new of 3D style shapes that are part of the workflow stencil shapes. The Visio Team notes ‘They are great for showing different departments in a company or different stages of a typical business process’.
Overall I am impressed with the 2007 release, in addition to improving on its technical merits, Visio is also focusing on the aesthetics that end users want in their diagrams. The product continues to integrate lovely with other technologies and products in the Office family. Although a lot of stencils have not been updated with 21st century graphics, I can see there is an ongoing effort to improve. The lack of the Office fluent theme is something I surely hope I will see in the future, in addition to improvements to search results and speed. I also would like to see Visio take advantage of the Smart Art graphics tools introduced in Office 2007. I like the new theming capabilities and data graphics especially. The ability to make shapes more intelligent and dynamic makes for a product that will surely make processes and visual communication even more exciting.
Visio Software (comparable Visio software)