Jason Byrne's byline was misspelled on a review of the Visio 2000 software program that appeared in the Business section's Tech Thursday pages Jan. 27. (Published 02/03/2000)
Although Microsoft Corp. only recently acquired Visio Corp., the latest Visio 2000 diagraming package already looks and acts like one of the Microsoft family.
Visio has supported some integration with Microsoft Office applications, but Visio 2000 goes all the way. Cut-and-pasted Visio drawings pick up the color scheme of a target PowerPoint presentation. Organizational structure flows from Exchange Server into a Visio organization chart.
Not only has Visio prettied up the interface to look more like Office 2000, it also has retooled the package with a new graphics engine and greater integration.
Visio 2000 has more granular control over graphical objects. It can handle drawings with thousands of objects and shapes without serious performance degradation.
The installation applet uses the same Windows Installer method as Office 2000, which lets you decide which components to install locally, which to install on the server and which to leave out. Administrators can develop custom installation profiles, ensuring common deployment across groups and offices.
But before you get to that point, you must install some Microsoft components such as HTML Help, Visual Basic for Applications 6.0 and several subsets of the Internet Explorer 5.0 browser software. This does not change your default browser, and the Explorer components can be uninstalled by uninstalling the HTML Help application. But users who worry about possible configuration or security issues should be aware of these requirements.
After the Microsoft helper components have been installed, the computer needs a reboot before the Visio software installation continues. This means unattended installation will be impossible for systems with a boot password.
When all the software is loaded and you are ready to go, Visio 2000 furnishes a wealth of templates and shows a visual preview of each and a description of tasks it can accomplish.
I found this feature especially helpful. The previews in Visio's previous version were sometimes difficult to comprehend.
When developing a new drawing, you can anchor windows that display such tools as custom properties, size and position, "drawing explorer," and pan and zoom. Any one or all windows can stay open all the time, which makes modifying shapes and objects easier.
Toolbars can be either docked on the top of the screen or floated over the work space for easier access.
One of the most exciting new features is Visio 2000's precise control over the position, size and shape of objects. Shapes can be nudged with the arrow keys by small increments in a chosen direction, though the improved grid and alignment functions make nudges almost unnecessary.
Control of images in JPEG and TIFF formats is easier, too. From the ShapeSheet window, you can change the contrast, brightness, gamma correction and image sharpness. The ShapeSheet window has in-depth control but a rather clunky look.
Visio 2000 also is better at creating org charts. An "organization chart wizard" can walk you through entering the data manually or importing it from Microsoft Exchange Server or any Open Database Connectivity-compliant database.
I would have liked to see support for pulling information from Novell Directory Services and Lightweight Directory Application Protocol servers. Visio's new owner has never given much consideration to competing protocols or directory services, but Visio 2000 users would benefit from such capabilities.
Visio 2000 can pull in drawing files from its previous versions and can save drawings as Visio 5.0 files. Work groups obviously would avoid file format issues better if they upgraded all Visio users at once.
As before, Visio 2000 continues to import the .dwg files of AutoCAD from Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael, Calif., the .DGN files of MicroStation from Bentley Systems Inc. of Exton, Pa., and Initial Graphics Exchange Specification files developed on computer-aided design systems.
The Internet improvements of Visio 5.0 are still there in Visio 2000 and have been augmented by support for the Vector Markup Language, an emerging standard for exchanging drawings over the Internet. Office 2000 applications also will support VML. You can hyperlink a shape in a Visio drawing to different documents, and after export to the Web, clicking on the shape might bring up a photo, a text description or a support page.
For business diagraming in a Microsoft Office environment, there is no finer tool than Visio. Visio 2000 redefines the product's market, functionality and integration with Microsoft products. Perhaps it will show up soon in an interim update to the Office suite.
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VISIO 2000 STANDARD EDITION
Web address: www.visio.com/visio2000/standard
Price: $199 retail, $99 upgrade
+ Extremely tight integration with Office 2000
+ Easier to use than ever
- Little support for non-Microsoft environments
- ShapeSheets are still clunky
Real-life requirements: Windows 95 or higher, 32 MB of RAM, 80 MB of free storage, 1,024-by-768-pixel display resolution recommended