It is always easier to plan and remember information that is represented as a diagram. Most of you must have used diagrams like flow charts, mock charts, maps, floor layouts, work flow charts and network plans etc. All these are the diagrammatic representation of data and processes that we develop in our mind. In olden days, these diagrams used to be created on paper. But now, in the digital age, we have computer software that enable us to swiftly create neat diagrams. Microsoft Visio is the leading diagramming software. There is no doubt about the power of Visio but this capability comes at a big price. An hefty price tag makes Visio suitable only for big businesses. Small teams and individual users often look for free diagramming software or for software that are less expensive.
In this article, I will tell you about some really good alternatives of Microsoft Visio. But first let’s try to understand why we need a replacement for Microsoft Visio? Well, the simple answer is that no version of Visio is available for less than US $300. If your budget is not matching this figure, you would certainly want to have a cheaper but powerful enough diagramming solution. I will begin with some handy free diagram and drawing software tools. These tools will come handy if you quickly need to put a diagram together for your project.
This free online facility is pretty straightforward. Go to the Draw.io website, select where you would want to store your diagram and just start drawing! No nonsense! Draw.io website offers you all the simple flowchart shapes, arrows, entity-relation shapes, UML diagram shapes, clipart and a lot of more stuff. You can even create your own customized shape by editing XML of an existing shape.
Draw.io can upload your diagram in Dropbox or Google Drive. You can also download the diagram in your computer. You can export the drawing as PDF, image, Scalable Vector Graphic (SVG) or XML. I often use this tool whenever I quickly need a basic diagram of any kind.
Price of Draw.io: FREE
If you’re not a web person or if Internet is not always available to you, then how about having a FREE software that works like Microsoft Visio? Would you be interested? I bet you would be! Dia is an open source software that you can download in your computer and use it to make drawings and diagrams without requiring Internet connection. You would need net connection only once to download Dia.
Dia is a perfect choice for those who don’t want to spend money on Microsoft product. The interface and facilities of Dia are pretty much similar to Visio. What’s more? It is available not only for Windows, but also for Mac and Linux operating system.
Maintained by Steffen Macke, Dia also allows you to download additional shapes from their website. These shapes gets added to your toolbox in addition to the shapes that are there by default. The Dia files get stored with .dia extension. However, you can also export your diagram in other formats, including Visio .vdx or .vds files.
Dia download size: ~ 20 MB
Price of Dia software: FREE
Pencil Project is yet another GUI prototyping software and it also supports diagrams and drawings. Like Dia, the Pencil Project is also open source. This software allows you to easily create Graphic User Interface for desktop applications as well Android and iOS based mobile apps. Pencil Project provides GUI components like buttons, borders, fonts etc. You can use them to visualize how your app should look. Once this prototyping is done and final, you can begin the coding process.
Pencil Project also supports diagramming. It provides a collection of all kinds of shapes to make diagrams. You can export finished diagrams into XML, webpage, PDF or SVG formats. The software is also integrated with the OpenClipart.org so that you can easily search and download various cliparts. Simple drag and drop operation is required to add various shapes, connectors and cliparts on your canvas.
Pencil Project allows you to easily link various components of a diagram within a document. When such a linked diagram is exported as a webpage, links are converted into hyper-links. Clicking on such links will take you to the connected elements. This feature can help you in demonstrating work-flow.
Pencil Project download size: ~ 25 MB
Price of Pencil Project: FREE
Just like Microsoft Office contains Visio, OpenOffice contains a software called Draw. Both have similar features but, as you know, OfficeOffice comes for free because it is an open source software. OpenOffice is the biggest competitor of Microsoft Office. Therefore it is not surprising that OpenOffice Draw is packed with features that will help you in creating amazing drawings and diagrams. You can create as large as 300cm X 300cm posters. You can even create Flash (.swf) files using Draw.
What’s more? OpenOffice Draw doesn’t bind you to itself. You can not open a Visio file in any other software, but if you save your diagram as an OpenOffice document —which is a standard in industry —you can easily use other software to open and edit the file create by OpenOffice. The only condition is that the software should be compliant with the OpenOffice standard.
Download size of OpenOffice: ~ 150 MB
Price of OpenOffice: FREE
For those who don’t know, LibreOffice and OpenOffice are two branches of the same code base. As a result, both these software are quite similar to each other. OpenOffice is being developed by the Apache Foundation whereas LibreOffice is being developed by The Document Foundation. LibreOffice has been advancing at a better pace than OpenOffice. If you ask me, choosing LibreOffice is a better idea.
Features and interface of LibreOffice Draw are same as that of OpenOffice Draw.
Download size of LibreOffice: ~ 210MB
Price of LibreOffice: FREE
These are the online and offline free diagramming and visualization software that you can rely upon when you need to draw any type of diagram. These software work pretty well as the replacement of Microsoft Visio.
If you have used any other free Microsoft Visio alternative, and found it to be really good, please let me know through comments. Knowledge gets refined when it is shared! Thank you for using TechWelkin.