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Test Drive -
Visio 2000 (March 2000)
Dave Moss test drives Visio 2000
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explorermag.com star rating

I have been using Visio since it first arrived on the scene, capturing the imagination of all those who saw it and used it. It provided a refreshingly new approach to diagramming, flowcharting and the like, and while the basics have never changed, it has never grown boring either, as 2.25 million plus users will readily testify.

Unlike those of some programs, the upgrade paths for Visio users have been rather pleasant ones. The product has just got better and better, not least in the pricing arena. I don’t think there would be too many who would argue with me if I said that the add-on templates were too expensive initially, but that’s a thing of the past, and the present in the shape of Visio 2000 is here with us now. I somehow suspect that V2K will have a lot less bugs than Y2K.

Visio 2000Four distinct flavours


Visio 2000 comes in four distinct flavours, each one aimed at a particular set of users. The Standard Edition is aimed at the business user who just wants to create different types of diagrams from the numerous templates that accompany it, like flowcharts, or room layouts and so on. Up one level is the Professional Edition. This is for those who want to diagram their databases or networks. Perhaps you are a software developer who wants to use the UML contained in the product to help you design your programs. You might be a web site designer who wants a tool capable of automatically mapping web sites, or you might wish to create data flow diagrams and then use hyperlinks to navigate between the process details on each page. You also get all the business templates that ship in Standard Edition. In fact, if you think that each edition is the same as the ones below it with extras, that’s how it works.

Next up is the Technical Edition aimed at those who are into technical drawing, although if you aren’t a CAD expert don’t worry, because creating technical drawings and diagrams doesn’t require advanced CAD knowledge thanks to Visio’s templates with over 4,000 shapes for you to employ. If you are a CAD expert you’ll be delighted to know that the Technical Edition both reads and writes to DWG and DGN files. A neat feature is the ability to bring in an existing DWG drawing as a background, and then snap the correct shapes from Visio’s templates so that they match the ones on the document.

If you are an electrical bod you needn’t feel left out as the Technical Edition has templates that will let you create wiring diagrams until you are fed up with doing so. Similarly you’ll not have a great deal of trouble sorting out your telecommunications, lighting, or indeed any other sort of electronic plan you can think of. Need to design the layout for your new manufacturing plant? No problem. Is Ductwork your thing? Go on, you can tell us, you’re among friends, especially at Visio who provide you with a set of shapes that let you create anything from single or double-line HVAC control system layouts to basic ductwork. Floor plans, site plans, PFDs, P&IDs, facilities plans linked to assets databases? If it’s technical and you want to draw it, or diagram it, or flowchart it and more, Visio Technical Edition can manage it.

That all sounds wonderful, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the road ended there, but it doesn’t. Visio Enterprise Edition rounds out the bunch, and it can do everything the others can, and a whole load more.

Enterprise Edition


In fact one of the more tedious things you might have to do is produce a diagram of your network infrastructure. While you’ve obviously been able to create network diagrams using the templates included with the Professional and Technical Editions, the Enterprise Edition not only lets you do that, but also offers to take the chore out of that task by doing the whole thing for you. All you have to do is point the network recognition technology at your network, tell Visio where to start, and in no time at all you’ll be armpit-deep in network diagrams. Visio Enterprise uses SNMP (and Ping as well, if necessary) to discover the physical devices as well as the topology of your network, and then you decide just how you want that information presented to you, generally by following a simple series of guided steps in one Wizard or another.

I talked earlier about Visio’s accurate representation of items, and that is just as apparent now as it was back then. Visio Enterprise has the 18,000+ shapes in the Visio Network Equipment library to call upon, and those shapes have been designed in conjunction with hardware manufacturers around the world giving you port-level detail. You will be able to just glance at a diagram and have no difficulty whatsoever recognising the machine being looked at, for example.

You can also use any AutoCAD drawings and office designs you’ve already done to help with your network layout, by utilising Visio Enterprise’s DWG file conversion capability along with the Office Layout shapes. Talking of Office, Visio integrates rather well with Microsoft’s offering, and that’s a trend set to continue for the foreseeable future as Microsoft likes the software so much, it bought the company. Expect even better integration within the Microsoft product range, and I can almost see network administrators licking their lips in anticipation of what the Microsoft/Visio combination will be able to come up with in the networking arena. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a set of small applets based on the Visio drawing engine that can be used in a stand-alone mode aimed at items like Active Directory and network layouts.

Installation


Installing Visio Enterprise 2000 was an absolute doddle, and it worked right out of the box on my Windows 2000 systems too. It takes a while to install if you go for the whole lot, and you should then allow a moment or two to install the contents of the separate Visio Network Equipment (VNE) CD as there are a lot of shapes to get through if you decide to go for the complete install option. As Visio uses the new Windows Installer technology, anything you don’t want to put on straight away can be easily brought in later.

Visio integrates well with Microsoft Office 2000. You can edit Visio drawings from within the Microsoft apps of course, but the latest version goes a step further enabling you to create drawings that when embedded in a PowerPoint presentation, will automatically adopt the colour scheme in use. You also get full VBA 6.0 within Visio 2000, a feature it currently shares only with Microsoft Office 2000, further indication, were any needed, of the strong ties that existed between the two companies prior to the Microsoft purchase.

There is also a degree of integration with Internet Explorer 5.0 as Visio 2000 enables you to convert existing drawings into the Vector Markup Language (VML) format. That gives people the ability to navigate through your drawings from the comfort of their own work areas, using the web. There are over 18,000 shapes on the VNE CD each designed to the highest quality. You’ll have no trouble identifying equipment recognised by Visio when you run the Auto-Discovery and Layout feature, and then map the discovered items to their respective library shapes. If you’re wondering how you can keep up-to-date with new system releases, and thus new AutoShapes to represent them, Visio provides a subscription service to the VNE, and that’ll net you an average 2,000 new shapes each year apparently.

Improvements & new features


Improvements in the network discovery technology for Visio 2000 mean that you can now get down to the port level in your network environment, and you’ll find that you can now diagram Cisco VLAN and Spanning Tree environments after the updated AutoDiscovery feature has captured the requisite data. There’s also supposed to be a Real-Time Network Statistics add-on for Visio Enterprise, but I hadn’t seen that at the time of writing. It should however have shipped by the time you read this. On the directory services front, the latest Enterprise version improves on what went before, and provides a whole heap more. You can now work pretty intimately with both Microsoft Active Directory (AD) and Novell Directory Services (NDS) – you can see why Microsoft doesn’t include its name as part of the acronym for Active Directory, can’t you!

Import filtering has been improved, and you can use the new Directory Navigator window to see your directory layouts in a familiar tree-like structure, while at the same time viewing your user groups, for example, in another familiar view (that of the Organisational Chart). As Visio also supports LDIF, this gives you the capability to create directory service diagrams that you can then export in a format that can be implemented by the directory service for which you did the design.

One thing you will notice in the 2000 version of Visio, apart from the fact that everything seems much faster and a lot easier to use, is that it has been equipped with several new windows that leap out from the sides of the drawing area when you hover the mouse over them. Aside from the Directory Navigator window mentioned earlier, the Pan & Zoom View Window will be especially appreciated, as it encapsulates an entire diagram within its confines. You simply pan around in that until you find the bit you want, then drag a zoom area in the window, and watch as the main drawing area changes to reflect the items you selected.

Further windows include a Document Explorer window so that you can see everything associated with the current drawing, a Size & Position window that lets you alter the size and position characteristics for any shape, and finally a Custom window that lets you get at any custom properties you might have created for the current shape. Other features include the ability to reverse engineer existing code (your own, naturally) into Unified Modelling Language (UML). Code can come from Microsoft’s trio of programming languages: Visual Basic, Visual C++, and new for this version, Visual J++. You can also go the other way and generate code for those languages that you initially developed using UML in Visio.

As you might expect, the ability to create database models, Entity Relationship (ER) models and so on within Visio, continues within this latest version. Now, however, where you once had to turn to VisualModeler for Object Role Model (ORM) capability, and then import the result into Visio, this is now available from within. Legacy models will still work, there naturally being the ability to import older ORM models as well as create new ones.

Praise indeed


On the 19th of September, in a review of Venice (the beta codename for Visio Enterprise 2000), I said the following: "Put simply, if Word and Excel are your knife and fork, Visio has just become the spoon that stirs a whole bundle of elements together, and comes up with an excellent result at the end of the day. Whether your thing is drawing, or charting, whether you be database designer or software developer, or whether you’re just looking for a drop-dead good flow-chart program, Visio provides you with all you need and more." I stand by that even more now, and Microsoft obviously believed that it really did need to add Visio to its table set. It was right, and I think you’ll find after close examination that you’ll like the sort of meals you will be able to eat using Visio, even if you just have
test driveit as a spoon.