Some people might think that only artists can—or need to—draw. Visio can help you toss that belief out the door. Visio is a business and technical drawing and diagramming program that anyone can use to communicate concepts, procedures, product information, specifications, and more. Most of us respond to visual images on the Web and in the reports and e-mail we see every day, even when the accompanying text doesn't grab our attention. Images such as charts, tables, process flows, floor plans, Venn diagrams, and so on use text and symbols to convey information at a glance. You could call this type of image an information graphic, and a good one can clarify an idea and help you to understand even complex concepts more quickly. Visio is designed to help you convey information visually—without requiring that you know how to draw.
Visio does this by giving you solutions to your diagramming needs: ready-to-use templates that set up a page appropriately and open stencils that contain predrawn shapes. For example, Visio includes several flowcharting solutions as Figure 1-1 shows. If you start with the Basic Flowchart template, Visio displays a new, blank drawing page and opens several stencils that contain the shapes you need to create a flowchart. You drag a shape from the stencil onto the page, which has a grid that helps you align your diagram. You might have heard this process referred to as "drag and drop." That is the fundamental idea behind everything you do in Visio. Perhaps even more important is the idea of connecting shapes. When you drag additional shapes onto the page to create a diagram such as a flowchart, special lines called connectors connect the shapes and stay attached when you move shapes around. By arranging and connecting shapes on the page, you can rapidly assemble a diagram that you can drop into another document, such as a report or presentation slide; save as a Web page; or print.
Figure 1-1. Visio provides you with diagramming tools that are specific to the type of drawing you choose to create.
When you talk about dragging shapes, it sounds pretty simple. However, this simplicity is deceptive. The built-in solutions you'll find in Visio range from straightforward block diagrams to complex relational data models. The advantage to you is that no matter what type of information you want to present visually, Visio has a way of getting it done.
Visio comes in two flavors: Visio Standard 2002 and Visio Professional 2002. The two versions differ in their intended audience, which is reflected in the number and type of templates and shapes they include. Visio Standard is intended for business professionals who need to communicate visually about their organization's people, projects, and processes. The following visual solutions are included:
Visio Professional is intended for technical professionals—IT personnel, database and software programmers, and engineers—and includes many industry-specific solutions. If you have Visio Professional, you have all the templates and shapes that are included with Visio Standard as well as the following solutions geared specifically for the technical audience:
With everything from block diagrams to UML software models, Visio satisfies a wide range of diagramming needs for a diverse audience. This book covers both products, which means that some chapters won't apply to you if you have Visio Standard. You'll see a note when the information in a chapter applies to Visio Professional users only.
The Microsoft Office Drawing Toolbar and Diagram Gallery deliver straightforward drawing tools right in Microsoft Office XP applications such as Excel, Word, and PowerPoint. You can use these tools to create simple drawings and sketches in your Office documents, so why fire up Visio at all? It's a question of scale. For that quick, two-step process chart, use the tools in Microsoft Office. For anything more complex, it's probably more efficient to use Visio, a dedicated drawing application—and you can more easily reuse the results.
If you're new to Visio, you may think shapes look a lot like clip art. In fact, shapes have built-in intelligence—their "smarts"—that makes them work in uniquely appropriate ways. For example, you can use auto-routing lines to connect process shapes in a flowchart. When you move a process shape, all the lines stay connected and reroute around other shapes as necessary, as Figure 1-2 shows. What a huge time savings that represents! The truth about shapes is that you shouldn't notice how smart they are, because they just work the way you expect them to.
Shapes are smart in other ways, as well. For example, door shapes in an office layout can swing in or out by using a single command; valve shapes can rotate into place automatically on a pipe; milestone shapes can shift position on a timeline as you adjust dates. And these are just a few examples. The type of drawing you create determines the type of shape smarts you'll see. On one hand, this means that Visio can seem inconsistent. Techniques that work with flowchart shapes may not apply to organization chart shapes. On the other hand, a template and the shapes it provides are designed to make it easy for you to create a specific type of drawing. Visio is not a fixed menu; it's more like a buffet table with many options for combining great ingredients.
Figure 1-2. When you drag a shape that's connected to other shapes, Visio's built-in "intelligence" takes care of the connections for you and reroutes lines automatically.
Is Visio the ideal tool for busy business users who want to assemble great-looking graphics in no time? Yes. Is Visio the ideal tool for modeling real-world systems and tracking detailed component specifications? Yes. Are we talking about the same product? Yes! It's a matter of perspective. The diagrams you can create with Visio Standard tend to be conceptual diagrams—shapes that show connections and relationships, as in flowcharts and timelines. Visio Professional includes more modeling capability. Shapes represent real-world objects with attributes, such as 10-foot walls that enclose office number 4N171, which is occupied by Steve Alboucq, whose title is vice president.
Why would you need to understand the difference between diagramming and modeling? If you only ever use Visio to create one type of diagram, it doesn't matter and you can ignore this section. However, if you use several Visio templates, you will probably discover that you need different methods for working with different types of diagrams, and this can make Visio seem hard to use. Despite the "drag-drop-done" philosophy, which says that you just click shapes into place and Visio practically draws for you, some Visio templates do not work that way. If you know this up front, maybe you won't be quite so frustrated when you can't seem to get a shape to look or work the way you want.
One of the primary goals of this book is to help you work successfully in any Visio diagram type, regardless of a solution's idiosyncrasies. It can help to think of each different diagram type or solution as a separate application with unique rules.