General Software

First Look: Microsoft Office Visio 2003

30 Jun, 2004 By: Ron LaFon

Technical drawings, flowcharts, and more made easy

MICROSOFT OFFICE VISIO 2003 is the latest version of Microsoft's technical diagramming and drawing application. Visio is a stand-alone product. Though it's part of the Microsoft Office family, it's not included in any of Office bundles that Microsoft offers, which typically include Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Professional lets you easily assemble diagrams by dragging and dropping predefined SmartShapes. Visio's powerful search capabilities help locate the right shape, whether it's on a local machine or the Web.

With Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Professional, you can lay out a floor plan
With Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Professional, you can lay out a floor plan

Certainly, the intelligent SmartShapes symbols are significant features. For example, if you insert a couch in a floorplan drawing and discover that it's too small for the plan, you can stretch the object. This doesn't just make it larger-Visio adds an additional cushion to accommodate the new size and scale of the couch. In addition to objects included with Visio, various third-party libraries of SmartShape objects are available.

Though Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Professional doesn't offer 3D or some other sophisticated technical illustration tools, it does include technical diagramming and drawing tools that engineers can use. You can incorporate AutoCAD drawings into Visio to build diagrams on top of them. Combine this with its integration with standard Office applications and the ability to create a broad range of diagrams-from floorplans to organizational charts-and Visio's flexibility makes it an indispensable tool.

New in this release are a rack diagram template, updated network shapes, an improved Web site mapping solution, a Microsoft Windows XP user interface template, and improved support for incorporating data into building plans.

Because Visio is a member of the Microsoft Office family, some applications such as Adobe Acrobat include plug-ins that appear as Visio toolbars.

Two versions are available, the Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Professional version reviewed here and the standard version. The standard version creates business-related diagrams such as flowcharts, organizational charts, and project schedules. Visio 2003 Professional builds on Visio 2003 Standard with shapes and solutions that enable technical professionals to create IT, Web, development, engineering, and other technical diagrams.

You can also design timelines and other workflow charts
You can also design timelines and other workflow charts

System requirements for Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Professional include a PC with a 233MHz or faster processor, 128MB or more RAM, and a hard disk with at least 210MB available space, including 75MB on the hard disk where the operating system is installed. The optional files cache requires an additional 185MB of hard disk space. A CD-ROM or DVD drive is required for installation. You'll need at least a Super VGA (800X600) or higher resolution graphics card/monitor combination. Visio runs on Windows 2000 SP3/XP. Certain advanced collaboration functionality requires Windows Server 2003 running Windows SharePoint Services. You need an Internet connection to use some features.

Microsoft Office Visio 2003 Professional carries a suggested retail price of $499 ($249 for upgrade), and Visio 2003 Standard costs $199 ($99.95 for upgrade), though both versions are widely discounted.

-R.L .

About the Author: Ron LaFon