About Anything

The personal blog of Al Stevens. Focus is overrated.

Archive for the ‘smartdraw’ tag

Lucid Chart — Drawing made simple

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My needs for visio-style diagrams are rather modest. I keep track of our company network which includes a dozen servers at three sites and the necessary firewalls, routers, switches, access points and load balancers to keep it all accessible running. At home I have a couple of servers and a handful of printers, scanners, access points and laptops.

I’ve used SmartDraw in the past, but recently tried out Dia, and except for it’s quirky interface, found it quite adequate. Given my desire to move as many applications as possible off my laptop and into the cloud, neither SmartDraw nor Dia are options.

LucidChart (www.lucidchart.com) popped up on my twitter radar a couple of days ago, promising “attractive flow charts, org charts, and more for the web or print” so I signed up. A free account provides up to 5 megs of storage and gives you all of the editing features, including the ability to collaborate on drawings — something I’m not sure I need.

The javascript web-based editor took a minute to load, but after that was very snappy. Using elements form the four libraries provided — Flow Chart, Network, Electronics and Audio Equipment —  I knocked out a network diagram in only a few minutes.  The drag-drop interface is intuitive and easy to use and there’s easy access to both item and page properties so you can type in values for things like object width and height if you want to be precise.

 There are some how-to videos on the site, but so far I haven’t stopped long enough to view them. Once drawn, I was able to print the diagram easily to pdf — it was annoying that the background was heavily watermarked with “LucidChart Free Premium Trial Removes theis Watermark”. A free premium trial is free for 30 days and then $50 per year after that, which allows an unlimited number of users from your organization and 100MB of storage.

The intial libraries were minimal — I ended up using rectangles in several places, even for my simple networks. Each device seemed to have only four attachment points, so complex connections looked a little spaghetti like. I couldn’t figure out a way to add text labels to devices. My solution was to use text boxes placed above or below the device drawing. A group function would have made this much more reasonable. Without that the text became another object to manage.

There is an option to upload your own images. I’ve yet to try that, but that is still not a great substitute for a comprehensive set of libraries.

Overall, I’m planning to use LucidChart as my prefered network/flowchart package going forward. I’ll probably sign up for premium. I’ll definitely look forward to more libraries, more attachement points on the objects and a grouping function.

Written by Al Stevens

April 14th, 2009 at 11:06 am

Drawing with Dia

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Looking for an alternative to Visio? I was. I needed a simple drawing program that was up to the task of doing network diagrams. I found Dia and, even though it’s not yet up to version 1, (I’m using the 0.97 pre-release version) and it’s so far working out fine.

The developers point out that “Dia is roughly inspired by the commercial Windows program ‘Visio’, though more geared towards informal diagrams for casual use. ”

That sums it up well.Libraries include networks, UML, flowcharts, chemical engineering, a small set of isometric map objects and a few others — enough for casual use.

Export formats include JPG, EPS, SVG, XFIG, WMF and PNG.

Dia runs under Unix, Linux and Windows. I’m running the Windows version, which was an easy install, since it came as a binary package bundled in a windows installer. It would be a bit more convenient if it remembered file paths and window configurations from one session to the next.

It’s available for download on the Dia home page: http://live.gnome.org/Dia

Additional shape libraries are available at:  http://dia-installer.de/shapes.html

Written by Al Stevens

March 5th, 2009 at 2:23 pm