Microsoft Visio is a professional diagramming software from Microsoft which makes it very easy to explore and visualize complex information and processes quickly. As an IT professional, I find it very easy and satisfying to visualize process flows, network architecture and program workflows. Microsoft Visio is not only limited to the IT field but can also be used with other fields like business, engineering and construction (maps and roads). One downside of Microsoft Visio that is common in almost all Microsoft products is that it is not affordable by a home user. The home user does not need to have very complex diagramming needs so we research and bring the most feature rich and free alternatives to Microsoft Visio.
If you are looking for a web based alternative to Microsoft Visio, LucidChart is the perfect choice. It provides a drag and drop web interface to draw any kind of diagram. LucidChart gives you an option to build your diagrams in collaboration with your team. Multiple people will be able to work with the same diagram making it the perfect choice for small teams. One of the great features of LucidChart is that it can export or import Microsoft Visio vdx files very easily in your LucidChart account. One thing that is missing in LucidChart is the built in categorization of different shapes for different areas like networking, engineering etc. You don’t need to signup for an account on LucidChart. You just have to open the site and start drawing.
2. OpenOffice/LibreOffice Draw
OpenOffice Draw and LibreOffice Draw are two separate software but since their usage and functionality is very similar, I would mention them together. These are the closest and the biggest open source competitors of Microsoft Visio. Draw is an all purpose drawing, diagramming and charting tool. The feature that I love in Draw is the grouping feature. You can easily group different objects together and then do different actions on the group like moving the group, connecting with other groups etc. In addition to other formats (XML format is the default), you can also export your diagrams as SWF Flash files.
Dia is an open source software very similar to Microsoft Visio. When you start it for the first time, you will see that the user interface resembles with Visio a lot. The feature set of dia is also very similar to Visio. You can create UML diagrams, flowcharts, network processes and architectures, entity relationship diagrams etc. easily with Dia. The default file format for any file created with Dia is .dia but there are a lot of file formats that you can export your diagram including Microsoft Visio vdx format.
Diagramly is another web based diagramming and mind mapping software. It has a very responsive and easy to use interface with the tools on the left hand column and the drawing on the right hand column. You don’t need to signup for an account to use Diagramly. You can just visit Diagramly and start working on your diagram or mind map. When finished, save the diagram in an XML file locally on your computer. If you need to edit the diagram again, just visit Diagramly again and open your locally saved file for further editing.
5. Pencil Project
Pencil Project is an Open Source alternative to Microsoft Visio which is actively maintained by the development community. Their goal for Pencil Project is to make it a tool to make diagramming as easy as possible and usable for everyone from a newbie to an expert. It is very similar to other desktop based tool with a distinction that it can be installed as a Firefox extension so that you can easily create your diagrams while browsing the Internet.
I hope you will find these free alternatives to Microsoft Visio very useful and I would like to have your thought on how much these free software have been able to replace Visio in your work?
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