Microsoft Visio is a powerful piece of software, allowing IT professionals, business people, engineers and others working in highly technical fields to map out and display complex information in the form of flowcharts, site plans, floor plans, diagrams and more.
Useful though all this is, the price point is well beyond what the average home user is willing to spend at $300 for the “Standard” version and $590 for the Pro version, (If you’re dead-set on using Visio, there is a potentially cheaper option where you can get Visio Pro for Office 365 for $13/month if you get an annual subscription, or $15/month for a monthly commitment).
But why pay at all when there are these free alternatives to Visio available to you? Here are our top seven picks.
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. 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 sign up for an account with LucidChart; you just have to open the site and start drawing.
2. yEd Graph Editor
Quite possibly the most user-friendly diagramming software out there, yED has you covered for everything from flowcharts to family trees, to more technical diagrams like network infrastructures and process models. You can set your chart to automatically lay itself out to suit whatever kind of data you’re entering. It has a decent repository of images for various types of charts and also gives you the option to import images from elsewhere. When you’re done, you can save your chart as JPEG, XML or HTML, among other formats, making it easy to use to upload to websites or send on to clients.
For something a little alternative, you can try Graphviz, the near thirty-year-old tool in which you create graphs, hierarchies and so on using a command line utility and the robust DOT language. It takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that it could save you time in the long run. It has a good amount of formats you can export your graph to, and a number of layouts such as hierarchical, radial, multiscale and more. It’s particularly useful if you aren’t too fussy about pretty colors but more concerned about entering huge amounts of data that can get instantly organized and generated. (That colossal graph at the top of this article was made using Graphviz.)
4. LibreOffice Draw
LibreOffice Draw is the closest and biggest open-source competitor 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. As an extra treat, here’s a package of shapes for Draw that are similar to those you find in Visio.
Dia is an open-source program very similar to Microsoft Visio, with largely the same feature set. 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 plenty of file formats you can export your diagram to, including Microsoft Visio’s .vdx format.
Draw.io has a very responsive and accessible interface, with the tools in the column on the left and the drawing in the column on he right. You don’t need to sign up for an account to use Draw.io, and from the moment you’re on the site you’re given the options of saving your work to cloud services like Google Drive and OneDrive or your hard drive. If you connect Draw.io to your Google account, it has very functional real-time collaboration, letting you work on projects simultaneously with others. It’s not a complex tool, so while it’s accessible, it doesn’t offer the depth of features of certain other diagramming software.
7. 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 diagramming as easy as possible and usable for everyone from a newbie to an expert. You can also install it as a Firefox extension so that you can easily create your diagrams while browsing the Internet. It’s regularly updated with new stencils, templates and other features, lets you export your work to multiple formats, and has integration with OpenClipart.org, letting you instantly search the Web for images to make your projects pop.
Hopefully you will find these free alternatives to Microsoft Visio very useful. Leave your thoughts in the comments below regarding how much this free software has been able to replace Visio in your work.
This article was first published in Jan 2012 and was updated in July 2017
Image credit: Business man working