Review: ConceptDraw

ConceptDraw V Professional Edition
Computer Systems Odessa
Odessa, Ukraine

We all need a diagramming tool from time to time. Whether it's a blocks-and-arrows architectural idea, a network diagram, or a map to the company picnic, many of us turn to Microsoft Visio for this tool. ConceptDraw Professional offers a powerful alternative to Visio that works on both the PC and Mac platforms, and which Visio users will find easy to learn. New in this version are an importer for Visio XML and an online service to convert Visio files to ConceptDraw files (and vice versa) to make the transition even easier.

If you load up ConceptDraw, you'll find a familiar sort of interface, with objects you can drag from a variety of templates, a drawing surface, and smart connectors. The connectors offer some options not present in Visio, including finer-grained control over routing, and the ability to automatically display breaks where connectors cross (think of electrical circuit diagrams, for example).

There's a good selection of templates in the Professional Edition. Many of these are similar to Visio templates, though you'll find changes and improvements -- about twice as many shapes in the network diagram, for example. This version also adds Wizards to guide you through setting up some diagram types. You'll also find ODBC connectivity for things like database diagrams.

With this version, ConceptDraw has also added scripting in their own Basic dialect. This means you need to learn a new dialect - but it also means that the scripting, like the rest of the application, works on both PC and Mac. You can save and export in all sorts of formats, from graphics files to Flash to HTML to ConceptDraw's own documented XML format.

I didn't have any trouble building diagrams with ConceptDraw, though I did at one point manage to get it to cough up an error message in Cyrillic (when building an entity-relationship diagram from the SQL Server Northwind database - it managed to build the diagram anyhow). Some of the prompts are not quite grammatical English, either. But the documentation, including the 300-page printed manual, is well-done (if occasionally a bit stilted). ConceptDraw won't touch Visio for things like high-end integration with Visual Studio, but for day-to-day diagramming, it appears to be a viable contender.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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