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ConceptDraw V Professional 5.5

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ConceptDraw V Professional is designed for people who need to create high-end flowcharts, engineering drawings, and other intricate illustrations. If you’re prepared to deal with its interface quirks and steep learning curve, it’s an effective program that goes well beyond conventional diagramming applications like OmniGraffle Professional (   ; February 2006 ).

ConceptDraw V Pro features several enhancements over version 5.2, including support for color transparency, export to Microsoft Visio XML, and a host of bug fixes. If you don’t need some of the Pro edition’s advanced features, there’s also a $149 Standard edition, which has fewer pre-drawn objects and lacks the Pro version’s built-in scripting language.

More than diagrams

ConceptDraw provides predefined templates for diagrams in 20 categories, from business to Web design. When you choose a template, ConceptDraw adjusts your document’s scale, font, grid, and other settings appropriately, and opens libraries of graphic objects suitable for your diagram. If you prefer to draw from scratch, the program’s repertoire of basic shapes includes ellipses, rectangles, line segments, sectors, arcs, and splines.

As with other diagramming programs, ConceptDraw lets you connect any pair of objects with lines that shift automatically when you change the position of either object. You can force connecting lines to flow around objects, as well as determine how they behave when they intersect with one another. This is handy for keeping flowcharts and similar diagrams tidy.

The Shape Properties dialog lets you choose an object’s fill color, line width, and other features. To prevent inadvertent changes, you also can lock an object’s geometric attributes, such as its aspect ratio, position, and rotation. You can create programmable hyperlinks that connect objects to a Web page, jump to a location in the current document, or open any document or application. ConceptDraw also lets you edit tables that specify any object’s properties as numeric values or formulas, giving you even more precise control. For example, you can make the length of a rectangle dependent on its width, or set a circle to change size when you move it.

One of ConceptDraw’s most powerful features is a scripting language called ConceptDraw Basic, which lets you tailor the program’s behavior at the application, document, page, or object level. With scripts, you can create, say, a document that automatically retrieves data from an external database and builds a diagram to display that information. Unfortunately, although the manual does a fairly good job of explaining general scripting concepts, neither it nor the scripting reference tool is all that helpful to beginners—both would benefit from tutorials and additional examples.

Problems and quirks

ConceptDraw Pro now lets you import and export Microsoft Visio XML files, but it still doesn’t support PDF import. And, although you can export to PDF, object transparency settings get lost in the process. (The company is aware of the problem and is working on a fix.) ConceptDraw’s lack of support for soft drop shadows is another surprising omission.

ConceptDraw’s interface is challenging, too. With up to 16 separate toolbars and an assortment of other dialog boxes and palettes, it’s sometimes difficult to find what you want. For example, the new transparency slider is hidden at the bottom of the color picker, and you don’t see changes until you dismiss the dialog. Tabbed dialogs and palettes help reduce screen clutter, but their interface isn’t consistent—for instance, tabs in the Shape Properties dialog have text labels, but tabs in the floating palettes sport icons. Even the Template Gallery is a bit odd: Disclosure triangles next to the category names rotate when you click on them, but they don’t reveal anything or have any other effect.

Macworld’s buying advice

Despite its flaws, ConceptDraw Pro V Professional is a capable diagramming program that’s brimming with potential. And if you take the time to learn the application’s scripting language, you can do things that you can’t duplicate with other diagramming software.

[ Franklin Tessler is a university professor and radiologist who frequently uses diagramming software in his work. ]

ConceptDraw’s libraries include thousands of scalable objects.
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