ConceptDraw Professional

ConceptDraw Pro is a charting, design and planning tool that has a curious way of working. If you’re used to Illustrator or FreeHand, you’ll get confused by the bewildering interface full of little boxes with lines and points. Jumping straight in throws you a bit too, as this is an environment where almost every tool bears more than a passing resemblance to the bézier curve creators of other packages. However, this soon passes and you can see that this is actually quite a powerful utility, with an intuitive – rather than confusing – interface, and a pile of features to make creating diagrams a lot quicker and easier. You begin using the software by creating a totally blank document and working from scratch, or you can use one of the many included templates. Templates include business plans, industrial and electrical-engineering diagrams, database and flow charts, home design and architectural layouts. Dishwashers
The templates come accompanied by another powerful feature – object libraries. These include all the components that you’ll need to create most everyday charts and plans. Each template pulls up a relevant library, full of things such as tasks, timetables, dishwashers and logic gates. Being vector based, everything is scaleable. You can create a component and add it to the library for future use. Other powerful features are the import and export capabilities. Most of the usual graphics file formats are supported, as well as AutoCAD .DXF files and EPS, and ConceptDraw can import and export data to and from PowerPoint files and HTML. It also has the ability to import and export drawings as text. This may seem odd, but the text can either describe the position, relationships and attributes of the components of a drawing, or as Outline Data organized in a similar fashion to HTML – with tabbed indents for each subordinate component. Internet integration is also built in, with the ability to send drawings by email and launch searches from the File menu. The software features URL autoparsing, a feature that reads and assigns hyperlinks to any Web-related text string in the drawing. Hyperlinks can also be set to jump to another page of the document, another ConceptDraw document, or to launch any file or application you specify. ConceptDraw offers four types of objects in the Mac version: figures, connectors, groups and pictures. Figures are made up of elementary segments, of which there are four types: LineTo, SectorTo, ArcTo and SplineTo. When segments are connected, they become a Geometry – a solid path that closes to form a filled shape when the first segment meets the end of the last. As line width and fill properties can be preset, this enables charts and drawings to be quickly constructed. There are also basic shape tools, such as rectangle and ellipse, and a box for text entry – all of which serve to further speed the process. Several Geometries can be combined to form more complex figures, automatically formatted to share line and fill attributes, and show overlapping areas as transparent. This is especially useful for creating complex shaped holes in closed figures. Objects can be snapped to the background grid to aid positioning, or glued so that all connected objects move when one is repositioned. Objects can also be aligned in a variety of directions, reshaped, resized, rotated and flipped around axes. By opening its Object Parameter Table, each object is almost totally customizable – with full access to behaviours, attributes and characteristics. Pictures can also be imported and used as ConceptDraw objects. Connectors are another strength of the package. These are used to link two objects together even if they are moved or resized. Connectors can be either line segments – known as Direct connectors – or Smart connectors, made up of horizontal and vertical lines. Both rebuild themselves automatically when objects are moved, but the smart connector always ensures that nothing overlaps. Basically a quick way to draw the relationships between objects in diagrams, connectors are especially useful when a revision is required on a complex layout. Any object can be converted into a connector, and multiple connections from one object are possible. Text support, not surprisingly, is fairly extensive. As well as style, format and editing commands, there are advanced tools such as Autoexpand – which adjusts the size of an object to accommodate the text contained within. Layers are also a useful addition to the toolset. Up to nine layers can be used in a document, providing a host of possibilities. Take planning a house layout, for example. Instead of all wiring and plumbing being visible in a single drawing, each subsystem can be assigned to a different layer, able to be viewed singly or as a combination of views. This is a key feature of advanced architectural and construction packages, so to find it in this relatively low-priced package is a big plus.

OUR VERDICT

If you’re looking for a technical-drawing tool, this package has it all. Perhaps the only criticism is that it’s not focussed enough on certain disciplines. However, if your requirements are general purpose, this is a reasonable investment. It’s fairly cheap, runs on Mac OS X back to 8.6, and is extremely customizable. If you’re in education, it’s definitely worth a look. This review appeared in the Expo 2001 issue

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