Hi everyone, I'm the Lead Program Manager for the Visio team and I'm going to be talking about the new features we've been working on for Visio 12.  I am also looking forward to hearing from you about your Visio thoughts.  A little bit about me:  this is the first release of Visio that I have worked on and I'm pretty excited about it (I think you will be too once we start getting into some of the features).  Previously, I was on the InfoPath team for the 2003 version of that product, and I’ve also worked on Excel, Internet Explorer, and Access.  

Let's start off with a quick discussion about what makes Visio, well, Visio.  Why is Visio different from any other drawing or diagramming tool?  Well, for me, it's three main things.  First, Visio made it easy for people who don't have the time or graphic skills to still be able to create a diagram. Instead of having to draw each line in each shape of a diagram from scratch, Visio allowed you to assemble one from a large set of pre-made shapes that came with the product.  This opened up the field of diagramming to many more people than before.  Suddenly anyone could do it!  Second, Visio is a platform on which custom solutions can be developed.  Do you need a different diagram than the ones we ship with the product?  We give you the tools to be able to build it.  Does your company need to extend the functionality of our of our diagrams, such as a flow chart?  Again, Visio makes this possible.  Finally, Visio shapes are smart.  They can have special behaviors programmed into them so that they know how to connect to each other, resize properly, and even contain extra data behind them.

Shapes and Data

The fact that our shapes can contain data behind them has become more and more important with each release.  Many of the main uses of the product are to visualize real systems or processes that are used at a business.  For example, a Visio network diagram is used to document how a network is actually implemented at a company.  Or a flowchart details how a specific business process is carried out.  Floor plans show how equipment is laid out in a factory.  You get the idea.  Many of these systems have real data that is super useful to track along with the diagram.  In the network example, it would be great to have the IP address, Server OS, and administrator identified right in the diagram.  For the flowchart, we could store information about process step owners, how long it takes to complete each step, etc.

Today it's pretty hard for people to work with data in Visio.  You can store this data separately from the diagram in an external data source such as an Excel spreadsheet or a database, but it is difficult today to import this data into an existing diagram and connect it up to the shapes.  We frequently hear that people end up just typing the data directly into the shapes in the diagram.  This makes keeping the data up-to-date a bit painful. Every time something changes, you have to remember to go and update your diagram. 

If you successfully get your data in the Visio diagram with the current version of Visio, it's not easy to display it.  People have to rely on separate windows that show you the data behind each shape, instead of displaying it in a richer, more visually appealing way.  Visio's all about showing things graphically, so how come the data behind shapes has to be all text?

You may have guessed by now that one of the big themes for Visio 12 is improving the way you can work with data in diagrams.  Well, you’d be right!  In future posts, I'll be talking about the ways in Visio 12 that we have made it much easier to connect to data and display it directly on your diagram.  In addition to this, I'll show you some new diagram types that take advantage of these data features right out of the box.

For those of you who aren’t that interested in hooking up your Visio diagrams to data, don’t despair.  We’ve made a bunch of improvements to the rest of the product as well.  I’ll also talk about the work we've done to simplify creating and formatting Visio diagrams, as well as the new templates and shapes that we’ll be shipping. 

I haven't shown you too much about what we are up to yet but please feel free to post your comments on what you think so far.  Until next time...