This morning at Day 2 of Visio Conference 2008, we announced that the next version of Visio will add support for AutoCAD 2007 DWG and DXF file formats. As mentioned in previous blog posts, this was a major request from Visio customers and partners.
General Manager Richard Wolf explained in his keynote address how Visio prioritizes feature investments that improve the entire Visio platform over changes that enhance just a single vertical market. CAD integration is valuable to a broad set of customers spanning the Engineering, Facilities Management and Information Technology markets. Richard then demonstrated an example of inserting an AutoCAD 2007 floorplan of a data center, overlaying Visio server shapes, adding Data Graphics to show cabinet temperatures and then publishing the diagram to Visio Services for display in a web dashboard. Thus, while CAD integration does not fall under the three investment areas described on Day 1, it was high on the team's priority list for Visio "vNext" given the applicability to data visualization scenarios across several diagram types.
Day 2 also featured demonstrations of new capabilities for developers and shape designers:
Visio "vNext" adds support for RibbonX, the API for the Office Fluent user interface. Existing Visio solutions with custom UI will work unmodified in the Ribbon, but solutions can use RibbonX for a much richer integration into the Ribbon.
Visio "vNext" allows solution developers to work with Visio diagrams at a logical level instead of at the physical level. Visio exposes relationships between shapes that can be discovered and traversed to simplify the understanding of the diagram structure. Three common relationships are defined: connectivity, containment and callouts.
Visio Services API
The feedback received over the last two days at the Visio Conference has been tremendous. We're happy to see people so enthusiastic about our Visio "vNext" plans. There is still much work to be done, and we hope that the Visio community will continue providing feedback as we disclose more over time.
A recent newsgroup post asks for an explanation of the cells that get added to a shape when it is converted using the Process Engineering add-on.
The Shape Conversion command in Process Engineering allows you to make any shape work like the built-in Process Engineering shapes. We recognized that customers who made Piping & Instrumentation diagrams often had custom equipment or valves or instruments that they needed to include in the diagram. Shape Conversion modifies a custom shape to make it recognizable by the Process Engineering add-on and match the behaviors of built-in shapes.
You can try this by drawing a rectangle and choosing Shape Conversion from the Process Engineering menu. In the dialog, note that the shape Source is already set to Selected Shapes. Process Engineering can also bring in shapes from other documents or CAD symbols. Then comes the challenging part: you can optionally give the shape a Category and Tag Format. Categories are used to organize the shape in the Component Explorer window. You can choose an existing category or type in a new string. Tag formats are used for automatically labeling and numbering shapes. You must choose from an existing tag format. Visio only offers you choices for Categories and Tag Formats that already exist in the drawing, so if you want your shape to be a piece of Equipment you should drop a built-in Equipment shape on the drawing before converting your custom shape.
After clicking OK, you can open the Shapesheet window to see what changes were made to your shape. The primary change is the set of User-defined cells added to the shape. These cells identify the shape and control its behavior in the diagram.
Here is a brief explanation of each cell:
A GUID (unique identifier) that tells Visio what add-on is managing the shape. All shapes that are used with Process Engineering, need the GUID matching the Process Engineering add-on.
The Category that the shape is assigned to. The shape appears under this name in the Component Explorer.
The current tag name (label & number) for the shape.
The Tag Format name and expression for the shape. Unless the Component Tag has been overwritten, this is the automatically generated label displayed on the shape.
The sequence number for the shape. Visio updates this value when components are renumbered. This value then feeds into the Component Tag.
A Boolean value that determines whether the Component Tag is displayed on the shape. This is manipulated by an Action in the Actions section.
A value that references the global page setting for hiding tags. If tags are hidden at the page level, then the local setting is ignored.
This is a bit flag that controls the layout behavior of the components in the diagram. Mostly these settings determine how the split and heal features in Process Engineering work. Here are the bits:
CAUSES SPLIT = 1 (Splits connector when dropped on connector)
CAUSES HEAL = 2 (Heals connector when deleted)
ALLOWS SPLIT = 4 (Connector splits when shape dropped)
ALLOWS HEAL = 8 (Connector heals when shape deleted)
ALLOWS JUNCTION = 16 (Connector to connector connection)
JUNCTION IN USE = 32 (Temporary state)
The default setting here is 31, which enables all the split and heal and junction behaviors.
There are a few other changes to connection points, action cells and text to complete the conversion. These are straightforward changes, and you can inspect the Shapesheet to see the details.
Tuesday more than 300 customers, partners and Visio community members gathered for Day 1 of Visio Conference 2008. Attendees were treated to an impressive array of partner solutions, product demonstrations and information-filled sessions. To top it all off, attendees got the first sneak peak at the next version of Microsoft Office Visio.
At this point Visio "vNext" is still in an early stage (pre-Alpha), but we wanted to give everyone a glimpse of the fantastic capabilities of the next version and outline our high-level investments. Keep in mind that plans can and do change as we respond to feedback and continue working toward completion. We are publicly showing just a few of the features planned. Here are the three areas where we are concentrating most of our efforts:
Visio "vNext" reinvents the core flowcharting experience in Visio. Flowchart creation is faster and easier than ever. Cross-functional flowcharts in particular are improved. Going beyond a simple drawing canvas, Visio understands the logical structure of the diagram far better. This leads to more advanced process diagramming capabilities that put the user firmly in control over the graphical representation of their processes.
Ease of Use
Visio "vNext" adopts the Office Fluent user interface that you see today in Office 2007 core applications. The Ribbon and Live Preview components in particular take the guesswork out of finding Visio commands and choosing between settings. At the same time Visio improves a wide range of existing features, bringing the results-oriented concepts behind the Fluent UI onto the diagramming surface itself. The Shapes window, layout and AutoConnect are significantly enhanced. Visio is even easier to use and significantly reduces the time needed to create and modify diagrams.
Visio "vNext" introduces server-rendered, data-refreshable diagrams for the first time. Visio Services allows data connected diagrams to be published from Visio to a server and viewed by users directly in their web browser. There are no client bits to install. An API is also provided for creating mashups of diagrams and additional data.
There is far more to talk about with Visio "vNext". In future posts we will begin to provide more details and present screen shots. However, there are also plenty of things to discuss about the current Visio 2007 product. We'll cover both in the coming months. Please stay tuned and be sure to give us your feedback.
Visio had the opportunity to present at Microsoft's SOA & BP conference last November on using Visio as a Business Process Analysis Tool. A video of that presentation is now available for viewing. Mark Nelson from the Visio team describes how Visio 2007 helps bring BPA to the masses through its in-box feature set and robust solutions platform. Also Keith Sharp from partner Ascentn demonstrates their AgilePoint BPM product, which is built on the Visio platform.