When it comes to creating the garden variety of charts–workflow charts, organization charts, circuits, diagrams, anything involving graphics–one could argue that Microsoft Visio is by far one of the best programs to use. With its seamless integration with the other members of the Office family, you can quickly flip your charts and graphics back and forth with ease. The professionalism that comes with the use of Microsoft Visio is hard to top.
But here’s the rub: when your pockets are full of lint, rather than cash, Microsoft Visio is going to stay out of reach no matter how desperately you want to use it. When you can’t run two nickels–no, two pennies together, then you need an alternative that will get the job done, be just as good or better than Microsoft Visio without the price tag that comes with it. And it just so happens there’s several programs that fit the bill.
Even worse, individuals that are using Mac OS X are stuck in a river without a paddle. Microsoft Visio isn’t available for Mac OS X, sadly. Won’t someone think of the Mac users? Someone did and many of the programs listed below are available for Mac, too. Here’s 8 of the best alternatives, in no particular order, that can fill the spot for Microsoft Visio.
When you first fire up Dia, you’ll immediately feel like you were launched back to the turn of the 21st century. Considering Dia was released way back in 1998 and, technically speaking, it hasn’t even had a full version 1.0 release yet, it’s easy to see why. However, by no means should that scare you off. Dia has some serious weight behind its features that could hit all the right notes for someone looking for a diagram program on a very tight budget.
Right off the bat you’ll notice Dia’s interface is very easy to navigate. Dia focuses on the diagramming itself and the tools needed to make that happen; there’s no bells and whistles and flashing colors–none of that. Dia gives you what you need to make network diagrams and flowcharts and even circuit diagrams.
The best part, however, is the file formats. Dia saves with the file extension XML. But if you want to import your work, say, into a program that works with .SVG, .JPEG, or Microsoft Visio’s own file format, .VDX, then you are welcome to do so. Don’t have money? No problem. Dia is free for anyone using a Windows, Mac, or Linux computer.
- Focus on diagram tools.
- Works with Windows, Mac OS and Linux.
Continuing the trend of simplicity and a straightforward purpose, you have Draw.io. However, Draw.io is presented a little differently. You see, Draw.io isn’t placed on your desktop, no. Instead, you’ll find it makes its bed in your browser. It doesn’t bother you with its presence by forcing you to install yet another program on your computer. Create a bookmark for Draw.io and you can visit with a single click (there is a desktop version).
Draw.io feels a lot like Dia, except Draw.io feels more modern. It has all of the necessary tools to make professional and creative diagrams. Spend an afternoon with Draw.io and you’ll find yourself mastering it in no time.
What really makes Draw.io stand out is its integration with cloud storage. Take the work you’ve done and save it to Google Drive, OneDrive, DropBox, GitHub, GitLab or your own device. And who can argue with a price tag of $0.00?
- Very clean interface with necessary tools needed.
- Works with Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Chrome OS.
3. yEd Graph Editor
At first glance, yEd Graph Editor looks, admittedly, very boring. There’s a lot of grey shades, not a lot of color on the interface; it really feels like a program from the era of Windows 95. With that being said, there’s a reason it’s on this list. It seems yED Graph Editor was cut from the same cloth as Dia and Draw.io, meaning, its looks are deceiving.
Behind the monotone coloring of the interface is a well-equipped diagram creation kit. It somehow to the already simplistic diagram creation tool, Dia, and brought it down a step. Creating diagrams is as easy as dragging and dropping components, whether it’s for flowcharts, network diagrams or anything in between.
If you want yEd Graph Editor on your computer, you’ll have to download its software. As far as file extensions go, yEd Graph Editor can save as PDF, JPEG, GIF, HTML or SWF.
- Can sort a cluttered diagram.
- Works with Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Java.
4. LibreOffice Draw
Do you like the look of Microsoft Word, but want the function of a diagram creation kit? Then LibreOffice Draw is the program for you. Through the use of lines and shapes you can snap together diagrams of your choosing and its library of symbols, arrows, 3D objects, to name a few, make it super easy and a blast to do.
In fact, if you like the features of Dia, but you’re looking for something a little more, then LibreOffice can scratch that itch for you. It packs more for you to do, rather than focusing on just diagram creation.
- Offers more than diagram creation.
- Works with Windows, Mac OS, and Linux.
Creately is another browser-based diagram creation kit with an emphasis on simple designs and a colorful palette. Creately would be right at home for any teacher looking to use it as a tool in class, considering it’s ease of use. It feels more like a beginner’s tool to diagram creation with the power to work wonderfully in a professional setting, no doubt about it.
Creately has a big library of shapes, lines, curves, you name it, Creately has it, but only if you agree to the $5 a month (or $49 a year). Creately does have a free version, but its features take a hit. Don’t let that stop you from at least considering Creately by giving it a try on its free version.
- Free (but limited and offers different tiers).
- Great tool for beginners.
- Browser-based (offers a desktop application for a fee), so no need for another application on your computer.
XMind gets a nice point for the elements and shapes it offers in its library. And when you’re working with mapping all day, XMind can be a serious contender for your diagram creation kit consider they can be created with simple keystrokes.
XMind’s focus is on mind maps, with a big stroke of style. You should see some of the mind maps people create; they’re works of art in their own right.
There is one problem holding XMind back and that’s its watermark on all diagrams created with the free version of XMind. Unless you pay for it, those are staying there.
- Free (but your diagrams will have a watermark unless you pay up).
- For mind maps, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better tool.
- Can be installed on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
Gliffy is like Draw.io if one were to inject it with more color and even more modern icons and tooltips. And yes, Gliffy is yet another browser-based diagram creation kit that comes with a library of tools for one to take advantage of. However, Gliffy does come with a set of problems you’ll have to consider.
For starters, Gliffy is free for 14 days. If you create diagrams a lot, 14 days should give you enough time to test the waters. After 14 days, if you like the program, you can pony up some dough for one of its trials.
Gliffy is great in the right hands and if you pay for it. Its subscription is pretty cheap and affordable, however, one could easily put it like this: if this list was sorted by best to the worst of the best, Gliffy would find itself towards the bottom of the list just because of the trial and subscription.
- Emphasis on professionalism, but still leaves room for creative elements.
- Browser-based. No download needed.
- Google Drive integration.
8. Pencil Project
Pencil Project is yet another simple diagram creation kit that offers the tools you need–and a good set for a free program–with a focus on functionality rather than pretty colors and a library of templates. With that focus in mind, Pencil Project would definitely land itself in the top three of the easiest diagram creation kits to use.
- Simple, functional, easy to use.
- Great for beginners.