Move over, Visio, because Dia delights

Diagram creation software can be on the expensive side, just take a look at Visio, for instance, but if that’s a problem for you then there are some great free tools around. And Dia is one of the best.

The program may open with a standard list of flowcharting shapes, for instance, but it also provides plenty of other symbol libraries. Just choose the one you need and you’ll be able to draw logic diagrams, electrical circuits, networks, databases, simple maps and much more.

If you’ve ever used a similar program then the process of creating the chart itself will seem very familiar. You’ll start by dragging and dropping shapes onto the page, resizing and repositioning them to suit your needs. Add text as appropriate, use lines to link them up: it’s all quite straightforward.

There’s also plenty of power on offer here, though. So if you’re working with a very large diagram then you can separate it into layers. Multiple alignment options help to keep everything looking neat; symbols can be grouped together and moved as a block; and every aspect of the chart – colours, fonts, line widths, styles and more – can be tweaked in seconds.

And once you’ve finished you can export your masterpiece in a lengthy list of formats, including JPG, PNG, PS/ EPS, DXF, PDF, EMF, WMF, TEX and more.

There are also a few issues here which may be a problem for some people. As with most other diagramming tools, for instance, Dia can’t use or create Visio’s VSD files (the format is proprietary). There are usually workarounds, though -- in this case, Dia can read and write Visio’s XML format (VDX) -- and on balance the program is still an exceptionally capable charting program.

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