SmartDraw 2010 Offers Enhanced Features, Microsoft Office Integration

REVIEW: New integration with Microsoft Office enhances diagram and visual presentation tool SmartDraw.

While the latest version, called SmartDraw 2010 and available since November of 2009 at a price of $197 for a single license, is equipped with templates to create visual presentations for everything from mind maps to interior design, it will take new users at least several days to master the drawing tool.
With practice, however, I was able to become proficient at using SmartDraw to plan and put together graphics and text that I was then able to export to Microsoft PowerPoint, a feature that was significantly enhanced in this version of the product. SmartDraw includes a ribbon of buttons that enabled me to export or embed my SmartDraw projects into a variety of Microsoft Office products including Word.
Microsoft Visio 2003 is chief among the field of SmartDraw competitors when it comes to network diagrams. And when it comes to shape support- the stencil objects that represent IT equipment on the drawing page- Visio has a clear lead when it comes to the number and custom drawing of Cisco gear. Even so, SmartDraw is stuffed with network shapes and I had no trouble generating accurate maps of my test network.
Because the majority of my network diagrams were created in Visio, I used the SmartDraw bulk import tool to convert whole folders of Visio documents. Almost all of my network diagrams were created using Visio 2003. For the most part the SmartDraw import process worked well. However, there were significant fidelity issues when it came to correctly formatting floating text that was used to caption elements in my diagrams. So while all of the drawing shapes were correctly imported from my Visio diagrams, I had to spend between 10-20 minutes per document cleaning up text orientation and positioning.
More than a Diagram
SmartDraw 2010 is much more than a network diagramming tool, and I got a taste for the further design powers of the product during my tests. In particular, I used templates- of which there are more than 1,500 currently available- to create sophisticated presentation slides that included build elements (illustrations that add components with each mouse click). In addition to the large number of diagram templates, there are a plethora of clip art and illustration elements included in SmartDraw. I was able to use these art elements to create compelling slides. I then clicked on the PowerPoint button on the SmartDraw interface to see how my slides looked before exporting them for use in PowerPoint.
This is where spending some time learning the finer points of SmartDraw will pay off for knowledge workers who are responsible for creating presentations. While it does take a commitment of at least several days to become proficient at using SmartDraw, this is not unusual among diagramming products. Being able to build slides in SmartDraw was significantly easier (and creating the art elements was much more simple) than the same process using PowerPoint. I was impressed with the amount of video training material available at the SmartDraw Website. These materials both shortened the time it took me to master SmartDraw while also suggesting many cool presentation tips that I likely would not have found on my own.
One example of an advance tip I found via the online learning program was a way to fudge chart data. In a stack diagram, for example, it was simple to select a statistic- in this case the number of U.S. deaths caused by heart disease- and then use a grab bar to drag the line segment to increase the percentage and thus also redraw the chart. I can see how this would be useful in presentations that are forecasting desired future results.
While SmartDraw has removed many annoying diagramming pitfalls- including a finicky reliance on grids to correctly line up drawing objects that is found in other diagramming tools- I don't expect this advantage to stay around for long. Microsoft Visio 2010 is in beta now and looks like it will have significant ease-of-use features added to it. For now, however, SmartDraw does have some very nice, almost intuitive, user-interface features that made it possible for me to have neat and clean diagrams without spending a lot of time making microscopic adjustments to drawing objects. For example, SmartDraw automatically aligns adjacent objects so that they appear visually in line with each other.