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Kool Tools: OmniGraffle Professional 5

Volume Number: 24 (2008)
Issue Number: 07
Column Tag: Kool Tools

Kool Tools: OmniGraffle Professional 5

by Dennis Sellers

If you're having problems with a design project, don't grapple with it: Graffle it. OmniGraffle, that is. The Mac OS X diagramming application from the Omni Group was recently updated to version 5.0, adding Mac OS X 10.5 ("Leopard") compatibility, faster layout speed and new automatic layout options thanks to the addition of the Graphviz layout engine.

OmniGraffle lets you drag and drop to create flow charts, org charts, network diagrams, family trees, project processes, office layouts–pretty much anything you can think of that can be represented by symbols and lines. The Leopard compatibility in version 5.0 means that, among other things, OmniGraffle Pro supports Mac OS X 10.5's Quick Look preview feature. With Leopard's Quick Look, you can view the contents of a file without even opening it. In other words, like many other file types, you can look at OmniGraffle Pro 5 files in Leopard even if the Omni Group software isn't open.

In the latest version several of the standard OmniGraffle tools have been beefed up, including the line tools. OmniGraffle 5 includes Bézier lines, so you can create custom shapes with lines made up of curves, straight lines, and control points. The new version also adds a "mini inspector" that makes the most common inspector controls more accessible. You can change object size, location, fill, stroke and other key attributes right at the top of a document window.

The latest version of OmniGraffle offers support for multiple page ("canvas") documents. You can choose, add, duplicate, and remove canvases using the status bar or the Canvases inspector. Both the status bar and the Canvas inspector depict the various canvases in icon mode; this lets you see which shapes are on which canvases. Canvases can be different sizes, and can be rotated 90 degrees when printed. You can mix landscape and portrait modes.

Outlining has been enhanced in OmniGraffle Pro 5. There's improved integration with the Omni Group's OmniOutliner, which–as you can probably guess from the name–is a tool for creating, collecting and organizing information. You can use OmniGraffle's outline styles as filters if you import OmniOutliner documents, by mapping styles to your OmniOutliner document structure. When you enter text information in OmniGraffle's Outline view, the graphical objects that are created can be styled and restyled in a variety of ways. The software can even associate a different style with each level in your outline.

OmniGraffle Pro 5 has improved import and export options. For example, a vector PICT export format is now available. OmniGraffle can both copy as vector PICT and export to that format; this makes it easier to do things such as copy and paste between OmniGraffle diagrams and applications such as Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. Hyperlinks are supported on export to PDF, as is exporting files with multiple canvases as a single, multiple-page PDF file.

With Smart Guides, when you move a shape, distance markers pop up and tell you when your new shape is going to form an equally-spaced row or column with any other shapes. The Automatic Layout inspector rearranges your diagram according to rules you specify. For example, you can choose "hierarchical" to lay out your document in the familiar "tree" format. Force-directed, radial, and circular layout styles are also available.

With its updated Visio compatibility, OmniGraffle Professional 5 can import Microsoft Visio VSD files directly with continued support for import and export of Visio XML files, as well as import of Visio stencils and templates. In fact, this feature works so well you may consider leaving Visio behind entirely.

OmniGraffle Pro has manual guides to help you in laying out your drawings. Guides can be dragged out onto your canvas from the top, bottom, or side; the shapes snap to the guides that you place.

OmniGraffle has a large community of users that develop and share free stencils. Version 5.0 of the software has new local and online search capabilities in the stencil window that makes it simpler to search, organize and download these stencils. You can retool the shapes from the office layout stencil, as well as stretch and rotate an existing graphic with one of the shape tools. Also, OmniGraffle Pro 5 offers the ability to search Graffletopia, a third-party library of free OmniGraffle stencils.

Overall improvements in version 5 have made the process of drawing and creating in OmniGraffle easier and more intuitive than ever. Anyone who has to diagram anything–from a process chart to a web site mock-up–should download the OmniGraffle 5 demo and see exactly what the software has to offer.

OmniGraffle 5 costs US $99.95. Upgrades from OmniGraffle 4 are available for $39.95. OmniGraffle Professional 5 is available for $199.95 with upgrades from OmniGraffle Professional 4 costing $74.95.

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