Press Release

Tuesday, December 15, 1992 < Prev Next >

As Simple as Drag, Drop and Draw

THE phrase "drag and drop" is increasingly popular these days. Although the term may aptly describe the way your children manipulate objects, it also applies to a software technique for moving objects on the computer screen, using a mouse or trackball.

Software applications that use drag-and-drop objects are generally easier to use than programs that use more conventional commands. A good example is Visio, a new drawing program for computers that use the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Visio allows people who are not necessarily skilled in the graphic arts to create professional-looking diagrams, charts, technical sketches, space plans and other drawings that might be needed in the course of a business day.

There are many drawing packages on the market that can produce such drawings, but people often balk at learning complex programs just to produce a simple organizational chart or floor plan. Larger businesses may have someone on the staff who handles such artwork, but small businesses and home offices rarely have that luxury.

What sets Visio apart from the rest is its exploitation of the rather simple notion that most drawings are composed of standard shapes, like rectangles, circles and arrows. For an office layout, the standard shapes might include desks, chairs, windows and even plants. A computer network manager might want shapes representing workstations, servers, routers, bridges, modems and other components of the network. Each set of objects is called a stencil.

Visio comes with 15 different stencils comprising hundreds of "smart" shapes altogether. The shapes are smart in the sense that they can maintain relationships with other objects. They can be modified or connected to other shapes, pieced together, until the drawing is complete. It's like an Erector set for drawings, but with more options for customization. Users can also create their own custom shapes and stencils, and the company that makes Visio plans to create and sell additional stencils to meet specific customer needs.

For example, Bill Clinton may not need a special stencil to create a simple organization chart for all of his Cabinet appointees. He can simply point to a big box on the menu, drag it to the top of Visio's open work space and add some text saying "Me." Oops, not big enough; he can make it bigger simply by stretching it. Then he can drag a smaller box underneath that one and label it "Albert."

The menu also has connectors and arrows, so if the President-elect finds one he likes, he can connect the two boxes. The connector is smart, so if he decides to move Al's box off to the side, the connector line will stay attached to the same point on the box and will automatically grow or shrink to fit. Adding Cabinet boxes and Deputy Cabinet-member boxes and so on is as simple as dragging and dropping objects on the page.

The President has his own needs; I myself feel an urgent need to diagram my fantasy baseball team and stadium for the 1993 season. Visio includes drawing tools for creating custom shapes, so I might create a stencil for baseball, with standard shapes for bleachers, light posts, hot dogs, hitters, fielders, pitchers, coaches, bases, the pitcher's mound and so forth.

Then, using a mouse, I can select the basic shapes needed to construct a baseball diamond and populate it with players. I know that the distance between bases ought to be 90 feet, but my guys have lost a step or two over the years, so I'll make the basepaths 87.25 feet long. Visio's drawing grid allows me to set the scale to any common measurement or unit, and it automatically measures the lines with great precision. So as I stretch a line between the bases, it tells me the length.

Visio has a Windows technology called object linking and embedding (OLE), which means that drawings can be incorporated into other Windows programs that also use OLE. It works the other way, too, so I may wish to link my Nolan Ryan baseball object to an Excel spreadsheet showing his recent pitching performance.

This is not a program for someone who does highly technical drawings, the kind now produced using AutoCAD or some other advanced drafting program. Nor is it a paint program, unless the user's artistic style derives heavily from Cubism or Mondrian. Instead, it is for the teacher who wants to diagram the process of writing a paper or the manager who has to make a graphical presentation to the board of directors in a hurry or the office manager who wants to make a map of the office, including telephone extensions, for the benefit of the temporary receptionist.

Visio has a suggested list price of $299. It requires a computer with at least four megabytes of system memory, a fast 386SX or higher processor, Windows 3.1 and a VGA or better monitor. More information can be obtained from the Shapeware Corporation, 1601 Fifth Avenue, Suite 800, Seattle, Wash., 98101; telephone (800) 446-3335.

The New York Times

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