The Inspiration Behind Visio

Visio prototype product box.John Nack: "JFK was in office, and yet the app Sketchpad (from then-25-year-old Ivan Sutherland) offered multitouch input, auto-correction of vector strokes, and even reusable symbols (a la Flash, Illustrator, etc.). " - How about reusable symbols a la Visio! I remember Jeremy Jaech, a Visio co-founder and our CEO and President, showing us this very video and explaining how it inspired what was to become Visio.

If you watch the video pay close attention to the gesturing, especially using one "tool" to do both lines and arcs. When I joined Visio in early 1992 Visio, the application, then called Mainline, was in its infancy, pre 1.0. It had one drawing tool, the pencil. That pencil could gesture lines and arcs depending on how you gestured with the mouse.

Visio is the granddaddy of reusable, drag and drop, shapes for non-artists, market.


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Web diagramming?

yUML [via Doug Finke]: "Create online UML diagrams in seconds from inside your blog posts, articles and documents." - I'd experimented with doing web based diagramming back in early 2002. This is an idea whose time has come, but not just for UML, for all kinds of connected diagrams. Flow charts, organization charts, data flow diagrams... the list goes on. The yUML guys use text to direct their diagram creation, back when I did my experiment I used OPML to create a hierarchal connected diagram because OMPL was a perfect fit for it. I used Visio, created a simple application to parse the OPML and turn it into something the Organization Chart Add-On could parse, executed Visio programatically, launched the Organization Chart Add-On programatically, generated the diagram, saved, and exited Visio. When I was thinking the web service through I figured the hardest part would be scaling of course, since I was using Visio to generate the drawings, but that's easy enough to work around.

This is great stuff, and I hope to see more in the future.

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1993 Blockbuster Summer

Cinematical: "1993 holds a really special place in my heart for one reason: Jurassic Park. While I had seen some event movies in my 11 short years, there had never been a movie like this. It was the first movie I had to wait in line for -- and the line seemed huge because it actually went outside the Southwest Plaza Mall." - That year sticks out in my mind as well, it was a pretty good year. I remember it because Kim and the girls were in California visiting family, I was off at a trade show, I believe it was N+I, in Atlanta, Georgia, for Visio. After the show I flew to California instead of going back to Seattle. We spent a couple of weeks visiting with family, and Mickey Mouse, then back to Seattle where Kim took me to see Jurassic Park for father's day.

Funny the things I remember.

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Paper, a developers best friend

Gus Mueller: "So a little while back as I was bugging Kirstin about some math (which I knew I had already bugged her about a couple of years previously, but couldn't find my notes on) I decided to get a little bit more organized. And I've now got two pretty thick sketch books, pictured above, with mostly empty pages in them but rapidly filling up. And I thought I'd just pass this tip on to you." - This is something I've done for years. I love National Brands Laboratory Notebooks. I have a stack of them from notes past, doodles, misc notes, strange names and phone numbers, and debugging sessions. They're a lot of fun to go back through and see what I was thinking at the time and how whatever I was working on at the time progressed. Most real drawings, Visio drawings, I've ever created started life on a piece of paper or a white board, maybe I shouldn't admit that, but a good piece of paper is still the fastest way to capture an idea, IMHO.

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Interactive Final-Four Bracket

Visio Guy: "Not to miss a diagramming opportunity, Visio Guy is here to help you with your pool with a smart, interactive Final Four bracket!" - Chris comes through again! If you're a Visio user and a hoops fan take advantage of Chris' hard work and setup your bracket. Thanks Chris.

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Stupid Visio Tricks

I've started a new FriendFeed room for "Stupid Visio Tricks."

Here's my first entry.

Well, let's get this show on the road. Here's one of my favorite Visio features, often not discovered, but very powerful. Panning and Zooming using a keyboard and mouse combination.

To Zoom
1) Select the pointer tool.
2) Press Ctrl+Shift.
3) Hold down the left mouse button.
4) Drag around an area to zoom.

To Pan
1) Select the pointer tool.
2) Press Ctrl+Shift.
3) Hold down the right mouse button.
4) Drag around the page

Visio has become a bit more modal over time. In the old days you didn't have to select the Pointer Tool, but you can still do it, and it's quite handy.


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Hosting IronPython and IronRuby

Michael Foord: "An exploration of how to embed Dynamic Language Runtime engines into .NET applications (C# or VB.NET). It addresses topics like presenting an API from your application to user code, handling errors and how to interact with dynamic objects from a statically typed language." - This is pretty intriguing. I wondered aloud the other day about why you'd want to host things in a shell, but hosting the DLR interactively inside an application, hmmm sounds like SmallTalk, would be extremely cool.

This is the sort of thing guys like Adam Stone, or Chris Roth, would come to love in Visio. Heck, this is something I'd love to have time to work on myself.

I had begun to put a grammar together for a Visio specific language, for shape building, but haven't pursued it any further. It would've been hosted inside the DLR, which could then be hosted using these techniques. I'd still like to do it.

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From the shell, why?

IronPython URLs: "He's posted before on this project, for example his hello world in C#, F# and IronPython article. This entry provides lots more examples (with huge screenshots), this time on using the Powershell and IronPython interactive interpreters to drive Visio" - It caught my eye because Visio was in the title. It's so funny to see guys driving things from the command line, awkward is a better word, but I can see a useful side to this, sort of. It would be a bit nicer if you hosted the shell inside of Visio and could script it interactively from there, in fact, I think that would be an extremely useful developer tool. You could try junk on the fly, fine tune, then write the real code to do the actual job. I like the idea, I really do.

Can you host the PowerShell inside of other applications, or maybe just the IronPython interactive shell would suffice? Hmmmmm, makes one wonder.

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Must have apps

Visio 1.0 prototype box, circa 1993.I'm officially a Mac fan, can't help it. The user experience it just too good. The OS is clean and most of the applications I use on a daily basis are very clean. However... I just couldn't live with one application, OmniGraffle Pro. No offense folks but it's not Visio. For some that will be a plus, for me it's a definite minus. I missed Visio so much I went out and purchased my very own copy to use on my work box. I installed it yesterday and got to work on a new drawing, it worked just like I remember.

Hello old friend.

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Visio Mac?

Every once in a while I get a hit from someone at Microsoft looking for Visio for the Macintosh related material. They typically land on something I wrote back in 2004 where I mention we once had Visio running natively on the Macintosh. It has a nice splash screen created by Chris Roth, but unfortunately I don't have a screen shot of the actual product. It really did exist, it just never saw the light of day. We also had it running natively on a DEC Alpha and on PowerPC versions of NT, but those both died on the vine as well.

I'd still love to see Visio running on a Mac. If Microsoft ever goes about doing that I'd love to work on it, hint, hint. Smile, life is good!

They don't need me to make that happen of course, but it would be an awesome application to have on the Mac.

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iPhone design tool?

teehan+lax: "Over the past few months we’ve had to create a few iPhone mock ups for presentations. The problem we’ve encountered is the lack of resources to help us design something efficiently. Up until now we’ve used a nice PSD from but we still found ourselves having to build out additional assets or heavily modifying bitmap based buttons and widgets." - If you're a Visio user and you need a UI design tool for the iPhone I'd encourage Chris Roth, Mr. Visio Guy himself, to get to work.

Chris, you could blow this out of the water. Then we need to figure out how to generate the Interface Builder .xib file, and associated handlers. That would be a fun project.

Just having the template for building UI's would be wonderful.

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Creating lightweight SmartShapes

Visio prototype box, circa 1993Visio Guy: "We’ll tear these SmartShapes apart and show how you can use custom line patterns and creative shadow techniques to add pizzazz to your shapes, without adding bloat!" - Chris Roth is, without a doubt, the best SmartShapes developer on the face of the planet. Period. So, if you're in the business of creating add-on solutions to Visio listen to what he has to say, he won't steer you the wrong way.


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Visio Templates

Visio Guy: "Ok, ok, this is all just a thinly-veiled excuse to play with the new Themes feature, see what it takes to create a custom theme with Visio 2007, and share some of that info with all y'all." - Chris explores a new Visio 2007 feature in his own special way. If you're a Visio user, developer, or remember the old vector game, Battlezone, you'll enjoy it.

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Idea for Visio

Ok, it's a strange idea, but what do you expect for free? Who knows, maybe you can already do this, and I'm just so out of touch with Windows development, and Visio, I've missed it?

Anywho, here goes...

Wouldn't it be nice as a Visio developer to be able to perform queries against a drawing, page, or shape?
Visio.Shapes shapes = from Shape s in Page where s.Height = "1.75in." select s;
... Or something like that.

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Drawing Glass in Visio

Visio Guy: "Now, maybe you’re thinking; Visio is not Adobe Illustrator, and Visio diagrams are supposed to be simple, boring, and utilitarian. A quick glance at this site might bring you to question that notion.

But don’t just take our word for it…"
- Chris Roth is a Visio Master, without a doubt the best Visio Shapes Developer in the world. He continually proves you can do amazing things with a product intended for mere mortals.

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Visio History

Troy Sandal, a Visio old-timer, decided one cold day in Seattle he should go out and do a bit of Visio advertising in the snow on the building below us at 520 Pike.

It's a classic.

Thanks for the link Troy.

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Wish I could be there

This week, February 5th and 6th, is the Visio Conference in Redmond. I'd like to go just to see the new application in action. I don't own a copy of Visio 2007 and I haven't seen what you can do with the new features built around Databases, and random data in general. Heck, I haven't even seen the new AutoConnect in action!

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Need Visio stuff?

Visio Guy: "Hi, my name's Chris Roth, and I'm the Visio Guy. I have a long history of working with Visio that goes back to 1992, when I was fresh out of college." - Chris is an amazing artist, and pretty darned good with Math. He creates tons and tons of shapes, and provides directions for creating them.

If you're new to Visio and trying to create custom shapes you should check out Visio Guy.


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Happy 15th Birthday Visio

It's hard to believe it's been that long.

So, happy birthday Visio. Here's hoping you have a long happy life. Smile, life is good!

Oh, and thanks for reminding me John.


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Strange Dream

Visio prototype box.I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this before but I'll share it again. The best place I've ever worked was Visio, the company, pre-Microsoft. It was about the people, the culture, and the great product all rolled up. It was one of those experiences I'll probably never have again, it was the greatest time of my "professional" life.

Anywho, last night I had a dream Ted Johnson, VP/CTO of Visio, and Peter Mullen, VP of Development at Visio, asked me to come to work for their latest venture Trumba, and they said I could telecommute, Woo-hoo!

Needless to say if they made that offer I'd be all over it. They are incredible Engineers and I'm certain they've created a wonderful work experience at Trumba. It's become the stomping ground for many Visio old-timers. I guess I'm still thinking about Seattle and my two day trip back in June. I wish I'd had the time to stay for a week, or at least a long weekend. Oh well, maybe next reunion. Smile, life is good!


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Visio + Kuler == Coolness

Saveen Reddy [via John Nack]: "This code just takes the highest rated Kuler colors and draws them in Visio." - Very cool. I'd talked about doing something like this as a widget to change colors in the Windowing environment, but the idea of doing something with Visio never crossed my mind. How weird is that? Nice job Saveen.

I can't tell by my brief look at the code but it would be nice to use it to take Kuler color palettes and create Visio themes (I think that's what they're called these days? There used to be a color schemes add-on that would apply color templates to the drawing. Unfortunately I haven't investigated Visio 2007.)

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Rob Fahrni has been a Software Developer for 20 years. He's developed DOS, Windows, Linux, iPhone, and Palm based applications in C, C++, Objective-C/Cocoa, C#/ASP.Net, and, yes, even BASIC...
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