Help me chart a course...
December 21, 2009 8:46 AM   Subscribe

What's a good, open source alternative to Visio? I'm looking to do some flowcharts, absolutely hate working with the draw tools in Word, and need something fairly simple, easy to use. Prefer not to use web based, don't like trusting data to third parties.
posted by Zinger to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I've used Dia before; it's not bad. It was originally made as a Visio alternative for Linux, but now they have a Windows version as well. Not as slick as it could be, but the price is right and it gets the job done.
posted by cgg at 8:58 AM on December 21, 2009

There is DIA.
I use the portable version (found on
It does not have the "exact" Visio primitive diagrams, but it is very useful.
posted by Drasher at 8:59 AM on December 21, 2009

I have used SmartDraw quite a bit in the past when I was a technical writer and it works just as well as Visio. It has a free download, too.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:11 AM on December 21, 2009

Seconding OpenOffice Draw, it's pretty simple, sane, and has flowchart shapes and connectors built in,
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:36 AM on December 21, 2009

Last time I looked into this, which was about a year ago, the answer was "there are no good free alternatives to Visio."

I gave up and just used MS paint to draw my flow charts. Now I would use Paint .net. Of course, they don't do the nice connecty thing, or font flow in a box, but it was faster than fighting with tools that were not Visio.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:47 AM on December 21, 2009

I tried to find a decent alternative awhile back on the PC side, and thought all the other options were severely lacking. However, if you happen to be using a Mac, OmniGraffle is quite nice.
posted by Cogito at 11:28 AM on December 21, 2009

Since you mention hating (some?) draw tools, maybe you'd like to try something where you describe the relations and let the software lay out the graph for you. Check out Graphviz. I quickly found an example that looks flowcharty on their site (click on the picture to see the markup/source). And wow, have a look at all these examples.

Like using markup instead of wysiwyg for writing text, it frees you from the drudgery of layout, and also makes it hard if you want a particular layout...
posted by fritley at 11:31 AM on December 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just in case the drawing tools you're using in Word are just the shapes and arrows, have you tried Smart Art yet (in the 2007/2008 version)? It's pretty good for simple diagrams and flowcharts. More info:
posted by beyond_pink at 12:16 PM on December 21, 2009

You can do flowcharts in Powerpoint if they're not to complicated.
posted by white_devil at 2:23 PM on December 21, 2009

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