OmniGraffle 5 Review


I think all reviews I do of Omni products should come with a disclaimer. I don’t hold stock in the company or anything like that. Omni does, however, manage to make tools that I find extremely useful in my day job and I’ve come to rely on their releases to make my life easier.
I reviewed OmniGraffle almost a year ago. Since then I’ve used it to make countless charts and diagrams. I was quite pleased with version 4 so the question becomes, should I upgrade to the version 5. After having participated in the Beta and used the final release for a month, the answer is “yes.”
For those of you who missed the original review, OmniGraffle gives you a set of tools to quickly and easily make diagrams, charts, and other things visual. If you talk Microspeak, it is similar to Visio. Using the application’s built in stencil library, it becomes stupid-easy to quickly assemble very attractive charts and diagrams that can be used on their own or exported into documents and presentations.
The new version 5 has a new interface that feels better to me. It is more consistent with the general interface guidelines you see in Leopard applications and gets rid of the drawer that was in Version 4.
Version 5 uses the new “Graphviz layout engine”. Once you set aside the marketing techno-jargon, that means several things as a user. It is faster, more powerful, and easier. Bezier curves are a snap and connecting objects is easier than ever. This is really helpful when you start moving things around.
The toolbars also got some love and now it is much easier to access the most commonly used tasks. An excellent OmniGraffle website that still sits on my RSS list is which acts as a clearinghouse for user created stencils. Apparently the folks at Omni are impressed too because you can now pull stencils down from Grafeltopiea from right inside OmniGraffle. One little improvement that I use often is support for Leopard’s “quick look.” I’ve collected quite a few diagrams and this makes searching through them very easy. Exporting is still a breeze and it is quite easy to incorporate the diagrams into your workflow.
OmniGraffle still comes in two flavors. The standard edition and the Professional edition which features better Visio support and other bells and whistles like subgraphs (which allow you to collapse portions of complex diagrams) and shared layers. One of the “Professional” features I’m very interested in is the notes inspector which should, if I understand correctly, allow me to applescript data or spotlight search right out of my file. I’m still working my way through applescript so I’ll have to get back to you on that one.
A lot of the new graphical bells and whistles rely on underlying Leopard technology so if you are still on Tiger, you are going to have to stick with version 4. In addition to a feature bump, OmniGraffle got a price bump. The basic version is $100 and the Professional version is $200. Upgrades from version 4 are $40. You can download a 30 day trial directly from The Omni Group. A lot of time went into making OmniGraffle intuitive and it shows. The only other applications that I think could get results like this are Visio (which does not exist in OS X) and Adobe Illustrator. Both more expensive and, in my opinion, more difficult to use.
The thing that sets OmniGraffle apart in my opinion is the shallow learning curve to quick, professional looking diagrams. The new version with a better graphics engine and a streamlined interface simply puts and exclamation point to an already useful application.

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OmniGraffle Pro 5 beta 1 – Initial Impressions

OmniGraffle Beta.png

The march of the Leopard only applications has begun. The Omni Group just released beta 1 of Omnigraffle 5. I’ve reviewed OmniGraffle already and explained how darn useful this application is. The new version takes advantage of Leopard with many new features.
I’ve been using it a few hours this morning making some diagrams for one of my cases and so far it is “thumbs up.” This is a major upgrade and I’m too early in the process to really understand them all but some initial thoughts are as follows:
* The new stencil viewer is an excellent upgrade.
* The overall improvements have made the process of drawing and creating both easier and more intuitive.
* The new bezier system is a definite improvement.
* The integration with OmniOutliner seems easier with drag and drop.
I’m looking forward to getting to know this beta a bit better. In the meantime you can download a copy for yourself from Omni. Pricing and availability of the final build has yet to be announced.

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Review – OmniGraffle



As usual, this review was recorded and written for my friend Tim at and released with Surfbits episode 108


I have a confession. I diagram everything. I think it has something to do with the way my brain is wired but I am always pulling out a sketch pad whether I’m trying to understand some complex client problem or simply explain to my kids the difference between a phillips and a slotted screwdriver. An offshoot to this diagram fixation is that I like to include them with just about anything I write or present. As a trial lawyer, I have personal experience that a few good diagrams can help the jurrors and judges understand exactly what it is I am trying to explain.


It is needless to say that when switching over to Apple one concern I had was “how am I going to continue making brilliant diagrams?” I knew with the OS X interface there had to be a program to meet my needs and indeed I have found it in OmniGraffle by the Omni Group.


OmniGraffle is a diagramming application used to create simple diagrams, flow charts, and illustrations. What I really like about this program is the way it combines powerful diagramming tools with a simple interface. It has a streamlined set of inspectors that, after spending some time learning, make it very easy to alter just about every parameter of my diagrams. It also has a unique set of “Palettes” which are pre-defined objects you can simply drag and drop right onto your diagram. Out of the box, OmniGraffle has multiple sets of Palettes but there are even more on the Omni Group website. These include such things as logic flow, idea mapping, website planning, GUI planning, architecture, and a host of other subjects. There are also several websites with many professional looking user created sets of palettes. I found particularly good and it is now on my RSS feed. In addition to the palettes, there is also a robust set of drawing tools. One nice feature is the ability to double-click on a tool in OmniGraffle Pro’s tool palette and it stays active for multiple creations.


When creating complex diagrams you can create them in multiple layers which is really helpful to me when explaining complex concepts. Related to layers, are canvases, which are somewhat akin to separate pages for related diagrams. With OmniGraffle Pro you get an unlimited number of these which allows you to go crazy with related diagrams.


OmniGraffle takes full advantage of Mac OS X’s Quartz graphics layer. This allows for antialiasing, smooth scaling, transparent drop shadowing, and other features. It also allows for Bézier shapes although the Bézier tool is not particularly easy to control with any degree of accuracy, but it is fine for the diagram work I do.


Often I make adjustments or additions to my charts as I get closer to presenting them or exporting them to Keynote. With my old software this was always a pain because then you would have to re-align all of the arrows and lines attaching everything. This is not the case with OmniGraffle. The program “magnetizes” the lines and arrows to stick to the object you attach them too. I can drag boxes and objects around the screen and everything stays attached unless, of course, I tell them to unstick. It also has tools to allow me to adjust precisely where on the object these lines and arrows stick.


An interesting feature is the ability to create hotlinks on the diagrams themselves. This allows me to click an object on a diagram that brings up a separate object. I use this to link pictures and pdf’s that relate to my work files but it also could link websites, video, music and just about anything else on your Mac. If this isn’t enough it works with OmniOutliner allowing me to import an outline as a framework for a diagram.


Once your masterpiece is completed, OmniGraffle can output to PDF, TIFF, PNG, JPEG, EPS, HTML image map, SVG, PICT vector, Photoshop and BMP bitmap documents. With OmniGraffle Pro, there is better support to import and export to Microsoft Visio. The Pro version also gives you the ability to merge objects and other advanced tools.


I spent several weeks using this program and strongly recommend taking advantage of OmniGroup’s support tutorial and sample documents as well as some of the great user created webcasts to help you learn to take full advantage of this powerful program. Realistically it took me about 3 hours to really get my arms around it. Time well spent in my case.


OmniGraffle costs $79.95 and OmniGraffle Pro costs $149.95. These programs aren’t cheap but if you have a need of a diagraming application, they are well worth the investment. You can download a free trial at the company’s website and try them for yourself. I am so pleased with this program. It is well designed and easy to use, once you get over the moderate learning curve. Best of all, my diagrams have never looked better or more convincing.

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