- The Washington Times - Monday, January 29, 2007

Every once in a while a software program comes along that really grabs me. SmartDraw 2007 — which lists for $297 but is available for $100 less on the firm’s Web site, www.smartdraw.com — is one.

The program runs under Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP and the newly released Windows Vista and has the fresh sort of user interface you’ll find on Microsoft’s Office 2007. It’s remarkably easy to use, and it produces stunning results.

Within five minutes of installing the program, I had produced something that I had previously tried to accomplish without success: an annual calendar with certain days highlighted for specific events.

I had seen this done in other places, though I hadn’t needed this kind of calendar before. It seemed like something one could easily find online, in a template for Microsoft Word, perhaps. But my searches were unavailing.

Thankfully, the SmartDraw folks were on my case. After last week’s suggestion here that there aren’t many applications that are specifically for tablet PCs, they contacted me and suggested their program, which has pen-related features. Hence the download and my pleasant surprise.

Along with the calendar templates, of which there are many, the program promises such graphical items as flowcharts, Gantt charts, organizational charts, timelines and floor plans, among others. “MindMaps,” which are ways of getting a team’s ideas — or your own — on screen and then organized for action, are another promised feature.

The company claims its program fits in the market between Microsoft Corp.’s Visio professional, a $559 list program for advanced business-graphics users, and the low-end drawing programs that can create fun items for the family but might not look that good in business.

It’s been a long time since I’ve worked with Visio, what I see about it suggests both a high learning curve as well as the higher price.

There is a learning curve with SmartDraw 2007, but it seems to have come down to seconds, not hours or days. When you start a new project, a list of template categories appears on the screen.

With this range of templates, the battle is half won at the outset. There are blank forms one can create by dragging pre-determined fields, such as survey questions, and adding or editing text, but these may be optional given the vast range of forms, charts, graphs and other documents one can modify from the existing templates.

It’s useful to remember that this program is pretty much all business. You won’t find a template for a grocery list here, but you will find several for charts — ones that detail a marketing plan’s strengths, weaknesses, the opportunity and the threats. Fill in the bullet points and you’ve got something, quickly.

I suppose that’s the point of the program. If you need to do things in a relatively quick fashion, SmartDraw 2007 lets you do that. My schedule didn’t allow for testing of the tablet PC features, but I’ll try these and update readers via the tech blog.

Output can be a challenge; this software works directly with Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint to place its files there, and it’ll do the same thing in Corel Corp.’s WordPerfect. You can also export SmartDraw documents to the popular PDF format, which makes them viewable and printable on a Macintosh, though not editable there.

Read Mark Kellner’s Tech Blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.

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