- The Washington Times - Monday, September 28, 2009

SmartDraw 2010 is one of those programs that is easy to love, even if you can’t exactly say why.

When it comes to creating flow charts or organizational charts or calendars or similar items freehand, I’m worse than “all thumbs” — I’m hopeless. Enter the computer and, specifically, enter SmartDraw. Load this program up on your Windows PC and you’re ready to do all the charting you’d want to, and then some.

Even with a hefty $297 list price (although you can save $100 by ordering before Oct. 1 at www.smartdraw.com), the program likely will pay for itself quickly if you need to communicate information visually and find yourself as hamstrung as I get. Just the array of templates alone seems well worth the cost: There’s just about every kind of chart — calendars, flow charts and organization charts, for starters — and diagrams including floor plans, a “goals grid,” even a crime scene planner complete with body outlines.

As I waited for my call to join the cast of CBS’ “CSI: Miami,” I sketched in four walls, an opening and the requisite body outline. Then I added two bloody footprints, a purse, a fingerprint and a blood drop for good measure. Stardom will only be a few moments away; David Caruso and I will become close friends.

Returning to reality, the placement of objects in a diagram, the making of connections, the drawing of layouts — all the time-consuming stuff of pencil-and-paper production, is a simple point-and-click move with SmartDraw 2010. The vast array of chart types can inspire all sorts of creativity.

I particularly like the program’s integration with an online “live” mapping feature: When connected to the Internet, you can enter an address and get a road map, satellite map, or a combination of the two. The map can then be imported into SmartDraw. Yes, that’ll guide folks to your next book club meeting, but it’s also useful for businesses trying to direct people to their offices, a Realtor hyping a home listing, and so on.

If there aren’t enough Venn diagrams or SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) charts in your life, SmartDraw is certainly the place to find these and more.

Those who create (and those who endure) PowerPoint presentations likely will applaud SmartDraw 2010’s two ways of integrating with the popular Microsoft Office application. One is a one-click transfer of a SmartDraw chart to PowerPoint, making it easy to convey information graphically during a slide show. The other is a “storyboard” feature that lets you create a series of PowerPoint slides, add elements, rearrange the order, go over the whole thing again and again — and then ship it off to PowerPoint as a presentation. Very cool, in my opinion.

I also like the many features for creating timelines, something handy for a visual representation of a series of events, but also critical to companies planning a project. For writer types, a timeline tool can illustrate a report or book; for companies, it’s a great feature to have.

Just about any chart SmartDraw creates can be augmented with photographs, making organizational charts, for example, a bit more personal and user-friendly, or perhaps making timelines more ominous. It is a nice addition to have SmartDraw include a photo browser, though, since adding graphic elements helps viewers understand complex charts more easily.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this, for me, is that all this happens under Microsoft Windows. I’ve tested SmartDraw 2010 with the 64-bit version of Microsoft Windows 7, and it’s worked without a hitch. Therefore, I’m guessing it’ll support Vista and certainly Windows XP users handily.

If charts are your thing — and in Washington, they seem to be just about everyone’s thing — I’ll repeat what I said a couple of years back: SmartDraw is a must-have, in my opinion.

E-mailmkellner@washingtontimes.com.