Dia: A Strong Open Source Answer to Microsoft's Visio

by Ostatic Staff - Jun. 13, 2008

I was just reading through an interesting post from Mike Kavis, in which he describes his efforts to use open source software as a way to avoid Microsoft's products altogether. His post is a follow-up to another one he wrote about his, er, social experiment. Kavis became Microsoft-free by using products such as Thunderbird for e-mail, OpenOffice for productivity apps, and Firefox for browsing. After chucking Microsoft Office, though, Kavis laments that "there is no answer for Visio." I beg to differ. There is actually a truly fantastic free, open source alternative to Microsoft's visualization and diagramming tool: Dia. Take a look at it here.

Dia is very similar to Microsoft's Visio application, and was developed as part of the GNOME project's office suite. For anyone going entirely open source, without any Microsoft products, it's not a bad idea to use GNOME (which comes with a slew of applications) and Dia.

Take a look at the screenshot found at this link for the kinds of useful diagrams and flowcharts you can do in Dia. You can associate multiple diagrams with each other and work on them in tandem.

Also, at left is part of Dia's pallette of drawing tools, which, as you can see, looks and feels very Windows-like. In fact, the whole program ties in with Windows conventions very closely so people coming to it with Windows application backgrounds will find Dia intuitive.

Like Visio, Dia can export diagrams to many popular file formats, including:

  • EPS (Encapsulated PostScript),
  • SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics)
  • DXF (Autocad's Drawing Interchange format)
  • CGM (Computer Graphics Metafile)
  • WMF (Windows Meta File)
  • PNG (Portable Network Graphics)
  • JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group)
  • VDX (Microsoft's XML for Visio Drawing)

As you can see from the inclusion of WMF and VDX support above, Dia can be used to work with Visio, although it is possible to run into some compatibility problems. In general, if you collaborate with someone who happens to use Visio, there shouldn't be many roadblocks to sharing. (Visio has a proprietary file format, but it exports to several formats that Dia reads.)

One other nice feature Dia has is that it allows you to print extremely large diagrams in parts on multiple sheets of paper, which can then be combined for a big view of, say, a really complex flowchart. Now, Mike Kavis can go completely Microsoft free, if he so chooses.