Smartdraw Cloud, launched this week, is a fast, powerful tool for diagramming and many types of visual planning and communication.
Usually, when a software developer releases a cloud version of its desktop software, it doesn’t contain all of the features and functionality of its predecessor. But that’s not the case with Smartdraw Cloud, which was just released with a full 99% of the functionality of its desktop sibling. If not for the address bar of the browser, it’s actually hard to tell the two apart.
Seriously – that’s not an exaggeration!
Not only is Smartdraw Cloud robust, it is also surprisingly fast for a web application. Templates, shapes, connectors and styles all behave exactly as you would expect them to. The whole application has a snappiness about it that is refreshing for a web-based software tool.
What’s included in SmartDraw Cloud
According to Paul Stannard, CEO of Smartdraw, the company’s development team took its time to lay a solid foundation of code for its new web application. “Smartdraw Cloud has actually been under development for three years,” he explained. “We wanted to make absolutely sure it would meet or exceed the expectations of our customers. The end result is something we’re very proud of.”
The developer didn’t compromise on the number of elements included in its new web-based product: Smartdraw Cloud offers 4,500 smart templates for more than 70 different kinds of visuals such as flowcharts, mind maps, org charts and floor plans, plus 34,000 professionally designed symbols.
All of these tools are available via the same panel on the left side of the workspace that the desktop version of Smartdraw has utilized for years. It displays a collection of the shapes and symbols you are most likely to need, based on the type of diagram you’re going to create. But in a few clicks, it also gives you access to a much larger library of shapes and symbols that you can incorporate into your designs.
SVG graphics grow on you
One pleasant surprise is that Smartdraw Cloud utilizes scalable vector graphics (SVGs) for symbols instead of bit-mapped graphics. As a result, drawings in Smartdraw Cloud have an attractive sharpness about them. They also hold up very well for printing and reproduction within PDFs. Smartdraw is the only diagramming program that utilizes SVGs for shapes and symbols.
In contrast, when you resize bit-mapped graphics, they tend to develop jagged edges. Even at their normal resolution, they have an almost imperceptible fuzziness about them. In addition, Smartdraw Cloud can perform a spell check on text within SVG graphics; any diagram or symbol can be imported into Adobe Illustrator or other graphic design programs for further editing. That’s pretty cool!
Enhanced mind mapping capabilities
For many years, I’ve said that diagramming applications are not up to par with mind mapping programs for producing mind maps. Smartdraw Cloud has done an admirable job of closing that gap. When you hover over shapes, they now display pop-up “action arrows” that enable you to quickly add new topics in any direction. In addition, you can accomplish the same task even faster with keyboard shortcuts.
Similarly, if you are building a flowchart, you can use CTRL + direction arrows to add shapes in any direction. In addition, you can now and hypertext links to any topic in a diagram or mind map.
What’s really intriguing, however, is the ability to add a child topic to a map that is a table of information (like the example at right). This opens up some new possibilities in terms of the types of information a mind map can contain.
Just to clarify: This is not a map topic with a spreadsheet range attached to it. This is a table AS a topic – very cool!
Smart editing of diagrams
Another thing that makes Smartdraw Cloud special is the intelligent way in which it enables you to edit your diagrams. According to Smartdraw’s philosophy of software design, the program should build the diagram for you, in an intelligent way. That frees you to focus on your ideas, rather than fussing with arranging, formatting and aligning them. Here are some examples:
- You can add shapes using just the keyboard and they are automatically placed in the correct position and properly connected to the other shapes in the drawing.
- You can move a shape from one position to another and it will snap into place all while your drawing reformats automatically.
- You can delete a shape and the lines will “heal” and the other shapes will re-adjust to fill the empty space automatically.
- You can select a shape and start typing text into it without having to double-click.
- You can tab from one shape to another and enter text.
This isn’t just marketingspeak, either. If you’ve used a diagramming program that doesn’t operate like this, then you realize how much messing around is required to get your diagram to look just right – aligning shapes to each other, resizing elements and trying to fix your diagram when deleting one shape throws everything else out of alignment. It can be maddening!
For busy knowledge workers and executives, this type of intelligent automation matters – a lot.
Round-trip editing of Smartdraw diagrams
Because the feature set of the desktop and cloud programs are so similar, you can easily share diagrams between them. Smartdraw provides a complementary online space for you to share diagrams, as well as supporting three popular file-sharing services: Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.
That means you can use your mobile device’s browser to capture the basic elements of an idea, and then open it on your desktop or laptop computer later in the day to continue developing it. The only way this scenario could be improved would be for SmartDraw to offer dedicated apps for mobile devices.
You can also share diagrams easily. The application lets you send an email link to your diagram to your colleages. If you’ve set up the sharing rights make it editable, they can do so – no sign-up or login is required.
Support for Mac and mobile devices
Throughout its history, Smartdraw has been exclusively a Windows-based product. With the introduction of Smartdraw Cloud, it can now be used within web browsers on Mac computers and mobile devices. In each case, it operates within browsers that are HTML 5 and CSS 3 compatible – the de facto standard across all computing platforms today.
SmartDraw has been my go-to diagramming program for many years. I’ve used it to create numerous diagrams and infographics for this blog. Why? Because it provides me with a comprehensive set of easy-to-use tools that help me bring my ideas to life, quickly and easily.
I’m excited to see that Smartdraw has launched such a full-featured web version of its flagship program. I believe this will expose it to a much larger audience who may not be sure they want to drop a couple hundred dollars on the desktop version until they know how it fits with their visual thinking and planning needs. They now have a less expensive way to experiment with it.
Here’s the bottom line:
Smartdraw is much more than a diagramming tool. It’s a visual thinking engine.
No matter what type of visual idea you’re working on, it can help you to express it faster and make it look professionally produced.
The standard, business and enterprise editions of Smartdraw 2016 each come with a free one year subscription to Smartdraw Cloud. Clearly, the developer wants to encourage its customers to use both. If you want to invest in Smartdraw Cloud on a stand-alone basis, that will cost you $12.95 per month, payable annually – a reasonable price compared to the functionality it offers and the large variety of graphics it can help you to produce.
You can learn more on the Smartdraw Cloud product page.