Review: OmniGraffle

OmniGraffle takes advantage of OS X, but lacks a strong feature set (August 4th, 2001)

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: The Omni Group

Price: $109.95

The Good

  • Takes full advantage of Mac OS X interface and underpinnnings, easy to use, numerous export options.

The Bad

  • Pricey, limited feature set.

OmniGraffle1thumb.jpgThe Omni Group is perhaps Apple's most supportive ally in the quest to show that well functioning, useful applications can be developed for Mac OS X. The company's Web browser, OmniWeb, has thus far garnered the most attention, but their other products - like OmniGraffle - are worth a look for professionals unwilling to wait for larger developers like Microsoft to unveil OS X versions of their apps. The flowchart, diagramming, and planning app doesn't have all the functionality one might hope for, but it does exemplify a well-writted OS X app and serves its purpose well.

OmniGraffle, like all of the Omni Group's applications, is built from the ground up for Apple's modern operating system in the Cocoa programming environment. After using the program for only a few minutes, it's easy to tell that no OS 9 baggage exists. The interface is completely Aqua-compliant, the preference panel resembles Apple's own System Prefs, and OmniGraffle behaves as on OS X app should - multitasking properly and offering superb stability.

OmniGraffle2thumb.jpgMore importantly, however, OmniGraffle takes advantage of the native vector graphics in OS X to offer scalable, transparent drawings. This means that shapes can be re-sized virtually infinitely without losing quality or getting rough edges. It also means that shapes and lines created in OmniGraffle redraw extremely quickly and in real-time. Granted the tool allows only simple objects, re-sizing, moving, and manipulating them with such speed and ease would not have been feasible in an OS 9 application.

OmniGraffle allows users to export their projects in PNG, PDF, TIFF, JPEG, and GIF formats, making them easy to incorporate into Web pages, layout, or other documents. Unfortunately, once exported, the images lose their vector and transparent qualities except in PNG format which allows limited transparency.

OmniGraffle3thumb.jpgThere are several different pallettes in OmniGraffle, as well as a host of templates which make for an easy learning curve. Among the pallettes included with the app are UML, organizational, flow chart, and basic. However, the Omni Group decided to make the pallette function extensible, allowing third parties to develop other design tools.

OmniGraffle sports shapes that are magnetic. That is, lines and labels will stick to their original shape or object as a diagram is manipulated. The tool also sports a nifty automatic layout function that includes a "force-directed" function which allows the user to control spring, object repulsion, and distance from the edge of the page. OmniGraffle even animates the shapes as they move to their location as directed by the auto-layout specifications. A hierarchial auto-layout function is also available for creating more traditional, organized diagrams.

OmniGraffle4thumb.jpgOne more outstanding component of OmniGraffle is the selection function. Users can specify for only a certain shape or type of object to be selected. For instance, if you wanted to modify only the circles in your layout to have a red shadow, you would simply pick the circle in the selection tool window.

For users seeking a moderately comprehensive, easy-to-use diagramming and layout tool that is OS X-native, OmniGraffle is a practical solution. However, professionals looking for a program that offers more functionality will have to wait for an upgraded version with more features or look to other, less OS X-like and more complicated applications such as CS-Odessa's ConceptDraw.

by Ben Wilson


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