Future of Visio?

Visio was introduced 28 years ago and has unfortunately become complacent. The Visio wannabees have become established and use half-truths to promote their products. What was Visio’s last oh wow feature, something to make the market pay attention?

In its’ life time, most under the Microsoft brand, Visio has come out with some interesting innovations, Data Graphics, Containers, Rules, the shapesheet and a programmable model. Before joining Microsoft, Visio was the first non-Microsoft company to fully embrace VBA.

Initially, Visio was a simple way of making connected diagrams. Drop a predefined shape and add a connection line. If the shape moves, the lines remained connected. Unlike other packages at the time, which did not have the connection feature, you were not limited to the eight shapes they supplied. The Visio team had added some magic behind the shapes, called the shapesheet. My handwriting is atrocious and I can not draw, but with the shapesheet I am able to create some fantastic shapes. Nothing compared to the mastery of one of the original shape miesters like Chris Roth, but adequate. The shapesheet contains formulas that react to the shapes surroundings. So, you could start a shape from scratch or build on an existing shape. Chris Roth’s site is the place to be if you want to be a shape developer.

Then custom properties were added so the shapes could contain more than a picture of the object. The information could surface in reports or be used to alter the shapes appearance. A critically low value could change the shape colour to red. Along the way, it was possible to interrogate a Visio drawing or modify it under the control of a program. Data Graphics added the ability to add KPIs to a shape without cluttering a drawing. Since one use of Visio drawings was to illustrate processes, rules were added (I am willing to bet most people are not aware that there were Visio Rules (Check out David Parker’s books, he is our Rules wizard)). So, with rules you could check a drawing for compliance and is with most things Visio, you were not limited to the rules in the box. As I said, David Parker wrote the book on it.

So, what happened? When Visio was on its’ own, it had full control of the marketing and training, but as part of Microsoft, Visio is just a small piece of the puzzle. Now marketing has a plethora of products to promote and sales can make their quota on other products. Unfortunately, a lot of people are unaware of Visio’s capabilities. Most consider it just a diagramming tool using clipart. On the Microsoft site, there are a number of “Visio” stencils which are no more than clipart encapsulated in a Visio shape, with none of the smarts of a true Visio shape.

Visio 2013 was a great product, but it was released more than three years ago. So far, there have been no hints of what is to come, or if there will be a new version.

So what needs to happen? There needs to be a stronger marketing campaign to promote Visio both inside and outside Microsoft. Has anybody heard of an ad for Visio? The sales force needs to aggressively promote Visio features, especially to the regions. By the time information reaches the regions, the gung ho attitude has been watered down and Visio has become just a clipart diagramming tool.

There should be a Visio-lite to get more on board. A web version would take of the Visio wannabees who complain that there is no a Mac version.

The programming of Visio should be simplified. In the old days I use to use VB until Visio spoiled me with VBA. I have tried to return, but the various methods, like VSTO have too much overhead or the process of including shapes is convoluted and keeps changing. There should also be training. At one point there was certification for Visio, but that has lapsed. And when I talk about programming Visio, I also include those who want to master the shapesheet.


I have owned almost all versions of Visio, except Visio Maps, but I am probably not the best person to comment on the price. I have never paid for a version. What got me interested in Visio was a Visio 1 sampler that was on a Windows 3.1 upgraded evaluator floppy from Microsoft Canada. I started answering questions on the ShapeWare forum on CompuServe and as Visio improved, was given beta versions and then the final releases. Having said that, I do find the price high. This is software, not a physical object, so dropping the price just means you have to sell more for the same revenue. A lower price would increase demand and destroy the main reason used by the wannabees.

MSO shapes – (MSO – MicroSoft Office) For a long time, the other Office products, Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher have had Visio like capabilities. The problem is that these drawings can not be copied into Visio and the experience continued. What you get is a single grouped shape. Ungroup it and it falls apart. A simple red text box becomes a shape for the fill colour, a shape for the outline, a shape for the text. So you end up redrawing using real Visio shapes. At some point the MSO shapes need to merge into Visio.

As part of the learning curve, anyone who wants to appreciate the power of Visio should visit the websites of my fellow Visio MVPs: David Parker, John Goldsmith and especially Chris Roth.


John Marshall… Visio MVP       Visio.MVPs.org

Published by johnvisiomvp

The original Visio MVP. I have worked with the Visio team since 1993

One thought on “Future of Visio?

  1. Well said John.
    Just to expand on the certification issue, I really believe that aspiring developers will not consider learning how to develop Visio properly because there is no Microsoft Certification for it. Therefore, they cannot bolster their CV, and their employers gain nothing towards a Microsoft Partner competency, and thus will not fund any Visio learning time. I originally had 5 intensive Visio development training days in 1996 from our co-Visiophile, Dave Edson, which was roughly split into 50% ShapeSheet and 50% automation. It was barely enough, and Visio has increased in functionality since then, plus we now have Visio Services integration for SharePoint online and Office365.
    Visio created the data-diagramming paradigm for desktop, and has seem imitators come and go, but now it has to carry the unique Smart approach forward quickly into the web-oriented workflow, or risk being overtaken by a new breed of apps.

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