Happy 30th Birthday Axon

Last month Axon turned 30.
Axon? A few years later they changed their name to ShapeWare and released Visio 1.

I have been playing with computers since the mid 60s, basically, most of my life and a lot of that time was spent creating business diagrams. I know it is strange to admit to using COBOL, but it is even stranger that I used it to create orgcharts. I was using programs to decide where shapes were placed and how to connect them. So, I stored the business information in PDSs and had a collection of programs that turned the information into a diagram that could be plotted. The outpt was character art on a line printer initially, but I eventually moved to a plotter. I then moved over to the Apple II and later a HP 150 (PC). On the HP150 I used DiaGraph for the shapes and a collection of programs to make the diagrams. Years later, I found out that Lori Pearce, one of the people responsible for making me a Visio moderator, had worked on DiaGraph when she worked at HP and was able to give her a promo issue of Byte that featured the HP150 and DiaGraph. You can see the issue here, Lori Pearce: Six degrees of seperaration from David Hassellhoff about the 4:45 mark. When she puts the “magazine” down, it looks thin. It is not a full issue of Byte, but a promo given out by HP that just talked about the HP 150.

When Microsoft released Windows 3.0, they sent out a floppy that had a program to evaluate your machine to see if it was compatibles with Windows 3.0. Along with the evaluation program was a Tetris like game and a drag and drop drawing program called Visio. I was intrigued, was there an easier way than my collection of programs for creating business diagrams? You just had to drag and drop the shapes and connect the shapes. Move the shapes and they remained connected. So, I headed over to the Microsoft VenD forum on CompuServe to check it out.

In the old days, customer service was one on one. you wrote or phoned during busines hours and hopefully got your questions answered. CompuServe was a different paradigm. You went to a forum and asked a question and waited for a response. Of course, CompuServe was available 24-7, but the customer service reps for the various companies were only available during business hours, so there was a good chance you would have to wait, but everyone could see your question and the question and responses for other users. Of course, I started reading the other posts and learning. I also found posts I could answer or I could ask follow up questions when the questions were vague. I was not alone, there were others who also were answering questions in other forums. CompuServe saw value in these people and made them moderators. Eventually Microsoft noticed Calvin Hsai posting a list of the Most Valuable Posters in several of the Microsoft forums and decided to start the MVP program.

Four of us who were answering question in the Visio CompuServe forum were asked to be moderators. Eventually, David Brodsky was asked to join Visio, Steve Rindsberg was also helping in the PowerPoint forum and is now one of the longest serving PowerPoint MVPs. When the Microsoft acquisition occurred, I was the last remaining Visio volunteer. Rather than being the only Visio MVP, I suggested someone who had written several critical blogs about Visio as another Visio MVP. It may seem strange that someone who criticizes would be a good candidate, but how he did it was what impressed me, he said what was wrong, how the Visio team can fix it and if it was not fixed, how to work around the problems. This is what I consider key to being an MVP, constructive criticism and a drive to make things better. So, Graham Wideman was the other MVP and he went on to create a series of books on Visio that are must haves on any Visio developer’s shelf. Like most of my Visio books, they are well used.

When the first books came out about Visio, I read them enthusiastically, but I also sent notes to the publishers explaining problems with the books. One of them replied that if you think you can do better, you can be the technical editor on the next book. So, I did the technical editing on the Visio Bible. Other publishers responded and asked me to write the next version of their books, but I considered it would be a conflict of interest, so I offered the assignments to several Visio people I knew, with the condition I did the technical editting. So, I have been the technical editor on most of the Visio books. Though I did not credit for all those books, I considered it an honour to help my friends make great books for the Visio community. I have a different style of editting. I approach it as though I know nothing and make sure that the discussion flows, no steps are missing and the reader does not get lost.

On this journey, I also worked on the one and only Visio exam, unfortunately, it was a developer rather than a power user exam and it eventually got dropped. I was the only one who worked on all phases, which is unusual, normally they want different people for the content outline, question creation and the final testing to get variety. So, I got several trips to Redmond and met some very interesting people, both on the project and on campus.

To bring this story full circle, I started creating business diagrams coding in Cobol using PDSs as a data source to creating business diagrams in Visio using Excel as a data source. Over the years, I have created several Visio stencils of shapes totally from scratch without using the Visio drawing tools. Though Visio is a great product, for me, the friends I have made because of Visio is the best part of the last three decades.
So thank you Jeremy, Dave and Ted, it has been a great journey.

Published by johnvisiomvp

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