Article from Issue 218/2019

In between finding the hottest FOSS picks, Graham has rebuilt his BrewPi and is now brewing a strong winter ale. Hic.

Diagramming has been around for years as a website. If you ever need to draw a diagram or flowchart, or even a circuit, it's indispensable. Many users now rely on it for their last-minute presentations, their documentation projects, and project planning, because's great strength is that it offers many different symbols in many different categories, making it capable of drawing many different kinds of charts. You don't have to create your own icons or steal images from the Internet or rely on Inkscape for your arrowheads. Instead, you simply drag and drop symbols, join them together, and then use's wonderful styling, arrangement, and node options to create a final file that you can save online or locally. The only downside is that the website version requires running it online.

But is an open source project, and there's now a desktop version you can run on your own local computer, which is perfect for last-minute cramming on that train with abysmal connectivity. There's an executable AppImage, as well as DEB, RPM, and even Chrome OS files. With the application installed, you can create diagrams without the online tether. There's a huge number of symbols to choose from, with additional custom symbols embedded within many of the template New projects you can open. The Google Cloud Platform (GCP) templates, for example, include many GCP-centric symbols and layers for use within your charts. Further examples include Venn diagrams, mind maps, Unified Modeling Language (UML) diagrams, flow charts, and isometric network diagrams – with 3D symbols for Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure.

Although not as powerful as Inkscape for drawing, text, or arrangement options, you have more than enough tools here to create the perfect diagram, as well as group, layer, and align, for instance. If you need more control, you can save as an SVG and edit within Inkscape. I tested this, and it worked perfectly. There's even beta support for VSDX output if you need to import your file into Microsoft's Visio. The UI still feels web-based, and native desktop widgets would be preferable, but this is an important application with few desktop rivals – I can't think of any Linux tools that are able to generate diagrams of this quality so quickly, and none with the same powerful design and symbol library that can output in so many different formats. Diagrams aren't necessarily the most exciting thing to spend your time creating, which is precisely why is so good. It handles the tedious parts, so you can spend less time drawing and more time moving on to the implementation (or at least arguing over the implementation shown in your awesome diagrams).


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