Alternatives to Microsoft Visio: Dia,, OpenOffice Draw

If you’re an IU community member and go to IUWare to download Microsoft apps, you will not find Microsoft Visio.

Um, what’s Visio?

Visio is a Microsoft desktop application geared for building informational, structured graphics, like diagrams, flowcharts, hierarchy structures, and so on. Since those terms may not mean a whole lot to you, let’s look at some examples of things you might create in Visio:

Example 1 – An Organizational Chart
Visio Example 1 - An Organizational Chart
Example 2 – A Website Map
Visio Example 2 - A website map

Example 3 – A Workflow or Decision Tree
Visio Example 3 - A workflow or decision tree

Example 4 – A Layout and Map of a Physical Space
Visio Example 4 - A Layout and Map of a physical space

As you can see from these examples, Visio is used to create structured graphics where entities, or objects, in the graphic have some sort of relationship to the other entities. Visio makes it quite easy to create simple objects, add descriptive text, and then add connectors to show the relationships among the objects. Visio comes packaged with a lot of great-looking graphics and a ton of connector types. The only problem?  It costs money!   What if you just have to put together an organizational chart once for a volunteer gig? Or you only think you’ll need it to quickly diagram a workflow?  Visio is expensive enough that if you’re only going to use it a few times, it may not be cost-effective to purchase it.

So, what’s a free alternative to Visio?

There are several shareware or freeware applications out there that offer Visio-like capabilities, but many are geared for an engineering audience and can be difficult to use. One option for Windows that’s easy to install, use, and is appropriate for all types of informal diagrams is Dia ( You won’t find all the slick graphics and advanced capabilities of Visio, but it is relatively straightforward to learn and the price is right. The only downside is that its only for Windows and Linux users (actually, Visio is not available on any platform other than Windows anyway).  For Mac users (or PC/Linux users who don’t like Dia for whatever reason), try (an online app, free for up to 5 diagrams) or OpenOffice Draw (


  1. Lisa

    I needed an online Visio alternative and unfortunately gliffy just didn’t do the job. Finally (and I mean finally), i found Lucidchart ( which has Visio import and real-time collaboraiton. Yay for the cloud!

  2. whistlerxtrlaser

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  3. Trevor

    Although the Gliffy was the first with a cloud solution they are lacking in functionality compared to current ones. I use Creately ( ) . I don’t think none of the cloud will ever match the full capabilities of Visio, but for diagramming alone these are more than capable tools.

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