Non Standard Timelines

One of the long time requests for the Visio timeline is to support something other than standard dates and times. Items that are not related to the standard concept of time.

This can be accomplished by NOT using date formats in the shapes. Each shape is grouped and has a top level shape that contains a User Property (or two) of the form User.xxxMask that contains the format to be used for the dates or times. This is controlled by the Timeline menu, but the format can be changed to use something more generic.

Dates are internally represented by a floating point number with the decimal portion representing the time of day. So to get a generic numeric date, the format has to be changed so the “date” is displayed as a number. This can be done by editing each shape OR editing the masters on the stencil. Of course, the standard caveat applies. Backup the masters! A better solution is to create a copy of the stencil and apply the modifications to it.

So modify the masters so the User.xxxMask cells contain “n” rather than {{M/d/yyyy}}.


Where is Waldo?

With Visio 2010, Visio has now joined the other core Office apps and now supports the ribbon. With the old menus, I ended up turning almost all of them on and wasting screen real estate. So in a way, I like the new ribbon. Of course, the first question asked always starts with, “where is the button for…”. There is a download from Microsoft that will help you navigate, but the Visio team was prepared for questions about the location of commands. If you click on the File Ribbon and choose Options and then Customize ribbon, you are presented with choices for changing the ribbon. In the drop down box below “choose commands from: “ select “All Commands”. Now if you scroll down the list of commands, you should be able to find the command you are looking for. If you hover over the command, you will be presented with the actual location of the command on the ribbon. If you start from the top of the list, do not get discouraged, the first none commands are “Not in the Ribbon”

Don’t forget to check out the forums for free help with your questions. If the volume of questions is sufficient in the Answers forum, may be w will get a forum to ourselves rather than sharing with Access, Project and InfoPath.

Review of David Parker’s new book

Visio is almost twenty years old and for the last few versions, Microsoft has been extending Visio’s capabilities beyond being the standard for drag and drop diagramming applications. In the beginning, Visio lead the way with it’s ability to quickly create business diagrams with intelligent shapes. Rather than worrying about the details of drawing shapes, the user could concentrate on how the shapes interacted. With Visio 2010, Microsoft laid the groundwork for validating the diagrams. As a new feature, Microsoft made sure that the validation process was well defined, but only created basic rule sets.

With this book, “Microsoft Visio 2010 – Business Process Diagramming and Validation”, my fellow Visio MVP, David Parker has explained how the new validation feature works and provided tools for analysing and creating your own rules. This is more than a rehash of Microsoft documentation, he has worked with the people who created the validation feature to make sure the book contains a good overview of the rule creation process so that anyone can create their own validation rules. The book walks you through the creation of some dot net programs to analyse rule sets and other programs for actually implementing some of the rules. It also provides some good background into the Visio object model and the Visio Shapesheet so that developers new to Visio are not totally lost. The examples David provides make a good starting point for rule developers.

The 314 pages of this book are well written and provide a good insight into a new and very useful feature of Visio 2010. Microsoft will be embellishing this feature in future versions, but for those who can not wait and need to create their own rules, this is the book.

Using Custom Property Lists

When you have a shape with a Custom Property/Shape Data List you may want to refer to it from within the shapesheet or an associated shapesheet. The first inclination would be to do a string comparison within the test. My preference is to create a User cell that uses Lookup to convert the text into a numeric value.

So for a list named Relation, the Shape Data row would be:
Name:   Prop.Relation
Type:   1
Format:   “Hostile;Close;Distant”  
Value:   =INDEX(1,Prop.Relation.Format)

So what would be in the Value of the User Property cell User.Relation_nbr? The LOOKUP function would need the string to search for (which is conveniently located in Prop.Relation) and a list to search through. The Shape Data conveniently provides that in the Format cell. So the newly created User Property cell would be.
Name:   User.Relation_nbr
Value:   Lookup(Prop.Relation,Prop.Relation.Format)

So there is no chance the comparison will be done against a misspelled text string because all that information is contained within the Shape Data row and all the comparisons will be numeric. If you do need the chosen text from the list, then you can use the Shape data value.

I am working on a set of Genogram shapes and the various shapes require text the use can understand, but the shapesheet is easier when it deals with numeric values.


I Need Help!

This month, the Microsoft newsgroups were closed, but there were no clear cut direction for continued support. Other than announcements of their closing, little effort appears to have been done to highlight the new forums as the place to go for Visio support.

In the place of the thirteen Visio newsgroups, Microsoft has provided three forums:

There is no clear cut definition as to which one to use, but it appears that they are for general user questions and not for Visio developers. On the Answers forum, the Visio questions are buried in a forum shared with other Office products. Compared to the newsgroups, the volume of traffic is way down. Whether that is due to people having a hard time finding the forums or that the forums do not appear to be as easy to use as the former newsgroups is hard to tell. With the old newsgroups, it was easy to see the new posts and what has been read.

There is also a Microsoft forum for VSTO for some of the Visio questions,, but there does not appear to be a forum for developers using VBA or creating shapes.

Only time will tell whether the Microsoft replacement to the newsgroups will adequately support the Visio community.

So what other Q&A resources are available for Visio users?

  • 1. Fellow MVP, Chris Roth, has an excellent forum at his Visio Guy website.
  • 2. Visimation did have forums, but they are now closed.
  • 3. Tek-Tips have had a Visio forum for a while, but traffic is very low. To give you an idea of how low, I am the top poster and I only have ten votes. In other forums, the top poster has several thousand votes.


Can we have a Word?

Even though the adage is “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words”, sometimes it is useful to supplement a Visio drawing with text. For simple reports, Visio has a Reports feature that will produce tables of information, but occassionaly I want something more. For example, Visio does not have a feature to compare what is different between two drawings, so I have created a routine that will generate a very verbose Word document (think Print ShapeSheet on steroids) that contains minute details of the drawing(s) and then used Word’s Compare Document feature to highlight the changes.

In the past I have written directly to the Word object model from Visio, but this tended to be painfully slow and would occassionally die (or be comatose). This was to be expected because the verbose Print ShapeSheet could end up being over two hundred pages long.

The next option was to just write a plain text file, but I missed the readability of having a formatted document, even if the formatting was just headers and page breaks. So I would intersperse the text with markers that would indicate the headers and where the page breaks belonged. I could then let Word open the text file and then run a macro to format the headers, add page breaks and remove extraneous lines. I did find that I needed to save the Word document before running the macro because running the macro against a raw text file was extremely slow.

At the first Microsoft Visio summit, my fellow MVP Chris Roth gave a demonstartion of how little XML code you needed to create a Visio drawing. I tried something similar with Word XML, but was never able to get an acceptable minimal set of XML tags. So creating an XML file that Word could consume was not a viable solution.

With Word 2007 and Excel 2007 came a new file format, a zipped directory of XML files. The OOXML format looked promising, but there were still way to many hoops to jump through to get a simple Word document.

Now with the release of the OOXML SDK 2.0, the actual creation of a Word docment is relatively simple. So if you need a way to create a Word document from Visio take a look at

How to: Create a Word Processing Document by Providing a Filename

PowerPoint on a Zune HD

Though this is not really Visio related, I would like to talk about the Zune HD I acquired in February. So far I like the device, but as an MVP I cannot keep my mouth shut when it comes to talking about ways to improve.

The Zune designers for the desktop software should take a look at the Data Graphics in Visio. The podcast collections could be improved by adding a Data Graphic like feature  to the podcast labels to indicate if it is to synced, how many times and how many podcasts are kept. The current method required you to select a collection and then click the settings button.

One of the features of PowerPoint 2010 is that you can save a presentation as a WMV file. When the file is added to the video collection on the Zune  HD, the forward and backward buttons will take you to the transition point on the next or previous slides in the presentation. This makes for a very nice portable PowerPoint presentation device. Of course, you have to obey the standard presentation rules and avoid busy slides. If the slide is not readable on the Zune HD it is definitely too busy for a regular presentation.

Visio RULES!

With Office 2010, the Visio team has added some nice new features to Visio 2010. One of the new features is the ability to apply rules to a Visio diagram. As a teaser, the team has created some rules for flowcharting and laid the ground work for users to create their own rules.

Fellow Visio MVP David Parker was intrigued with this new feature that he researched it and built on this ground work and created a set of tools to make it easier to take advantage of this new capability within Visio 2010. There was enough material there for a book. In fact, he actually wrote the book on it. Currently the book is in the hands of the publishers and when it is released, it has a place on my shelf between my dog eared copies of Graham Wideman’s books and Bonnie Biafore’s Visio Bibles, next to David’s previous book on Data Visualization.

David does an excellent job covering the techniques needed to create rules and provides some good examples on how to create them. Rather than just providing tools, he actually walks you through the creation of these tools. He has also created a new website which he plans to use as a clearing house for information and other things about the new rules feature. Currently it is only a place holder, but once it is fully up and running, it will be another website worth bookmarking. 

So it sounds like we have a new slogan. It may be that “Dot Net Rocks” but “Visio RULES!”

How do I change skin colour?

I have a few Google alerts set up to let me know if the word Visio is mentioned on the internet. I am always interested in new stencils for Visio and this has proven an effective way of finding them. Most of the time, the hit has nothing to do with the product Visio or it was a link to a download site for Visio or one of the books written about Visio. Today was slightly different, there was a link to a blog that said “In Visio 2007, i want to change skin color, but I don’t know the formula’s – does anybody know?”, but no answer.

Thanks to the Visio devs, it is quite easy (almost). They were nice enough to provide a User cell (similar to a custom property/shape data, but hidden) called User.SkinColor where you can set the skin colour. For the Accounting shape in the Workflow stencil of Visio 2007, that value is HSL(21,165,128). HSL stands for Hue, Saturation and Luminesance and is a similar means for setting a colour as RGB.

Of course, the tricky bit is working out what HSL values correspond to different skin tones and assigning a politcally correct name to it. I can understand why the Visio devs would not want to spend days arguing over the correct skin tone of someone from Redmond.

The use of the HSL function is a good choice because it provides a good range of skin tones by just modifying the value for luminesance. So it would be possible to create a simple piece of VBA code to display a slider that would change the user cell User,SkinColor of the selected shape (or shapes) from a value from 0 to 240.

 John… Visio MVP

A blast from the past

Debra Dalgleish, one of the Excel MVPs mentioned an old episode of the Computer Chronicles on Facebook and provided a link.

It did not take me long to find an appropriate link for the Visio crowd. The show is about Windows 95 and OS2, but at 16:50 to 20:00 is an intro to Visio 3.1

Nice shirt Ted!