Review: OmniGraffle 4 Pro - Macenstein

Review: OmniGraffle 4 Pro

Posted by Brain-in-a-Jar

Omni Group’s OmniGraffle 3 has for some time now shipped with certain “professional” Mac models, and it’s one of those programs that you tend to happen upon maybe a week after you get your system. Clicking on the icon, you might be surprised to find that it’s not a trial, but a full version. And you might also be surprised to find yourself looking at a blank page, a palette of shapes and lines and thinking “What am I gonna do with this?â€? But if you’re anything like me, once you start playing around with OmniGraffle, you’ll be hooked. OmniGraffle Pro 4 builds on the already impressive feature set of version 3, and offers a number of new features that will satisfy both tinkerers and professionals in a variety of fields.

(above: a quick website outline)

OmniGraffle is plain and simple, a program for diagramming. Basically, you have a canvas and palettes consisting of shapes and lines. You can drag different shapes onto the canvas, label them, and connect them, hierarchically. The software includes a wide range of pre-made shapes, from office furniture to computers to circuit symbols. New to version 4 is a bezier pen tool, which makes drawing your own complex shapes a breeze. In addition, every visual aspect of the shapes and lines is fully customizable.

From this simple interface comes a virtually limitless number of possible uses. Be it a scaled furniture layout for an office, wireframes for a website, circuit diagrams, or brainstorms (my personal favorite), OmniGraffle Pro 4 provides an easy to learn but powerful way of creating clear and visually impressive diagrams and hierarchical charts. And unlike a simple outline, you can drag any object anywhere on the canvas, and change its linkage on a whim.

New to Version 4

There are a number of improvements in version 4, including a streamlined user interface and better drawing options, but there are two in particular that I think make this upgrade well worth it.

The biggest improvement is probably the least publicized; in fact, it’s not even mentioned in the manual. Like Omni Group’s OmniOutliner software, OmniGraffle includes a Spotlight importer to take advantage of OS 10.4’s revolutionary Spotlight search feature. This is pretty standard in any software written for Mac OS 10.4x. But paired with the open-ended and multi-faceted nature of OmniGraffle, the full–text search function becomes something more. Imagine, for example, you sit in front of your computer all day (and I imagine you do if you’re reading this right now). You come across something on the web, or just have a brilliant idea about something at random. You open OmniGraffle, make up a quick chart laying out your ideas, and get back to work. By using OmniGraffle for all your brilliant scribbles, rather than having an impenetrable notebook of brainstorms, or worse, a pile of napkins and paper scraps, you have a fully indexed, easily searchable history of your brilliant insights.

Another feature new to version 4 is the outline view. This allows you quickly type up a outline, then select the way OmniGraffle automatically turns it into a diagram in real time, whether interpreting “tabs� as steps on an organizational chart or as new thought-clusters in a brainstorm, among others. You can also import outlines from OmniOutliner and apply the same options.

(above: OmniGraffle Pro 4’s Outline view)

To Pro or not to Pro?

While the Pro version includes some nice additional features, like more exacting control over text position, a full-screen “Presentation mode�, and enhanced compatibility with files from Microsoft’s “Visio� diagramming software, these are (perhaps not surprisingly) aimed at enterprise users, and not worth the nearly doubled price for those who do not absolutely need them. Some pretty standard features, like adjustable guidelines, are also only found in the Pro version, but for $70 bucks, I’ll eyeball it.


I don’t think I’m alone in saying OmniGraffle is software you can easily get addicted to. As such, new features are always welcome. While some of the changes are incremental, Outline view and Spotlight compatibility are major improvements. If it came with your Mac, and you haven’t already tried out version 3, I strongly suggest you open it up and immediately spend the $29.95 to get the latest standard version. If you don’t already have version 3 on your system, download the demo from the Omni Group website. I think there’s a very good chance you’ll think the software is worthy of its $79.95 price tag. Making the move to OmniGraffle Pro 4 from the standard version warrants more consideration, as most pro features are tailored towards power and enterprise users.

I’ll leave you with a word of warning: Whether OmniGraffle 4 increases or decreases you productivity is completely based on your level of will power. Then again, with the time you’ll save making clear, organized, searchable diagrams, you might just have the time to see what your company’s management would look like if you were the boss. Or perhaps you may realize that, in the vast, swirling microcosm that is your desk, your stapler is at least two steps above the half-finished coke can from the other day.

Price: $149.95 (pro), $79.95 (standard), (upgrading pricing available)
As an application 9 out of 10
As an update 8.5 out of 10

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