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Review: Kivio 0.9.1 - page 2

Going With the Flowcharts

  • November 9, 2000
  • By Brian Proffitt

I admit it: I like making flowcharts. Perhaps it's that soothing sense of order I get when the things around me are nicely organized. Perhaps it's that sense of power I get when I change the solid line from a manager to a peon to a dashed line, thus setting the events in motion for my plans for world--er, never mind.

In any case, it was with great anticipation that I downloaded the second beta release of Kivio from theKompany.com's FTP site. Downloads come in the form of a generic source tarball, or packages specifically designed for a number of Linux distributions. In fact, not just any distros, but the latest versions, too. This was a nice touch considering some of these distributions are just days old.

Specifically, the packages were available for Debian (Potato and Woody), Linux-Mandrake (7.2 and Cooker) Red Hat (6.2 and 7.0), Slackware 7.1 (available as a tarball), and SuSE 7.0. Source packages were available for each of these distributions as well, save Slackware.

None of these packages were terribly large, weighing in somewhere around 500 Kb, so download time was not a major factor.

The only significant obstacle to installing this application is the fact it can only be run on KDE2. For non-KDE users, this may be an insurmountable barrier, but if you are in need of a tool with flowcharting and object mapping functions, you might consider temporarily switching over to KDE2 just to use this app.

Installation was done on a SuSE 7.0 machine running KDE2, and worked perfectly. The only hiccup I had was assuming that kivio was the exec name, so I had to flip back to the installation instructions on the Web site to find out what it really was. (It's kiviopart; to save you a step.)

An old veteran of Visio, I was very impressed by the speed in which Kivio came up. Users of Visio know from experience how long it takes for that application to lumber into awareness. Not here. Kivio snapped into place with a full toolbar interface in short order.

When I say full toolbar interface, by the way, I meant it. For some reason, Kivio starts with all eight of its toolbars visible, which takes up quite a bit of screen real estate. Turning off unnecessary toolbars is a simple matter of de-selecting them in the Settings menu, but they always come back when the application is restarted.

The Kivio interface can be a little daunting, given the sheer number of toolbars available. A quick once-over of the Kivio tutorial on theKompany.com's site explains what control does what, so it might be a good idea to keep that handy until you get your bearings.

Kivio works the way other flowcharting applications do, by providing a basic set of shapes (known as stencils in Kivio-speak) which can be dragged-and-dropped onto a canvas and then manipulated with text, color, and size. The default set of 19 stencils is adequate for the simple flowcharting needs, though ideally this default set will expand a bit for the final release.

Connecting stencil shapes is fast and easy. Just select the connector tool then click-and-drag a line from one stencil's anchor shape to another's. Once locked to a stencil, the connectors will bend to any shape or angle to keep those stencils together.

Text editing was a little awkward. To enter text in a stencil, you have to select the stencil, then click on the text editor control to activate the Stencil Text dialog box, where text is entered. It would have been nice to simply double- or center-click a stencil and directly enter text there. It seems that Kivio is halfway there already; as any changes to text attributes (size, typeface, etc.) can be done by simply selecting the stencil and making the changes on the Text toolbar. No Stencil Text box needed at all.

Since screen real estate is such a premium, it was nice to see that Kivio's stencil set is actually a detachable window that can be moved elsewhere on the screen. I also liked the nice disk icon that appeared in Kivio's taskbar control whenever the file I was working on had been modified.

Some functions were not ready for this beta, such as printing, and object property control. Another function I could not test was plugging Python scripts into the Kivio application to add to its core abilities. This plug-in ability will lend a lot of flexibility to Kivio, allowing it to become more than just a flowcharting program. With the right script, for example, Kivio could scan a network and automatically lay out its components as a map. Another added capability could be dynamic scaling of charts.

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