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Microsoft Releases First Upgrade to Visio

Microsoft Corp. announced Wednesday it would release drawing and diagramming software product Microsoft Visio 2002 -- the first upgrade since the software giant purchased the product's original manufacturer, Visio Corp. in September 1999.

In March 2001, when Microsoft first released a beta version of the product -- an updated version of Visio's earlier attempt, with bumped-up graphics including easier-to-use menus and enhanced colors -- developers were concerned. Would the new product's proprietary format be a hassle to learn? And, perhaps more important, would Visio run smoothly across non-Microsoft platforms?

Curtis Lee, product manager for MS Visio, said the MS Visio product was developer/system friendly. The product operates over Oracle databases and is able to support XML data interchanges, for example. Lee said developers would not be bothered with learning new formats to operate Visio 2002.

"Most companies can customize their products off of Visio and [developers] don't need to learn any real proprietary sort of stuff," he said.

Jeffrey Bloom, director of business development at engineering consulting firm Automation Associates, said support for COM add-ins in Visio 2002 allows his firm to carry its custom code from project to project.

"We can build a utility to validate connections and structure on virtually any hierarchical diagram," he said. "This is very valuable because our customer solutions span such a wide range of industries."

The product also comes with an alternative XML-based file format, which enables corporate or third-party developers to import or send Visio diagrams to other applications, like Excel spreadsheets. The product is primarily designed for business use, engineers and software developers, among other IT professionals.

Financial services provider Wells Fargo & Co. and truck manufacturer Freightliner Corp. have also enlisted the product.

While Microsoft is exploring an eventual roll out of Visio across its .Net platform, which sells software to small and mid-sized businesses, Lee said the company does not have any "concrete plans" or time frame.



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