Whether you need to create a flowchart, a use case diagram, a mobile device interface mockup, or network design specs, one of these free web-based tools will simplify the task.
Creating great-looking, eye-catching, and unique diagrams is a fairly simple task these days, thanks to all the software available on the market. However, most of these packages carry a price tag — and many are quite high. Luckily, several free diagramming apps are available, and you don't even need to download anything. Now IT departments can create diagrams such as flowcharts, use cases, and UI layouts all within the browser quickly and easily.
In this edition of Five Apps, we take a look at five free, web-based tools you can use to create different types of diagrams.
Note: This article is also available as an image gallery.
1: ASCII Flow
Depending on your situation, ASCII Flow (Figure A) may not be the choice for you, but it does fit a nice niche market. Instead of the fancy, graphical displays of most diagramming tools, ASCII Flow uses ASCII characters to draw the elements of the flowchart. It offers very few object shapes; it's limited to boxes, plain lines, and arrow lines.
On the other hand, Creately is a more traditional diagramming tool that includes a variety of shapes and lines for free (Figure B). It also includes templates for Gantt charts, electronic logic gates, and networking hardware. Creately does require a free registration to activate the save feature, as well as one import and export. Paid plans are also available with more features.
Draw.IO is another traditional diagramming app that contains many common sets of shapes (Figure C). It also contains various specialty shapes for mocking up mobile device interfaces, laying out Cisco or other network hardware designs, and doing electronic schematics. Draw.IO can save to Google Drive, Dropbox, or a local device.
Like the previous two, Gliffy is another broad-featured diagramming app. In addition to offering the common sets, Gliffy allows you to create your own shape libraries by signing up for a free account (Figure D). It includes shapes for doing room/house layouts, as well. Gliffy's standout feature is its offline option. Once you register, you can install the Google Chrome extension, which allows you to work wherever you are.
Our final product is yUML (Figure E). As the name suggests, it is simply a UML diagramming tool; there are no bells, whistles, or extra features. Simply type in your UML markup and press Draw Diagram to get a quick flowchart or use case diagram. Customization options allow you to change the direction of the diagram — left-to-right, top-to-bottom, or right-to-left — and the size, from tiny to huge.
What other free diagramming apps or tools have you used? Share your thoughts on these or other apps in the comments below.