The Power of 2

Lighthouse Design's digital whiteboard is now twice as nice

by Ben Calica

Diagram! reigns as one of the most widely used applications on the NeXT platform, with the largest installed base of any nonbundled application, according to its publisher, Lighthouse Design. Now, the company has followed up with Diagram!2, a dramatically improved version that sports new features and a user-interface layer, while retaining the "old" way of doing things for die-hard fans of the original product.

Diagram! is hard to classify. Lighthouse describes it as a general-purpose, structured graphics tool or a "digital whiteboard." Many users find it a very comfortable program for creating charts, graphs, flow diagrams, or any graphic in which text is used.

The latest version is the result of more than 2000 proposals sent in from the product's electronic suggestion box. Experienced users will notice three things immediately: A new tool ribbon makes major program features immediately accessible; an enhanced inspector permits direct manipulation of graphic and text elements; and the default page layout is now in landscape mode, matching most people's use of the program.

Diagram! has a palette of drawing tools that resembles a cookie-cutter template of basic shapes. Either drag a shape off the palette or draw directly with the form using the program's nifty new Tools and Attributes panel. Drag a connecting line between two shapes and you're charting. The lines stick to chart elements through what Lighthouse aptly calls "rubberbanding," so as you move Aunt Millie next to Uncle Bert, her connection to Grandma Rose follows along.

Each shape can be resized, rotated, or given a drop shadow. A unique find feature lets you select all the graphics of a particular shape, so they can be manipulated together. If you create a graphic that you want to reuse, it can be added to your own custom palette.

It is easy to add a text label to a shape by double clicking. You have a lot more control over text in this release, with new features like arbitrary rotation of the text, a Find panel, and spell checking. Also, you can tab from one shape to the next to add text, removing a point-and-click hurdle from the last release.

Files, external graphics, and sounds can also be attached to your diagram. For example, a flow chart could reference Mesa spreadsheets or a DataPhile database. A link-man-agement system lets you find existing links or cut them completely so a document can travel alone. The program is almost completely intuitive, giving an edge to occasional users who have a project to get done. But figuring out how to get the most out of the program takes a little time: It's not obvious, for example, how to add points to a line. (You must drag a point object off the graphics palette.)

Lighthouse has revamped the file format into an easily readable list. This allows programmers to write custom applications that interact directly with Diagram! files. This kind of interoperability, combined with Object Linking, gives NeXT users a giant advantage over other platforms in creating entire custom environments consisting of both custom and shrinkwrapped software. In fact, Diagram!2 is the first shipping NeXT application to act as both a source and destination for Object Linking.

On the down side, a few features are missing. While you can import any graphic, all polygons are constrained by the rectangle that bounds them. So you can stretch a triangle all you want, but you can't mess with any of its points. The program lacks features for creating automatic charts in different styles, which a standard organization-chart program would normally have. Also, the inability to align objects around one that has been locked in place is inconvenient.

I would also suggest expanding the tool palette to include more oper-ations. I can see a lot of mouse clicks saved by putting, say, the 25 most-used operations on the palette.

Most of these criticisms are nitpicks. The software felt good to use and it was easy to create great-look-ing results. In general, if you need to create charts and graphs that use a lot of text, Diagram!2 is for you. We recommend the upgrade to existing and new users alike.

Ben Calica is a contributing editor to NeXTWORLD.


4 & 1/2 Cubes

A substantial upgrade to the popular "digital whiteboard" that incorporates arbitrary text and graphic rotation and a re-vamped user interface. Although almost too unstructured, still a big winner. High-ly recommended.


Lighthouse Design, 2929 Campus Dr. #250, San Mateo, CA 94403.

415/570-7736, 800/366-2279.