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Make Visio-like business graphics on the cheap

To paraphrase Ringo Starr, business graphics don't come easy. Moreover, they don't come cheap. Common diagrams, like mindmaps, organizational charts, process charts, swimlane diagrams and SWOT analyses are generally best done in a vector drawing program like Microsoft Visio. But Visio runs $600, and is a handful for the uninitiated to use. You'd no doubt like to find a cheaper -- and easier -- alternative.

And here it is: Edraw Mindmap is a vector drawing program, similar to Visio, but it is targeted much more at average knowledge workers who need to crank out some visuals.

You can download a fully functional version of Edraw for free, although finished drawings bear a watermark. The professional version costs $99 (and the price drops per seat when purchased in volume -- it's $80 a piece for 50 licenses, for example).

The program looks and works very much like Visio, so if you have any experience with that program, you'll actually feel right at home here. The drawing canvas, overlaid with a grid, occupies most of the screen, while drawing objects can be dragged onto the canvas from the library on the right. A ribbon-infused toolbar at the top of the screen gives you access to lines and shapes, formatting options, layer and group controls, and more. If you need to draw anything from a flowchart to a wiring diagram to an org chart, you can do it quickly and easily with the tools in Edraw.

The program really shines, though, when you find the many templates. There are tons of templates for every conceivable kind of business drawing, and you can work from a blank slate, or open and start editing one of the many complete example files. When you're done, you can save your diagram as a JPG, PDF or webpage -- or export it as a Word, Excel or PowerPoint file and open it immediately in Office.

Edraw is a rare gem -- a high quality business graphics program that solves enormous problems in the office at a very affordable price.