If you’re a regular user of Google Docs, note that you can now take advantage of drawing tools accessible from directly within your documents, presentations and spreadsheets. You can view the announcement of the Insert Drawing tools here. The tools aren’t as rich as the ones you’ll find in products such as Microsoft’s Visio, but they are free and good enough for doing flowcharts, annotating images, collaborating on drawings and lots of other useful things.
Here’s what you’ll find, and a couple of other good, free tools for drawing online.
After you sign into Google Docs and open a new or existing document, select the Insert menu and choose Drawing to open up drawing space and a collection of tools and pull-down options up top. For the simple flowchart of project milestones seen below, I just selected an Oval shape from a built-in palette of shapes and deposited it in my drawing space. Then, I added text boxes with milestones and resized the contours of my ovals to fit around the text.
The Google team adds the following about how it acquired the drawing tools, and more:
“The team and technology behind Insert Drawing originally came from the startup Tonic Systems, which Google acquired in 2007. The drawing feature that we’ve built relies heavily on a relatively new capability in browsers: the ability to render vector graphics. We use the SVG (scalable vector graphics) standard to accomplish this in most browsers and VML (vector markup language) where SVG is not available. Only recently has the performance and ubiquity of such technology enabled us to deliver what we hope is a delightful feature.”
I recently covered Pencil, a very rich drawing tool that Firefox users can load and use as an extension. Pencil is good enough that I would probably reach for it before the Insert Drawing tools in Google Docs, partly because I’m familiar with it, but it also won an award from Mozilla (the developer of Firefox) itself for being an outstanding extension.
On the OStatic blog, we’ve also covered the free, open source Visio-competitor Dia. It has a homelier interface than many other tools, but is powerful and flexible. It exports drawings to tons of popular file formats, ranging from .EPS, to .WMF, to .DXF (AutoCAD’s Drawing Interchange format). It also has good options for printing large drawings. With both Pencil and Dia, you can do sophisticated drawings that you can drop into Google Docs documents. For simple drawings, flowcharts and the like, the tools now in Google Docs will suffice, but consider these other options if you want more flexibility.