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microsoft visio - cover

Microsoft Visio: Everything You Need To Know

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Mircrosoft Visio is the most widely used diagramming software and here we look at exactly what it can do in 2024 and what the pricing options are.

Visio was first released by Shapeware Corp back in 1992 and was bought by Microsoft in 2000 to create the product that we know today.

Visio is now one of the most widely used business tools out there as it allows you to easily visualize complex data in flowcharts, process flows and other diagrams.

This helps businesses in decision making, process execution and increasing productivity.

Here we look at what is Microsoft Visio, how to get it and what it can do.

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what is visio

What Is Visio Used For?

Visio is used for a wide range of diagramming and some of the most common are:

The most recent version of Visio also includes data visualization so that you can create diagrams from sources such as Excel and also embed Visio diagrams in Power BI dashboards.

How To Get Microsoft Visio?

Microsoft Visio is only to available Microsoft 365 commercial subscribers or those that subscribe to Visio Plan 1 or Visio Plan 2. Visio is not part of the standard version of Microsoft Office 365.

Like Microsoft Project, the full version of Microsoft Visio has always been a standalone product which has to be purchased separately to the rest of the Microsoft Office suite.

It’s important to be aware that the version of Visio included in the commercial version of Microsoft 365 however is a lighter web app and not the full version.

The web version of Visio is far more limited, (formerly known as Visio Online) and not a replacement for the a full Visio Plan 1 or Visio Plan 2.

The full list of Microsoft 365 subscriptions which include Visio for Web are:

  • Microsoft 365 Business Basic
  • Microsoft 365 Business Standard
  • Microsoft 365 Business Premium
  • Microsoft 365 Apps for business
  • Office 365 E1, Office 365 E3
  • Office 365 E5, Office 365 F3
  • Microsoft 365 F3
  • Microsoft 365 E3
  • Microsoft 365 E5
  • Microsoft 365 Apps for enterprise
  • Office 365 A1
  • Office 365 A3
  • Office 365 A5
  • Microsoft 365 A1
  • Microsoft 365 A3
  • Microsoft 365 A5

Non-commercial Microsoft 365 plans such as Microsoft Business Basic and Microsoft Business Standard do not include access to the Microsoft Visio web app.

The full version of Visio is available either via Visio Plan 1 for $5.00 per month or with both a web and desktop app via Visio Plan 2 for $15.00 per month. Both plans comes with 2G of free OneDrive storage.

visio pricing


Access to the Windows desktop version of Visio either requires a subscription to Visio Plan 2 or a one off purchase of Visio Standard or Visio Professional.

visio desktop pricing

The main difference between the Standard vs Professional version of Visio is that the Professional version has more templates and supports data visualization.

The desktop version of Visio is also Windows only – there is no version of Visio for Mac but there are some excellent alternatives to Visio for Mac.

Can You Use Visio For Fee?

Microsoft Visio is not free as you need to subscribe to either a Visio Plan, buy the standalone version or have a Microsoft 365 commercial subscription to access the lighter Visio for Web.

You can however use Visio Plan 1 and Visio Plan 2 free for 30 days. The Visio Plan 2 free trial also gives you access to the desktop version of Visio for 30 days.

Note that you must be a first time user of Visio to get access to the free trial and you must be using a work or school Microsoft 365 account.

There is no free trial of the standalone Standard version of Visio or Visio Professional.

Visio Web vs Visio Desktop

The web version of Microsoft Visio that’s included in Microsoft 365 commercial subscriptions allows you to use Visio in a browser to view, create, and edit diagrams stored in the cloud.

Visio web subscribers can also view, print, share diagrams and insert comments on Visio diagrams.

visio for web

The Visio web app is always up to date as it’s hosted in the Cloud

The desktop version of Visio is the full version of Visio with far more features including:

  • The Visio desktop app can automatically generate org charts from sources such as Excel, Exchange or Azure Active Directory.
  • The desktop version of Visio allows you to choose from more than 250,000 Visio shapes
  • The desktop version of Visio is also optimized for touch screens so it feels natural using using a finger or pen to draw and annotate diagrams.
  • The desktop version of Visio supports data linking to Microsoft Excel workbooks, Microsoft Access databases, Microsoft SharePoint Foundation lists, Microsoft SQL Server databases, Microsoft Exchange Server directories, Azure Active Directory information, Other OLEDB or ODBC data sources.
  • The desktop version of Visio allows full control over Information Rights Management (IRM) which allows you to restrict access to diagrams.

For professional Visio access, you’ll need either a subscription to Visio Plan 1 or Visio Plan 2 but for basic editing, viewing and sharing of diagrams the Visio for Web app in the Microsoft Office 365 commercial subscription will do.

Does Visio Work On Windows 11?

All versions of Visio work with Windows 11 including the older desktop versions of Visio 2013, 2016 and 2019.

If you’re a Mac user, this means that you can also install Windows 11 on a Mac and then run the desktop version of Windows.

Note that this does not work on Apple Silicon Macs because even though you can install Windows 11 on an M-Series Chip Mac, it can only support the ARM version of Windows and there is no Windows ARM compatible version of Visio available from Microsoft.

Which File Formats Does Visio Support?

Visio uses its own VSDX and VSDM format to create and save diagrams. The main difference between them is that VSDM can contain macros. Older versions of Visio 2013 and 2016 used the more limited VDX format.

Visio can open any file based on the XML file format and can also save in JPG, PNG and PDF format.

Is Visio Hard To Learn?

Microsoft Visio is aimed at professionals although for simple flowcharts and org charts it’s quite easy to learn and use.

Visio has countless numbers of icons and assets which you can drag and drop to make professional looking diagrams.

However, when it comes to data linking and building complex process flow diagrams, Microsoft takes a lot more learning as there are so many features and controls to learn.

Is Visio Being Discontinued?

Visio is not being discontinued by Microsoft but Visio Services (which is also referred to as Visio Web Access in SharePoint in Microsoft 365), was retired in February 2023 and users are no longer able to access the service.

Microsoft advises users to use Visio For The Web instead.

How To Use Visio

If you’re new to using Visio, it’s very easy to get started. Here’s a quick overview of how to get started creating a diagram in Visio.

visio templates

  • When the template is open, you’ll see the familiar Microsoft Office interface with a Ribbon menu across the top and a toolbar with shapes on the left hand side. You can change from Portrait to Landscape mode via the Design tab at the top.

microsoft visio interface

  • To start drawing your diagram, simply choose a shape from the menu on the left and select the shapes category you need such as Engineering, Flowchart, Business, Maps, Floorplans etc.
  • Use the Connector tool in the Ribbon to connect your shapes using the Insert tab.

visio connectors

  • You can then add text to the shapes by double-clicking inside them. The text remains part of the shape even when you drag it around your diagram.
  • If you’re using the Visio web app your work will be saved automatically. If you’re using the Visio desktop app, you can choose to save it in Visio’s native VSDX format or JPG, PDF and PNG. You can also invite others to edit the diagram.

Alternatives to Visio

There are now many excellent alternatives to Microsoft Visio which are in most cases, cheaper and easier to use.

The best alternative to Visio is SmartDraw which makes diagramming incredibly fast and easy, even compared to Visio.

Unlike many Visio alternatives, it can also import and export files in Visio’s VSDX format.

You can check out our in-depth look at SmartDraw vs Visio for more.

History of Visio

Visio was first launched in 1992 by Shapeware corp which later changed its name to the Visio Corporation in 1995.

In 2000, Microsoft bought the Visio Corporation for an estimated $1.5 billion to develop it into the diagramming product we know today.

Microsoft has always been a Windows only product with no Mac version ever released. However, Visio is now available as a more limited web version which Mac users can also use.

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