Desktop productivity tool No. 7: Dia 0.97 A simple tool, but not a simplistic one, Dia is a flowchart and diagram drawing tool that is much like an AbiWord for illustration, in that it gives you only what you need to create a certain class of design and doesn't burden you beyond that. The controls can be a little persnickety; it assumes, for instance, that people will draw new shapes by starting at the top-left corner and moving down and to the right. (You get odd results if you try drawing objects from right to left.) But for the most part, Dia is easy to use, and it comes with a whole slew of common object categories -- electrical, hydraulic, programming, and so on -- that make it easy to jump-start a drawing of most any sort.
Creating a quick design with Dia. The elements in the Flowchart box at the left can be replaced with primitives for a great many other applications.
Desktop productivity tool No. 8: FreeMind At first glance it's tempting to lump FreeMind in the same category as Dia, but it's been designed from the inside out to satisfy a separate need. It's a drawing tool specifically for creating "mind maps," or diagrams that illustrate conceptual frameworks. The command keys and default behaviors are well chosen, so it's not hard for someone to dive in and quickly start brainstorming. The resulting map can be exported as graphics or a data tree (such as an XHTML document), or even as a Web page that replicates the layout of the original mind map.
FreeMind is a drawing tool and editor for brainstorming. The presentation of each node in a "mind map" can be customized enormously.