The secret of a successful software-development company lays not in the number of products that it develops or in the number of clients that it has, but in the accuracy that it demonstrates when it comes to responding to its clients requirements.

Luckily, there are solutions for this problem. To be sure that they succeed in catching all of their clients requests in a consistent manner, the developers are advised to use a UML modeling tool. This type of tools supports the semantics of the Unified Modeling Language (UML), which has become a standard in the last few years, especially in the software engineering world.

The catch of the software application that I am about to present you is the fact that it provides you with more than one set of diagrams and tools for drawing complex graphs and schemes. It does not only support UML, but it also offers you a comprehensive set of predefined graphical elements and a bunch of examples from different domains (Business, but also Physics, Chemistry, Math, etc.) that can be combined in a multitude of ways.

And the cherry on top of the cake is that yEd this is the name of this remarkable piece of software is totally FREE!

So, have a sit in your comfy office leather chair, get a fresh juice and allow me to shortly get you through the main features of yEd.

The Looks

The main window is divided in three areas: a sidebar, where you can see an overview of the current selection, a central area, where you can add elements and create new diagrams, and a panel with pre-defined elements that can be dragged and dropped in the central area, called Palette.

At the top of the window, you can see a bunch of buttons that allow you to perform a number of actions on the elements included in the main area.

The main menu provides you with the following tabs: File, Edit, View, Layout, Tools, Grouping, Windows and Help.

But let us take a closer look at the presented elements above, to see what each of them includes and what purpose they serve.

The left-most sidebar is divided in two areas. The upper part lets you get a minimized overview of the whole diagram and the bottom part allows you to focus on a certain element or group of elements and to see its predecessors and its successors. Exactly for this purpose, at the bottom of this sidebar, you have a couple of buttons to easily navigate through the windows and folders.

The central area comprises a tabs bar on the top of the window, the area where you can add and edit diagrams, as well as a vertical and an horizontal scrollbar.

Finally, the Palette sidebar is the one that displays all the available graphical elements that can be dragged and dropped in the main area. Here, you can find the following categories: Shape Nodes, Modern Nodes, Edge Types, Group Nodes, Swimlane Nodes, People, Computers, UML, Flowchart, BPMN, Current Elements and User Defined. Every single group can be expanded or contracted by using the double arrows buttons, displayed on the left of the category labels.

Also, on the bottom of the Palette bar, you can see another small area, called Properties View, that displays additional information regarding the number of nodes or edges added, up to that moment, in the central area.

Now, let us analyze a little bit the options in the main menu.

The File menu provides you with the classical options for opening a new document or a new graph window, as well as options for saving, importing/exporting or printing. What is different about it is the fact that it offers you a tab for customizing the display preferences and the possibility to switch between two languages: English and German.

The Edit menu, besides the common editing actions, includes a submenu for aligning the nodes, a search option, but also an option for displaying the properties of the currently selected element and a link to the page where you can customize the nodes or the edge properties.

Next, the View menu tab includes options for zooming out or in a certain area or element, an option for switching between the Edit Mode and the Navigation mode and a couple of shortcuts for the most frequently utilized elements.

The Layout tab allows you to try a sum of aligning modes, as, for instance: Hierarchical, Organic, Circular, Tree, Random, and more.

Right between the Layout and the Grouping tabs comes the most important and rich-in-options tab: the Tools tab. Here, you can find an option for creating a new graph, for imposing constrains, as well as for analyzing, colorizing or transforming a graph after certain criteria.

The Grouping tab comprises very intuitive commands regarding the alignment of nodes and the logical relationship among them. Finally, the last two tabs in the main menu, namely the Windows and the Help tabs, let you easily navigate through the areas displayed in the main window of the application and among the contextual views, but also read a short introductory guide or browse a bunch of examples.

The Works

yEd can be practically used for any type of diagram that you can think of. As it offers you quite a lot of element types and plenty of options for arranging them in complex structures, it can be considered that the yEd graphs can be adapted to domains as diverse as Science (Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, etc.), Informatics (UML diagrams) or Business (Project management).

But let us start with the beginning. To create a graph, you can either use the option in the file menu or the button in the tools bar, at the top of the main window.

After you have given a name to your graph, and you have decided for which particular type of action or task you need it, you can start building it. To add a new element to a diagram, you can either drag it from the Palette bar or use the options in the Edit menu.

The Palette of graphical elements you can choose from is pretty wide. You have plain, shadowed or 3D shapes, different types of edges, many people and device icons, specific UML elements, flowchart symbols and action buttons.

And, if you don't find anything to express your ideas in a schematic way, you can define your own symbols or structures.

Furthermore, once you have added a couple of elements, you can start grouping them, regarding the logical flow of the actions, the location where a certain group of actions take place, or the people involved in the performing of the actions.

To add a label to a graphical element or to edit its properties, you can use the contextual menu.

If you like multitasking, you can choose to create more graphs and diagrams at a time. If this is the case, use the methods presented above to create new instances and the buttons at the bottom of the main window or the File menu options to navigate through them.

If you decide that you want to see the elements involved in a group of actions from a different perspective, you can try changing the layout. To do so, you can use the Layout tab. The different displaying modes will provide you with the possibility to create hierarchies and to clearly define the relationships between different types of elements or group of elements.

Anytime you need a quick statistic of the number of edges or nodes included in a graph, you can call the Analyze Graph option from the Tools tab.

Also, by using the Tools menu, you can change the appearance of a whole diagram. The Colorize option enables you to personalize the nodes and the edges, but also to choose a random color scheme.

Furthermore, you can assign coordinates to your nodes, taking as a reference the central point of a scheme.

Finally, by using the General tab from the Preferences menu, you can change the scope of a node or edge, choose an edge routing style, change the placement strategy or modify the distance between two nodes.

Other settings regarding orientation, size or the alignment of nodes and edges are also highly customizable.

The Good

yEd provides you with lots of predefined graphical elements that can be combined and customized in a multitude of ways. Its a piece of cake to use them: all you have to do is expand the categories on the right side of the main panel and drag-and-drop the elements that you need. Adding edges is equally simple. Another strong point of the application consists of the fact that it provides you with a set of examples. In case you do not know how a UML diagram, a business workflow or an orthogonal graph look like, you can get inspired from the predefined examples.

The Bad

Sometimes, the application remembers and adds by default the last utilized edge, even if you want to add a totally different type of element this time. This might be annoying and time consuming. For this particular reason, I would not recommend this application to total beginners or to people who are in a hurry. You have to have at least some basic knowledge about graphs and diagrams to understand the relationships between the different types of edges and symbols and to be able to use them properly.

The Truth

yEd is highly customizable and rich in options. If you are looking for a UML-like designing tool, to quickly create a schematic view for a flow of actions, in no time, yEd might be the right answer for you. But there is a little detail that has to be mentioned: to be able to design relevant, concise and easy-to-understand diagrams for your colleagues, teachers or business partners, it is advisable to take your time to practice. So, be sure you play with the provided symbols as much as you need and that you create more than one diagram before you include the final graph in your project.

Here are some snapshots of the application in action: