Hoping to expand its use beyond the desks of technical users and into corporate offices, Microsoft is adding features to Visio that aim to turn it into a business intelligence tool, and said a beta of the product will be available midyear.IT professionals are familiar with Visio and use the software for such tasks as network diagramming and Web site mapping. Microsoft Office Visio 2003, due out in the third quarter, has a host of new features that connect the application to enterprise applications and help companies analyze their business processes, Microsoft said."One way to think about it is as a business intelligence tool," said Jason Bunge, product manager for Visio at Microsoft. "Our objective is to broaden that understanding and become more relevant in the enterprise."With support for XML and Microsoft's .Net Web services platform, Visio is "moving beyond a static desktop diagramming tool and becoming a smart client," Bunge said.Users can now tie diagrams to live data sources, he said. For example, changes made to a Visio diagram can be reflected automatically in a database. And vice versa, an HR manager can have organization charts automatically populated with information in a database, such as review scores, Bunge said."With Visio 2003, one of the key areas is about programmability and connectivity," he said.To help users hit the road running with Visio, Microsoft offers a new category of business process templates. Also, each diagramming type has a starter template, cutting down the time a user needs to spend building a diagram, Bunge said.Visio 2003 succeeds Visio 2002 and is the second full release of the product since Microsoft bought it in early 2000. As part of the Microsoft Office System, Visio has a similar user interface to other Office products.After a technical beta test in February for a couple of hundred partners and customers, Microsoft is planning to start its first public Visio 2003 beta in mid-to-late June. Users can start signing up for that beta starting Tuesday. The final release of Visio 2003 is scheduled for the third quarter. Pricing has not been set yet.To sign up for the Microsoft Office Visio 2003 beta click here.