For years, the mind mapping software market has been perceptually dominated by FreeMind. I say perceptually, because it seems more people have been recommending it than actually using it. Despite its ubiquity on free software alternatives lists, FreeMind is an awkward fit in the OS X environment. It’s cross platform, which often means “looks sub par everywhere”. It’s Java based, so performance is unpredictable.
And, most importantly, it’s not MindManager.
MindManager was never born as a FreeMind alternative. It’s existed on Windows since 1994, and on OS X since 2006. This is mind mapping with a totally native interface, and a novel idea for system integration. Let’s see how it performs.
MindManager is an application based strongly on templates, giving the user a multitude to choose from upon starting the program. There’s a template for meetings, one for decision making, one for resume writing, one for to-do lists, weekly planners and writing projects. I chose the blank template, and started mapping.
The project window is notably spartan – in this case meaning “stock standard”. Icons dot the toolbar with varying degrees of visual consistency, and a floating inspector box, easily my least favourite part of Windows ports from companies such as Microsoft, hovers to the side.
However uninspired the interface appears, it’s at least unobtrusive:
Easy and Intuitive – Mostly
Once the central node is named, adding topics is as easy as clicking and renaming. Subtopics aren’t quite as simple to manipulate, requiring a haul of your mouse cursor to the toolbar.
It’s hardly an elegant system, especially if you find yourself getting intricate with your sub levels, but it’s not a UI disaster.
Templates for Every Scenario, And Then Some
If you’re looking for something more focused than the blank canvas approach, MindManager’s templates may be of use to you. There’s 16 templates built in, but most seem like a superfluous use of the mind map format.
Take the “meeting” template. There are subtopics for the time, place, and agenda – but I can’t fathom what advantages are gained over formatting this information in a simple text document, or as part of normal meeting minutes. Especially since adding new subtopics is so annoying.
Mind Manager also boasts a novel idea of one way iCal integration. iCal events can be added into the MindManager document as dynamically linked subtopics using the “smart calendar topic” option. It works well, picking up this week’s events by default.
New subtopics can created as calendar events, but there’s no obvious way of converting existing subtopics to a calendar event. I question the necessity of this feature as a whole, since I can’t see myself using MindManager as a life planning tool – but it’s a welcome piece of functionality to have.
Finally, the strength of an application like this lies in it’s exporting capabilities. MindManager provides a multitude of options, and you’re fairly spoilt for choice in this department. Static options such as a PDF, or the usual image formats, are available as you’d expect.
The SWF export creates an interactive Flash file, but it would have been great to see support for SVG as well.
Despite these niceties, I began finding some aspects of the software that took a while to come to terms with.
A Focus On Presentation, Not Brainstorming
Mind mapping software is ideally unobtrusive, providing a funnel for your thoughts to travel through, and hopefully exit in a logical fashion.
Mind Manager’s system is different. Upon selecting a template, all options and routes are mapped out, thus making a mind map feels less like an unstructured thought process and more like a ticking boxes on a government form.
This format has it’s advantages and disadvantages, and I had to be sure I wasn’t just disliking it because it was different. In the resume section, for example, including all the feasible sections would no doubt be a boon to first time job applicants unsure of where to start.
But it makes me wonder, who is this marketed to? The power user? Someone who needs a reminder checklist for their upcoming holiday?
Of course, these templates are just there to act as an example. You’re not forced to use them, but I can’t help feeling restricted when I do.
As I worked my way through MindManager, I started to see it as something as useful application to have in my productivity workflow, or at the very least, something I could rely on when I needed it. Then I remembered the price. $249.
MindManager is certainly a powerful application, but I can’t see myself paying that much for mind mapping. Then again, perhaps I’m not their market. Businesses may find the meeting planning tools indispensable.
Ultimately, whether the MindManager premium is worth it to you depends exactly on how often you’ll be launching the program on a daily basis.
If you’re out to create mind maps on a regular basis, and need a powerful, dedicated utility, Mind Manager does that very well – despite my odd niggling complaint.
MindManager is designed both for the novice user and the productivity guru, despite being priced out the range of most novice mind map creators.