David Szpunar: Lead Engineer, PC Help Services

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May 13th, 2007 at 4:00 pm Print This Post Print This Post

FreeMind for Mind Mapping

I’ve finally taken a little while to play with FreeMind. It’s a useful little open source tool for organizing disorganized thinking, planning, and brainstorming. It does take a while to get the “feel” for mind mapping, which is what FreeMind does is often called, but once you grasp the non-linear layout, it turns into a cool tool. So far I’ve used it to lay out two small projects and make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. The branching layout and the keyboard shortcuts seemed to work well with my thinking style.

I’ll need to use it a bit more extensively before it becomes part of my daily arsenal, and it could use some polish that I’ve seen a bit of in the newest Beta (0.9.0 Beta 9) compared to the current 0.8.0 stable version, although I’m sticking with the stable for use right now. Things 0.9.0 adds include attributes, which I haven’t really looked at yet, and a scrolling side “icon bar” which is nice because 0.8.0 has an icon bar that drops a bit off the bottom of my screen with no way to get to the lower icons (they’re still available on the context menu).

I haven’t used all the features by far, and I keep discovering useful little things I didn’t know it could do (“Automatic layout” on the Format menu makes a map look much better and more readable!). I recommend giving it a try. The Max version for Windows (it’s written in Java and is cross-platform) has some plugins that add PDF and various other export formats, some additional help, and some reminders (that I haven’t used or even found!).

I’d heard of mind mapping before discovering FreeMind, but only in the form of MindManager, which isn’t free (quite the opposite, in fact). A post from Jason at Renolds Life and Times got me looking at FreeMind and gave me some ideas, most of which I haven’t tried yet (mapping out blog posts before posting sounds the most interesting, and he has an example). His post on the topic is more cohesive and detailed than mine; perhaps I should get started on that post-mapping he recommends! (Why do you think I linked to him after you’ve read my post? :-) Overall a useful tool I’ve been meaning to mention for a while.

One more quick note: An online, web-based (think Web 2.0) mind mapping tool, MindMeister, is just coming out of beta and I haven’t played with it much, but it’s not only a centralized place to mind map, but it includes some sweet real-time collaboration features! Kind of like a web-based mind-mapping version of Microsoft OneNote 2007 sharing (note to self: write about how awesome Microsoft OneNote is sometime soon). MindMeister is not free, it’s subscription based, but it’s reasonable compared to MindManager and the added collaboration features could definitely be worth it for many.