Review: MindManager

MindManager X5 Pro 5.1, $299
MindManager X5 Mobile, $49
Larkspur, California
(415) 925-3120

I've talked about MindManager before, so when a new version came out this month, I was happy to take a look. This time I also tried out the Mobile version, which extends MindManager maps to the PocketPC. After all, I have this spiffy new iPAQ sitting here, might as well do some work on it.

The basic MindManager product remains mostly unchanged from the 5.0 version that I reviewed last fall. You get freeform diagrams that link topics in a two-dimensional space, unlike the one-dimensional organization of the typical outline. This works very well when you're trying to brainstorm a topic; you can stick new information most anywhere on the workspace and hook it up to a likely spot. It's easy to rearrange things later if you change your mind.

Maps can be dressed up with all sorts of formatting. There are XP-style icons you can drag in, watermarks and backgrounds galore. Of course you have full control over colors, fonts, icons, and so on. The interface is easy to work with, and makes good use of visual cues for drag-and-drop as well as context menus. The goal is to let you lay down topics about as quickly as you can type, and then reorganize them easily -- and it succeeds.

MindManager also features an XML engine under the hood, which they're promising to use for integration with other applications. As it is, you can add a Google search or an RSS feed directly to a map by dragging in the appropriate map part and filling in data. They're also documenting the process for creating your own map parts so you can extend the product. And entire mind maps can now be exported to XML, giving you a universal format for interchange with other products.

Of course, you might not need to do any programming to interchange with your favorite products. Installing X5 adds a couple of icons to your Outlook toolbar; select an item or a folder, click the icon, and it'll link the Outlook content into your map (there are also map parts for linking from the MindManager side to Outlook). Exporting maps to Outlook, Project, PowerPoint, or Word is only a click of an icon away as well.

5.1 makes a few subtle changes from 5.0 in the GUI, including making the per-topic notes panel much more prominent. It also rolls in ink support, which was previously only available if you purchased a special Tablet PC version; now there's only the one version to worry about, whatever your operating system.

The PocketPC version adds an interesting twist. It can work standalone, or interchange maps with the desktop version. Maps on the PocketPC become somewhat more linear, being structured as a hierarchical outline (because a map always has a single root node, it's an easy transformation). You have some colors and icons and so on to dress them up with on the little box. To me, the most obvious use of this is to start brainstorming while you're on the road, then upload to the full version and refine. I expect I'll be making use of this capability.

In sum: nothing too revolutionary here (unless you hadn't looked at the specialized ink support before) if you're a user of previous versions, but the Mindjet folks continue to refine their ease of use and flexibility to remain a very useful tool indeed.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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