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Mind mapping software

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For the last several months I've been experimenting with mind mapping software to organize my thoughts. If you're not familiar with mind mapping, it's essentially a philosophy of organizing ideas in a (theoretically) more organic way. Where traditional ways of organizing information are essentially still based on a flat file (technically flat piece of paper) model, mind mapping is a lot like a relational database approach. You have individual ideas, simple or complex (1 to 1, 1 to many, many to many) relationships between them, and the maps themselves which are visual representations of both ideas and relationships - like a report generated from a database.

Until now I've focused entirely on organizing the tangled mass of information my autistic brain spews out endlessly. It makes my internal problem solving process almost a collaboration in and of itself. Additionally the data/report paradigm saves me a lot of time I used to spend endlessly reorganizing information as my understanding of it develops.

Now that I almost sorta know what I'm doing, and what I'd like to do, it seems like a good time to start a discussion here to share thoughts about the available software and mind mapping in general. There is quite a bit of commercial software which I haven't even looked at and probably never will. Since I do intend to experiment with using it collaboratively, any software potential collaborators might need to buy seems counterproductive.

In the free (and open source) world the primary programs are Freemind and a fork (which I use) called Freeplane. I don't actually remember why I picked Freeplane over Freemind so maybe somebody else has some insight into the differences. Originally I used XMind, the free version of a commercial, closed source competitor. It's more polished, and perhaps a better starting point to get started because you don't have to invest much effort. OTOH the $79 price tag for XMind Plus and $99 (or $79 annually) for XMind Pro are too steep for my purposes.

Freeplane is nice on its own, and it also has a number of add-ons, some of which are designed to customize it for particular workflow concepts like IBIS and GTD. I'm just now getting around to looking at add-ons so I'll try to post more when I have. I should probably post a mini-review of Freeplane at some point. Given how easily my train of thought is derailed, don't hold your breath on that.

What I dislike about both Freeplane and XMind is they're Java-based. It's not a deal breaker or anything. I would have to have Java installed for another program anyway so it's not like I wouldn't already have it installed. However, unlike that other program, I'm pretty sure Freemind development began recently enough that there were lots of other (IMO better) choices for cross platform compatibility - which admittedly may not have anything to do with the choice of Java.

Anyway I'm interested in seeing what mind mapping software other people use or have tried. What I'd really like to find is something good that's not Java-based. Now that I want to use it collaboratively I suspect the Java requirement probably limits the potential. A lot of people really dislike Java and a not insignificant number flat out refuse to install it on their computers.

I have been trying Freemind and Freeplane for about six months. I prefer Freeplane. I like the SVG export ability in Freemind. When I installed them both under Linux Mint_14-64 Mate/Gnome it made using Freeplane impossible, Freemind took over and .mm files only opened in Freemind. On separate usb sticks or DVD-RWs they are fine. My difficulty was that I was stuck with an early version of both Freemind and Freeplane and not able to update without some risk, from what I might mess up. I have been trying to find more recent Mint versions or other 'live' Linux DVDs as they come out but without success. My difficulty is with how I download and burn the newer Mint versions, not with Freemind or Freeplane.

I've been using Xmind for a couple of months now, putting up with the reliance on Java, for its features and price. My absolute favourite mind-mapping piece of kit is iMindMap, v7 of which was released recently. It creates the most beautiful maps I've ever seen, and is authored by Tony Buzan, the man often credited with the idea of mindmaps in the first place.

The price, however, puts me off at the moment.

I would love a simple programme that created beautiful maps, available from multiple devices and that didn't cost the earth. I wish...  :D

I used The Brain for a couple of years - the free version.  Played with X-Mind and Freemind, both of which are currently installed.  Also currently playing with MindVisualizer, which also has a portable version.  Don't recall if the others have portability.

The Brain ($200+ USD) was great for tracking projects I was working on then.  Freemind is convenient for relatively quick data organization, but I dislike the Java requirements.  Haven't tried Freeplane yet - just found out about it here - but it's probably worth a shot.  MindVisualizer is fair, but it's expensive ($79.00 US$), and I don't recall how long the trial lasts.

The mind maps have been much better for me than outliners when building - and especially revising/revamping - Web sites.  Also quite helpful when debugging what little coding I do.  Biggest problem I have with them is making them too big, trying to record every little thing for a project.

As it stands right now, MindVisualizer will probably end up the choice because of the portability, but haven't explored that avenue as yet.

[edit]My error, XMind has the portable edition[/edit]

Mind, this is on a Win7 Ultimate box, so may not be useful on other OSes.  I'd still like to see something that could run on Android, Linux, & Win w/o using Java - and licensed per user, not per machine - but that's prolly a pipe dream with the pipe smoked out and no refill available  :-\.

Perry Mowbray:
Also Compendium which is IBIS based.

I use The Brain extensively at work: found nothing better for project / information management (not a great mind mapper, as in brain-stormer, as such)


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