Inspiration Software recently shipped Inspiration 6; TidBITS readers may recall from my reviews of Inspiration 4 and 5 that this program is an outliner sporting a diagram view, where each item of the outline can be accompanied by a picture, and lines with arrows and labels can run from one item to another.
For a complete list of the changes in version 6, consult the Inspiration Web site. None of them taken alone is major; they are mostly small interface tweaks. Nonetheless, taken together they are significant, because the overall effect is to make Inspiration much more fun and easy to use. For example, gone are the ugly, blocky diagram pictures of earlier versions; Inspiration 6's pictures are sharp, professional, colorful, and attractive. (Their logo, however, is still that dreadful green-and-purple picture of a man with the top of his head sawn off.) And Inspiration now comes with lots of diagram templates for charting concepts likely to arise in an educational context - for example, similarities and differences between two characters, or the structure of a fairy tale, or a science lab report, or the assignments and activities missed by an absent student.
Thus, instead of being rewritten, Inspiration has been refocused towards kids and those who work with them. This seems a splendid idea. I'd have no hesitation in giving Inspiration 6 to a child as a place for brainstorming, planning a report, organizing ideas or information, or just having fun with words, pictures, and arrows.
To be sure, I'm disappointed that Inspiration's underlying concepts haven't been given any new thought. In the diagram view, for instance, interesting and complex relationships can be drawn that a conventional outline would be utterly incapable of expressing: e.g., ideas A and B can both point to idea C, while idea C can point back at idea A. To cope with this, the Inspiration folks might have rethought the whole notion of an outline, creating some entirely new way to present such relationships in a text-based hierarchical milieu. But they didn't, and if you switch such a diagram to outline view, you get nonsense. Again, since lines connecting ideas in diagram view can also have labels, the Inspiration folks might have introduced some powerful mechanism for filtering out all but those ideas joined by some particular set of keywords, thus turning Inspiration into a new and sophisticated hypertextual tool for the storage, retrieval, and study of ideas and their relationships, like the old MacEuclid. But they didn't. Or they might at least have improved their HTML export functionality, whose wretched quality I mentioned in my review of Inspiration 5. But they didn't.
Still, an easy and attractive program for helping and enticing children to diagram their ideas is a fine thing. I can only applaud, and I hope that parents, friends, and teachers will be tempted to put it into children's hands.
Inspiration 6 costs $70 ($40 to upgrade from previous versions); a free trial download is available. It requires System 7, and occupies 30 MB on disk, 6 MB of RAM.