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MindManager Comes to the Mac

A mind map is a diagram of connected ideas. In the past, I’ve written about various mind-mappers, including the minimalist Pyramid (“Pyramid Therapy,” 2004-09-13) and the full-featured NovaMind (“Draw What’s On Your Mind With NovaMind,” 2006-04-17). Recently, a new heavy hitter has appeared on the scene: Mindjet MindManager 6. The “6,” a surprisingly high version number for an initial release, is because MindManager has actually been around for a long time over on That Other Platform. The Mac version is in no discernible sense a port, however; it’s a true Cocoa application from the ground up (indeed, the story of its cross-platform migration was recently featured in a puff piece on Apple’s own developer site).

The Good — MindManager is very easy to start using. As you brainstorm, press Return to add a topic at the current level, or Command-Return to add a child of the current topic; that’s basically all there is to it. Yet at the same time, MindManager is extremely full-featured. A topic can also have callout topics (ancillary attached information), and you can make floating topics (unattached to anything). An image can be added to a topic, from a file or from MindManager’s own library. A topic can have markers, which are little decorative icons, such as smileys or colored flags, or text boxes indicating things such as whom a task is assigned to. A topic can have a note, which is styled text. It can have a date, and can be assigned a priority.

A topic can be hyperlinked to another topic, to an http or mailto URL, or to a file or folder on disk. A topic can also be given file attachments; these are files of any kind, which actually live inside the MindManager document and open on command. A boundary, optionally labelled, can be drawn around a topic and its subtopics. A relationship, which is basically a line or curve (also optionally labelled) can be drawn between topics, and you can jump from one end of the relationship to the other. The entire visual presentation of the document is very competent; topic selection and navigation works just as you’d expect.

The Bad — Considering its maturity, I found much of MindManager’s implementation to be surprisingly rough, flawed, or downright lacking. For example, the physical positioning of topics drove me crazy: the program insists on auto-positioning everything for you, with the result that sometimes I would drag a topic to the left and it would jump further right than before. Topic markers come in groups, and when you click one it changes to a different marker in the same group without asking or warning you. There are two ways of hiding topics temporarily: you can collapse a topic’s subtopics, or you can choose from the Filter menu to hide selected topics; that’s great, but in the latter case there’s no visual indication whatever that hidden topics exist. A topic can be “bookmarked,” but bookmarks have no names so this feature is sort of useless (all you can do is jump from one bookmarked topic to the next). A document can be exported as a graphic or as text, but not in any complete and universal format such as XML. Contextual menus often lack important commands applicable to the selection.

Most frustrating of all, I found MindManager to be barely competent as a drawing program. The thickness and style of a topic’s geometrical shape can’t be changed, and I had great difficulty setting the shape’s fill color: sometimes I could get it to work, sometimes not, and I never figured out why. Maintaining stylistic consistency among topics is possible, though perhaps a bit challenging. (The documentation says, “If you are an experienced MindManager user you can create your own styles,” which sounds more threatening than helpful.) Named styles don’t exist. You can copy and paste styling, but you get no choice of what stylistic aspects to copy and paste: it’s all or nothing. You can select a topic or other entity and dictate that its styling should be used as the default. And MindManager uses a complicated system of templating where a document or part of a document can be saved into a library and used as a stylistic basis for future documents. It’s all rather confusing, really.

Finally, the documentation is a lot of disconnected Help Viewer pages, many consisting of vapid chatter such as how to close a document by clicking on the red button in the title bar; thus, working your way through the help is a difficult, time-consuming, frustrating, and mind-numbingly dull task.

The Ugly — Overall, MindManager is slick and generally easy to use, but I’m forced to conclude that, considering the state it’s in and the nature of the competition, at $230 it may be overpriced. Still, it costs nothing except the submission of your email address to download it (50 MB) and give it a try. MindManager requires Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or greater.

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