Way back in my youth, I can remember TV guru Tony Buzan expounding the virtues of mind mapping, employing diagramming techniques to help visualise and (in theory) simplify complex ideas and concepts. You know the kind of thing: you start with a central topic in the middle of a piece of paper, out of which you grow a spider’s web of related notes, thoughts, contacts and other information.
MindManager Pro takes that idea and translates it to the PC, providing tools to not only build mind maps more easily than with pen and paper, but edit, distribute and share them.
Now in its seventh generation, MindManager has numerous proponents keen to testify to its usefulness in all kinds of areas. Mind mapping, it seems, can be used for everything from brainstorming, through project planning to launching a new business. Sample maps are readily available and you will also find companies able to provide MindManager support and training. But – and it’s a big but – it’s not for everyone and far from a general purpose tool like a word processor or spreadsheet application.
One of the biggest problems we encountered was the far from intuitive interface. Moreover, a lack of consistency in the way the various tools are applied can be a real hindrance, and that despite MindManager being one of the first to employ Microsoft’s Fluid GUI, complete with ribbon menus like those in Office 2007.
There’s also a lot to learn. A bunch of interactive demos help to get started, but it took a lot of time and effort to get to grips with the product. It can also take a while to appreciate exactly what you might want to use it for. Some people will get the bigger picture straight away but others may find it baffling, especially if they’ve never used visual planning tools before.
On the plus side, MindManager takes mind mapping far beyond the realms of pen and paper. That’s mainly because PC-generated maps can be much larger and a lot more complex, added to which MindManager lets you build in relationships and create dynamic links to other data sources including complete or partial documents, spreadsheets, external URLs and so on. You can also quickly re-organise map content, change the way it’s displayed on the screen and more.
The ability to export and share maps is another key feature, with a freely distributable map reader plus tools to export data in PDF, Office and other formats. Maps can also be published as Web pages or attached to e-mails and distributed that way.
The Pro version we looked at can also be linked to Microsoft Outlook to, for example, use contact information in maps and synchronise tasks created in the two applications.
Office integration is only available in the Pro version and, if you don’t need it, a cut-down MindManager Lite is also available (£49 + VAT) along with an Apple Mac implementation (£89 + VAT). We’d also recommend downloading the free trial before you buy, if only to find out whether mind mapping is something you’re going to love or hate.
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