Mindmapping with FreeMind

I love the concept of mindmapping. I’ve used Mindjet’s MindManager for several years now, and have found it useful for a wide array of situations. MindManager has become a core part of my collaborative presentation technique when I work with prospects, colleagues, and customers. I’ve also used MindManager extensively on my TabletPC in Ink mode where it serves as a superb note taking platform. Mindjet’s tight integration to Microsoft’s inking Framework is second to none. That integration extends deep into the entire Microsoft Office Suite making MindManager a compelling solution in the business world, albeit a very expensive one.

When I first starting looking at mindmapping as a way to visualize concepts, I had stumbled upon a free alternative on SourceForge called FreeMind. It was nice at the time, however it lacked the ease of use and grace of Mindjet’s solution. FreeMind is developed in Java, essentially making it platform agnostic. That early version of FreeMind reflected this generic pedigree, lacking many of the features that I’ve come to expect in a real office application. I followed FreeMind’s development for a while, but eventually lost interest, choosing the easier to use MindManager. Recently, however, I ventured back to FreeMind and was pleasantly surprised on how much it had evolved from that early stage product.

Clean and effective

The new FreeMind, currently at beta 0.9.0 beta 8, is a wonderfully built application that has evolved substantially, and should be considered a real, viable alternative for mindmapping. I’ve started to use FreeMind for personal mindmaps, while sticking to MindManager for work related purposes. What I’ve found is that the core concept of mindmapping feels, and works, nearly identically in both applications. MindManager’s integrations into Microsoft Office certainly make it more powerful, but I’m using those integrations less and less, as I move toward an Office 2.0 approach to working. There is one other, huge, positive that FreeMind offers which MindManager simply cannot deliver., that is portability.

Mindmapping on a stick

FreeMind is light enough to fit onto a USB Flash Drive, so I can literally take FreeMind and my mindmaps with me anywhere I go. While this isn’t truly an Office 2.0 solution, it is certainly more portable than a single license instance of MindManager. Portability is becoming increasingly important for me, as I begin to rely less and less on a single computer to be productive.

My use of FreeMind will continue to increase, I believe this year, as I begin to diverge from platform dependency, but more importantly, return to a simplified approach to generating mindmaps. I’m finding the lack of bells and whistles to be a strength of FreeMind, since I can focus on the visual outcome of a map and not how to intertwine it into all sorts of external files. If you are looking for a solid mindmapping tool, you should really consider FreeMind.