If you would like to hear my dulcet tones, you can listen to this review on the MacReviewCast Epsisode 131.
Mind Map … what a strange word. It makes me think of something ominous in a science fiction movie. I first heard of mind mapping a few years ago. Since I’m always looking for an edge and I am, admittedly, a productivity junky, I immediately went online to see what all the fuss was about. I found a few articles and applications that were supposed to help me be creative, think “outside the box”, and a host of other popular euphemisms. What I discovered was that mind maps are, essentially, a way of diagraming concepts visually as opposed to simple text lists. If done correctly, they allow you to move things around and look for relationships and concepts that don’t usually jump right out at you. In attempting to put this theory into practice on a computer it was my initial survey of mind mapping applications generally got in the way of doing anything creative. I abandoned mind mapping and stuck with my faithful OmniOutliner.
So it was with a certain degree of scepticism that I agreed to review ConceptDraw’s MindMap Pro. This application is a simple to use but refined application for creating mind maps. Like all mind mapping applications, the program presents you with a clean slate and a variety of tools to draw shapes and connectors. ConceptDraw’s MindMap actually excels at this by giving you a variety of tools to change the graphics and pointers to suit different types of relationships. It has a built in library of very useful clipart. They are categorized but not searchable. It also includes a feature that allows you to import images from elsewhere on your Mac.
The process of creating shapes and lines in ConcepDraw’s MindMap Pro is very intuitive. I was making mind map diagrams before I even cracked the manual. The application offers a variety of ways to create the diagram depending on whether you are a keyboard or a mouse person and the it does most of the work for you in terms of spacing and organization. You can drag a point around on the screen and more often than not the application will figure out what you are up to. One caveat is that you are pretty much stuck with the tools the program provides you. It does not allow you to freehand draw shapes. I’m not so sure I would need this for mind mapping but it may be a necessity for some users.
This program comes with several good looking samples that can be easily adapted to suit your needs for both business and personal use. Likewise, it comes with several pre-built templates that also kick start your mind mapping process.
Where ConceptDraw really excelled in my opinion was the process of mind mapping. It has an excellent “brainstorming” mode that allows you to get a lot of ideas on the screen quickly and then easily move them around the screen and draw relationships between them. This is a process that I’ve been doing analog for years and for the first time was easier to do on a computer for me. Because its so easy, I’m actually using it.
ConceptDraw also does a good job of allowing you to share your work when it is done. You can export the final mind map to a variety of sources including PowerPoint, Microsoft Project, HTML, PNG, and text among others. It even lets you put the images on your iPod. It does not, unfortunately, export to Keynote.
I found ConceptDraw’s MindMap Pro the first application in this genre that I actually used for its intended purpose. When I first wrote this review I had several complaints about the interface. Specifically, I thought it suffered too much from being multiplatform. Wouldn’t you know that halfway through writing the review screenshots of the soon to be released version 5.2 got leaked and it looks much nicer and more Mac-like. Like all good software, after you learn to use ConceptDraw’s MindMap Pro, it gets out of your way and allows you to be productive. I will continue to use this application in my work. I would like to see future releases give me a bit more flexibility with respect to the shapes. I would also like to see it export to Keynote.
The developer for ConceptDraw’s MindMap is in the Ukraine and I found them very supportive while I worked through this application. That is a big plus especially if you are new to this type of software. MindMap Pro will run you $199. It includes a license for both Mac and Windows which is great if you have to work on multiple platforms (like me). If you don’t need quite so much horsepower you can go with the personal edition which costs $119 but does not have the same degree of integration with Microsoft and other ConceptDraw applications. You can download a demonstration at www.conceptdraw.com.