Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Freemind 0.8.0

I've never tried mind mapping software before, dismissing it as new age alternative hippie mumbo jumbo. For those of you who don't know what mind mapping is, it's basically software for brainstorming. Usually, snippets of ideas are encapsulated into clouds and attached to each other depending on their relationships, all gathered around one central idea.

Freemind came heavily recommended by Ubuntu Linux, thus garnering it enough respect for me to try it out. Their website isn't very professional (it's a wiki), and from my past experience, programs requiring Sun's Java Runtime Environment are usually not worth their time or effort.

Freemind proves that you can't judge software by its website. This thing is amazing. I want to run on rooftops and proclaim its magnificence, and the sad part is, I'm dead serious.

My first impression was that of professionalism; from the gorgeous splash screen to the detailed user interface, Freemind does not look like your typical Java Swing ugly codemonkey brew.

However, the user interface is a bit overwhelming at first - there's this huge vertical toolbar on the left filled with crazy icons. Thankfully, they all come with tooltips and are used more as stickers for easy identification of your ideas.

Most of the time, you'll be entering your ideas in nodes, which have parents and children to denote their level, like a flowchart. Nodes are inserted with (*gasp*) the Insert key, and siblings are inserted with the Enter key. You can expand and collapse each level of the tree at will, and all of the controls are extremely intuitive and responsive. In fact, I whipped together a comprehensive plan for Open Source Zoo in about 10 minutes starting from my first exposure to the program.

Speaking of responsiveness, the performance is great, especially for a Java program. I ran Freemind on an old machine with a 1 GHz processor and 768 MB RAM, with absolutely no lag or visible slowdown. There's plenty of export options, like PDF, HTML, SVG, PNG, JPEG, and XSLT, as well as import options, allowing you to use other mind mapping programs, such as Mind Manager, if necessary.

I don't know why you'd want to use anything else though. I really can't praise Freemind enough, you have to try it. It changed my life.

There are two versions of Freemind, a lite and a heavy. Go for the heavy, it's only 8 MB and it supports SVG exporting, which is very nice; that way you can edit your maps with Inkscape and not have blurriness problems.

Official Site: