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the evenings out here - Thoughts, rants and musings about absolutely everything except photography. Or cats.

Mind Mapping dilemmas

in Design & Usability , Friday, October 13, 2006

I've been playing around with Mind Mapping software for some time now, especially with MindJet MindManager on Windows. However, that software was provided for me by a previous employer, and now I if I want to continue with this I need to buy my own solution. There seem to be quite a lot of options on the market, even for the Mac, which is unusual. And now that MindJet 6 has been released for OS X, choice gets even more complex. There is no doubt that MindJet is expensive. Very expensive, in fact, as many reviews have pointed out. There is also a highly regarded alternative, Novamind, which is cheaper, has many more features, and has won awards. And there is the venerable Inspiration, although that is a little different, more diagramming than mind mapping. But MindManager for Mac really has a certain style and flair which makes it tempting to ignore the huge price tag. MindManagerScreenSnapz001.jpg

Mind Manager 6 (here actually the free viewer, as my trial has expired)

At one point I decided to buy it...but then I actually found that this is extremely difficult. I am living in Switzerland, in the Italian speaking region. Mindjet's online store forces me to use the German website, and will not allow me to buy anything other than the frigging German version. I don't want the German version! I'm sick of umlauts! An email to customer service was not a lot of use - rather than try to help me give them money, I was fobbed off to an obscure Mac vendor in Oberschwarzwaldenzeeuntofikonberg, or wherever. They didn't even mention than I could buy the English boxed version from Valcenter, who at least I know and trust. But anyway, I don't want a box. I want a license. So very expensive, difficult to buy, unhelpful customer service...and yet. But anyway, I decided to be sensible for once, and investigate Novamind. The trouble with most mind mapping applications is that they are clock-stoppingly, terrifyingly ugly. Lurid interfaces, dreadful clipart, total creativity killers. Inspiration, or Concept Draw, are top contenders for the so-ugly-even-their-mothers-hate-it award. Novamind is not exactly beautiful, but it isn't as bad as some. Their icon is really nice! But one thing Novamind is not, to be in any case, is intuitive. It is really, really opaque. Right-clicking brings up bizarre pop-out icon trays (can't think of anything else to call them) which appear to want me to set options. I just want to add a branch, but I can't figure out how. Dragging branches around is another that just doesn't seem to work consistently, even after reading the instructions. Finally I had to resort to the outline view, but by that point I'd forgotten what I wanted to do. NovaMind ApplicationScreenSnapz001.jpg

Novamind and its strange pop-outs

So Novamind, to me so far just kills off the flow of ideas, which is the last thing you want. Nevertheless, it has some great features. The screenwriter output is really good for creating scenarios as design inputs. And it is well under half the price of Mind Manager. But Mind Manager is intuitive, gorgeous, inspiring and stylish. But to be honest, the feature comparision with the Windows version is pretty unimpressive, even if I wouldn't want most of it. Export to Visio ? Yuck. So I don't know what to do yet. I guess I'll try a few Novamind tutorials and see if it all clicks, but my feeling is if you have to read the manual to use this type of product, then it isn't working properly. Of course, if I was famous, I'd get a free copy of Mind Manager. But I'm not. A weird thing about Mind Manager is that it was recently reviewed my MacWorld (USA), who gave it a very high score - which MindJet marketing are all over. It was also reviewed at the same time by MacWorld UK, who usually carry pretty much the same reviews - and they absolutely buried it. Unfortunately their reviews are not freely accessible on the web, but the general gist was "pretty but hopeless overpriced, under-featured and buggy". Seemed a touch unfair to me.