Product Reviews

MindManager Encourages Creative Thinking

Collaborative mind maps help organize brainstorming.

As a working developer, you can't avoid planning. In fact, it sometimes seems that the longer you work as a developer, the more planning you need to do -- until you get "promoted" to program management and do nothing but planning. And of course we use a wide variety of tools for planning, from scribbled notes stuck to the monitor to tools like Microsoft Project. MindManager is a less-known but more-flexible tool that's worth considering, especially for projects in their early brainstorming stages.

MindManager produces "mind maps". A mind map is sort of an outline, but it's much more flexible than the sort of outline you might create with a word processor. You create a mind map by typing concepts into a freeform editing area, and then branching those out to sub-concepts, sub-sub-concepts, and so on. You can play with fonts, icons, pictures, color, and extra information such as due dates or hyperlinks. The result, if done right, is a sort of picture of the way that a group of concepts come together, with both left-brained technical and right-brained artistic information in the same place.

There's a lot more to MindManager than simply producing mind maps. I took a look at the Enterprise Edition, which features (among other things):

  • Synchronization and import/export with Project, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint, HTML and other file types.
  • Both server-based and peer-to-peer conferencing to let multiple people work with a mind map simultaneously.
  • Office-like interface details such as task panes and adaptive menus.
  • Palm OS support.

In a nice example of "eating your own dogfood", the Learning Center task pane provides a number of mind maps that explain new features and show you how to get started. The interface is intuitive enough that most people should be able to just start typing and dragging after a short introduction.

I've been involved in my fair share of design sessions that used flipcharts or whiteboards to capture ideas. Inevitably someone gets stuck with the grunt work of transcribing the results into a document. Next time I think I'll skip all that and try to convince the rest of the team to give MindManager a spin.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy, MCSE, MCSD, MCDBA, is a former MCP columnist and the author of numerous development books.

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