Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mind mapping software: XMind vs. FreeMind vs. MindManager vs. Inspiration

I've always had a disorganized mind brimming with ideas and while it has served me well over the years I felt it was time to 1) optimize the way I think, 2) delineate and partition work, and 3) preserve state. Why do I need to preserve state? When I get distracted or pulled off on some wild tangent I need to focus quickly again. Likewise, when dragging myself into the office on Monday mornings I want to pick up precisely where I left off on Friday. Finally, and maybe it's because I'm getting older, I spend more time thinking about what I've been thinking about. It's a sort of vicious cycle wherein the moment I'm situated to perform a task, right when I've knifed fresh paints on the palette, I have to go to the restroom or get a coffee or eat lunch and all is lost.

Enter mind mapping. I've spent a considerable amount of time this past week evaluating various mind mapping software on OS X. The candidates were MindJet MindManager 7, Inspiration, FreeMind, and XMind

Here's a summary of my impressions:

  • Old MacOS9 look and feel
  • Costs $$$$ -- but why should I pay that for a something that feels so outdated?
  • Crashed twice and felt somewhat unwieldy for very large corporate or engineering projects
  • Very very nice outline mode handy for cut and paste right into a doc or email.
  • Might consider the Kidspiration for the youngins
MindManager7 for Mac:
  • $$$ but the newer MM8 is only available on Windows
  • Frequently crashed (due to evaluation? Doubt it)
  • Overview mode was annoying with no automatic way of expanding every node in the tree
  • Nice interface and keyboard shortcuts
  • Good documentation
  • Supports floating nodes
  • Worked quite well -- felt productive from the start.

  • OpenSource. This is the product I wanted to like the most being a fan of the opensource community.
  • Full export
  • Cloud functionality mimics XMind boundaries.
  • Text mode is somewhat clumsy -- how does one delete the text icon when there is no longer any text without deleting the node itself?? This is precisely the sort of information I don't want to waste time digging around for.
  • Documented key-mappings for Mac didn't always match reality
  • Overview mode?
  • Annoying options menu -- especially choosing default colors
  • No floating nodes and difficult to place nodes where you want them (they're always snapping back to the way FreeMind wants it)
  • Somewhat primitive look and feel
  • I took some time before I felt truly productive with this product


  • Some components OpenSource
  • Extremely polished, friendly interface
  • Good documentation
  • Floating nodes
  • Intuitive -- felt productive almost at once.
  • Easy to both add and delete notes using function+F4
  • Compact legend of key-bindings instantly accessible via ↑⌘L
  • Optional tri-pane window featuring outline view and properties
  • Cool Boundary and Summary functions
  • Nice auto-styling like multi-branch coloring and line tapering
  • Flexible node styling such as rounded, rectangle, callout, fishhead
  • Useful templates
  • Can't export to PDF in the free version

Ranking: 1) XMind, 2) FreeMind, 3) MindManager, 4) Inspiration.

XMind just wins hands-down in $$$, ease of use, form, and function. I would even consider purchasing the yearly subscription for some advanced features (Gantt charting) @ $49 a bargain.

Freemind is nice, too, but not as polished, full-featured, or easy to use as XMind. As mentioned before, I like opensource community projects, but in the end I need to get work done.

Shortly after XMind was made available at no cost, one of the FreeMind developers initiated a thread on the FreeMind mailing list asking whether or not it was worthwhile to continue that project (see here). Obviously the answer should be yes -- why crumple in the face of competition? Reading through the thread, however, I noticed a lot of commentors stated that while XMind is good, it's also slow whereas Freemind is lean and fast and, as such, Freemind is more suitable for quick off-the-cuff mapping. While it is true that Freemind is a bit spryer I feel this is negligable -- at least on a modern desktop.


Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the reveiw, I was seeking to find out if I should use Xmind or Freemind in the rather large company I am at :)

Anonymous said...

thanks for the great review.
i was trying freemind just now, but having trouble with floating nodes.
i'm gonna try xmind now.

and yes, i like open source project too, i hope in the future freemind will be updated.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the great review.
i was trying freemind just now, but having trouble with floating nodes.
i'm gonna try xmind now.

and yes, i like open source project too, i hope in the future freemind will be updated. said...

XMind free version does allow PDF output. But instead of export, you need to print as PDF using any PDF printer driver. That does the trick.

Anonymous said...

PersonalBrain is the way to go. XMind is a good second.

Alen Šiljak said...

Guess we can now add Freeplane to the list.

wow gold said...

spent half hours try to figure out how to add a float node on freemind. now, i give it up. thanks so much

Geoffroy said...

I LOVE Xmind I've been using it for 2-3 years now. I've tried a lot of Mind mapping software and Xmind is definitely my favorite, though the new Mind Maple comes really close. It's pretty similar to xmind but it features a ribbon interface.

Anonymous said...

I've always used FreeMind, but will give Freeplane and XMind a chance. However, I'd like to add that Freemind always was a highly productive tool for me as, once you know all the hotkeys, is extremely fast. I'll test XMind with that particular feature in mind as using the keyboard is better when you just want to quickly bring down some ideas onto a mindmap without messing around with the mouse. What's your experience with the keyboard and XMind?