Anyone who is even remotely busy with innovation will know what mindmaps are. They are a means to visualize information, ideas or tasks in whatever structure you like. By using graphical annotations the information is easier to look through, even when the mindmap becomes very large. In the commercial world, mindmapping software such as XMind and Mindmanager are often used. But these companies should really start looking into Freemind.

The Freemind software is a java-based mind map software, running perfectly on Windows, Linux or other platforms. Installation is a breeze (if you are allowed to on your work, you can just launch it from a USB drive if you want, so no installation hassles whatsoever) and its interface is very intuitive. For all the whistles and bells that the commercial ones provide, I just want to create my mindmaps and export them into a format that others can easily use and view.

At my real-time job, we (have to) use XMind. If someone shares a mindmap ("their mind" map as I often see it - I seem to have a different mind than most others in how I structure things, except for one colleague who imo does not structure things at all) they just share the XMind file and hope that the recipients can read it. Although XMind can export mindmaps just fine, I do like the freemind approach where a simple java applet can show the entire mindmap as interactively as you would navigate through the application itself. This makes it perfect for discussing ideas because you can close and open branches easily.

The export/import capabilities of freemind are also interesting. Before being forced to use XMind, we were using Mindmanager and I could just easily import the mindmaps into freemind. The file format that freemind uses is an XML-based one, so translating those onto other formats is not that difficult if you know some XSLT.

I personally use freemind when I embark on a new project, to structure the approach, centralize all information, keep track of problems (and their solutions), etc. The only thing I am missing is a nice interface for mobile devices though.


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