Mindjet MindManager 8
At a Glance
Solid mind mapping application, but some of the new features are glitchy.
Mindjet's MindManager 8 adds some interesting new features to this visual brainstorming application; but while some are useful and reliable, others are either glitchy or just don't seem to serve much purpose.
The basic idea behind programs like MindManager is that human thinking doesn't always fit well in a written outline. Mind maps, in contrast, are more visual, with nodes for each topic and subtopics that branch out from those nodes. You can expand or contract each node and look at the map in whatever order you want.
MindManager has done the basics of mind-mapping for a while now, but the new version adds some creative extras: the ability to send an interactive map to non-MindManager users, a built-in way to browse the Web and edit Office documents, and a more automated way to keep track of project deadlines.
I find MindManager helpful, but I've never convinced my coworkers to pay $350 for their own copy. And that's why the idea of Mindjet Player maps for sharing is attractive. You can export a MindManager file as an interactive PDF and send it to a colleague. That coworker can't edit the map, but can expand and contract topics, making viewing the map easier. But the player files seemed to work intermittently--one colleague could open a file, while another couldn't. When I tried opening one on two different machines--a Mac and a PC--I got error messages and couldn't view the files at all. (A Mindjet rep told me that Player files work only on Windows machines and work reliably only in versions 8 and 9 of Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader.)
Another way to share files is through MindManager's Web service. You post a map to an online workspace and can invite coworkers to read or edit it. Their changes show up in the map on your hard drive. This method seems to work more reliably, but it is pricey--$120 per simultaneous user annually.
Mind maps can also be helpful in managing projects, and here MindManager 8 takes a solid step forward. Say you've been able to add task information--deadlines and resources--to a topic for a while. Now you can make the task information in one topic dependent on the deadlines in another. So if you add three days to the deadline for step 1, the deadline for steps 2, 3, and 4 are automatically pushed out three days as well.
The new version of MindManager also offers a built-in application for browsing the Web and editing Microsoft Office documents (assuming you already have Office installed on your PC). The Web browser, which opens in a pane on the right side of the MindManager window, works fine, but I'm not sure how useful it is if you don't have a very large monitor. I found that on a 19-inch LCD, I didn't have enough room to both see the mind map and the page I was browsing. Without a huge monitor, you may find it more useful to simply toggle between the mind map and a separate browser.
The built-in Office file editor was more problematic. While editing worked fine within MindManager, the edits didn't show up in the original file, which could be confusing at best
Web mashups are also part of the new MindManager. You can embed a live Web search within a map. Return to the map a week later, push a button, and the search refreshes. That's useful, but another trick isn't: MindManager connects to Facebook and MySpace to import the names and pictures of your friends in those social networks. What purpose that serves is beyond me.
If you haven't tried mind-mapping software but want to, MindManager is a solid program. If you already have it, however, I'd hold off on upgrading to version 8 until some of the kinks are worked out.
--Edward N. Albro
--Edward N. Albro