NovaMind Platinum 4.6.1

Mind mapping is an increasingly popular way to assemble thoughts and illustrate the relationships between them. NovaMind Platinum 4.6.1 is at the top of the NovaMind product line of mind-mapping software. NovaMind Express is the simplest version, targeted at elementary schools and beginning users, followed by NovaMind Pro, which adds templates, themes, and tools for managing larger documents. NovaMind Platinum includes a set of tools specifically for screenwriters, an upgraded graphics library, task management features, and a presentation mode.

Sharing mind maps

Version 4.6.1 also features NovaMind Connect, a Web site for sharing mind maps; you can upload your maps directly from the NovaMind application. NovaMind Connect is similar to YouTube and other sharing sites: Users post their mind maps, and others in the community can rate and comment on them. Visitors to the site can view the posted mind maps, and registered users can download files in NovaMind, JPEG, or PDF format.

Setting up an account is free, but requires a NovaMind 4 serial number. Uploading a document to NovaMind Connect is a cinch. You need only click the upload button on NovaMind's toolbar and give the document a title and optional description. In testing, I found that the uploaded versions looked just like the original as long as I didn't use any obscure fonts. According to NovaMind Connect documentation, uploaded documents are parsed and re-assembled for the site. If a document uses a font that isn't on the server, a new one will be substituted. NovaMind's upload process ought to alert the user when font substitution has occurred; if there were a list of supported fonts available, users wouldn't have to find this out through trial and error.

According to the developer, NovaMind Connect supports over 600 fonts, including those included with Mac OS X, Microsoft Office, and Adobe CS3. Two updated export formats rolled out with version 4.5. Microsoft Word exports are written to the new .docx format, a specification that any software developer is free to use. The resulting document is essentially an outline of the text from your mind map. Fonts and background colors are retained, but no image of the original mind map is present. RTF export produces nearly identical results.

NovaMind's capabilities run deep, but the learning curve is mercifully shallow.

Clean and easy to use

NovaMind 4.5 retains the polish of previous versions. Tools for customizing your mind map are abundant and deep, yet they don't overwhelm. The many palettes can be docked to the working window or dragged out to float independently. Individual palettes can be collapsed to just a title bar, or removed all together. Click a small button to see a palette's advanced options and it flips over in a cool Quartz animation. The net result is an interface that is remarkably clean and easy to use despite the large feature set.

Should you need some guidance, NovaMind offers several screencast-style tutorial videos, good documentation, and, on the company Web site, community support forums. Mind maps typically use graphics and colors as embellishments. NovaMind provides a good selection of traditional clip art and small graphics called adornments that are intended to appear inline with text. Most of the graphics sport the cartoonish, pseudo-3-D look popular with icon designers. If you don't like (or at least tolerate) that style, you'll be looking elsewhere to supplement NovaMind's choices. NovaMind Platinum includes a presentation mode not available in the other editions. Presentations start with the whole map then zoom in to focus on individual branches as you click. Presentation options are few, but the feature works well.

Another Platinum-only feature is project management. Branches can be treated as tasks with start and end dates, priorities, and percentage complete information. You can also create a list of resources and attach them to tasks. The third major feature unique to the Platinum edition is a screenwriting module. Writers can rough out their scenes in a traditional mind map, then use the screenwriting component to write the actual script.

For as well as NovaMind executes its feature set, performance lags as the complexity of a given mind map grows. I tested NovaMind on a MacBook Pro with 3GB of RAM and encountered a few persistent problems. With a moderately complicated document, there was a one- to two-second lag between clicking on a branch and the application acknowledging the selection. Screen redraw issues were another annoyance. Changing a branch from one style to another often resulted in a garbled hybrid of the two until I scrolled the window. Background images would sometimes fail to redraw when zooming in or out-the background image would disappear only to reappear after more fiddling with the zoom slider.

Macworld's buying advice

NovaMind Platinum 4.6.1 gets high marks for a deep feature set and excellent user interface. If you regularly edit complicated mind maps, performance issues may dampen your enthusiasm. Still, if you're looking for a full-featured mind-mapping tool, NovaMind should be on your short list.

[Stuart Gripman is a columnist for Advisor Basics of FileMaker Pro magazine and founder of Crooked Arm Consulting.]

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