Review: Xmind Pro mind mapping utility has good intentions, but poor execution
At a Glance
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XMind offers powerful diagramming capabilities, if you can get over its interface oddities. If you're used to the UI of the free demo version, though, you might enjoy the features the paid version adds.
Being able to put down your thoughts in writing can lend them powerful clarity. Doing it in graphical form, as a mind map, can add to the process by exposing relationships and allowing a bird's eye view of a large subject. XMind Pro 3.3.0 is a $99 tool that wants to help you do this, and it also has a free version available. Both the free and Pro versions support many chart types other than mind maps, such as organizational diagrams and "fishbone" diagrams showing cause and effect relationships. The Pro version adds export capabilities, a Gantt chart view, brainstorming and presentation modes, and more drawing tools.
At 29MB, XMind Pro is a larger download than both the svelte, tiny Blumind mind-mapping utility (750KB) and TheBrain, a powerful personal mind mapper (16MB). Then again, these days you don't have to download anything to get started with mind mapping: Online tools such as MindMeister and SpiderScribe offer powerful mapping capabilities right in the browser, using Flash (SpiderScribe) or HTML5 (MindMeister).
Starting your first diagram with XMind Pro is easy, thanks to its many helpful templates. At first glance, the XMind Pro interface is bursting with tools and options, but these are often encumbered by interface idiosyncrasies making them difficult to use. For example, you can choose between different color themes for your mind map, but you must double-click the button for each theme for it to work.
Another case in point is the Map Shot tool: This tool lets you quickly take a screenshot of your mind map. I clicked it in the menu, but it seemed to do nothing, so I clicked again, hoping for a dialog or a message. That failed, so I clicked a third time, and then gave up and kept working with the application. A few moments later, when I tried dragging a node in the mind map, I realize my mouse can only draw selection frames now. Once I drew a selection frame, XMind Pro popped up a file save dialog–and only then did I realize what happened: The tool took effect but was waiting for me to pick an area for the screenshot, without telling me about it first. Since I clicked the tool three times, XMind Pro did the same thing three times, and I had to abort the action three times.
One last example: Each mind map can contain several sheets, represented by tabs along the bottom of the window. There is a powerful Outline view that lets you see a nested list of all nodes, including those on other sheets. But clicking a node in another sheet does nothing: XMind doesn't take you there.
This version of XMind Pro introduces map revisions: Saving your mind map is non-destructive. Every time you save it, a new revision is added on top of your previous saves, and you can then flick between revisions, visually inspecting differences. This is similar to MindMeister's excellent timeline strip, but again, it's held back by the interface: The map preview is shown at 100% zoom, and there is no way to zoom back out. This means you'll have to do a lot of panning to see the differences when comparing two versions of a large map.
All in all, XMind Pro offers a powerful, rich environment for visually plotting ideas, but only if you can get over its often-clunky interface.
Note: The "Try it for free" button on the Product Information page will download the software to your system.