Mindjet MindManager 9: Great for Project Managers, Others Have Little Need to Upgrade
At a Glance
MindManager 9 is at the top of the heap for mind-mapping software, but this upgrade doesn't have a lot of compelling improvements.
Mindjet's MindManager 9 helps you create visual diagrams of your thinking process. That goal may make the software seem far more esoteric than Microsoft Office, but MindManager finds itself in a similar predicament to Microsoft's ubiquitous productivity suite.
As with Office, most of the basic functionality in MindManager hasn't changed in years. And like Office, MindManager (which costs $349 for a single license and $179 for an upgrade) faces competition from competent products that are free or inexpensive. (My favorite, XMind, is free and works on Windows, Mac and Linux systems.)
So what is Mindjet doing to persuade people continue paying for a function they could get for free? The latest version adds automatic Gantt charts to diagram tasks in your maps, and it doubles down on its integration with that other embattled category leader, Office.
MindManager is perhaps the most powerful mind-mapping program available. But the upgrades in this version are less than compelling. The Gantt map functionality works smoothly and should be a boon to serious project managers, but many of the other additions are of limited value.
Much of what Mindjet touts about MindManager 9 is its integration with Office. For instance, if you're a fan of Office's ribbon interface, you'll feel right at home in MindManager, which apes much of that interface, `including the redesigned File menu area found in Office 2010.
You can also suck information--e-mail messages, tasks, appointments, and contacts--directly from Outlook into MindManager. As technology, this is powerful and impressive. You can choose preprogrammed queries, like Today's Tasks or New Contacts, or you can build your own query to get custom data.
In my hands-on testing, it all worked fairly seamlessly, but I have a hard time imagining how I'd use it in real life. Most of the content in Outlook, like e-mail messages and appointments, makes sense to view in Outlook, not in a mind map. The one exception is tasks. Mind maps can be great for managing a to-do list; but even though MindManager syncs data with Outlook, I think that most users would want to manage their tasks in one program or the other, not in both simultaneously.
Keeping Tabs on Projects
MindManager has had the ability to track tasks, including deadlines and resources, for a while now. MindManager 8 even introduced a feature that let users make one task dependent on another and automatically push back the finish time of a whole project if one constituent task were delayed. The latest version of the product doesn't significantly change the task functionality within maps, but it does add a new Gantt view. The function works effortlessly, and those Gantt bar charts provide a good alternative way of judging whether you're on track with a project. You can also export the data to Microsoft Project.
If you want to give a presentation based on your mind map, you can use a process new to MindManager 9 to create slides from any node of the map you wish. (Previous versions of the software allowed you to move step-by-step through a map in a format optimized for a presentation. The advantage of the new functionality is that you can skip parts of the map that aren't relevant for your presentation.)
You can print any of the slides you create, which solves another problem that some mind map programs suffer from: sprawling maps printed in such tiny type that no one can read them. By printing portions of a map, you can produce slides with readable type.
My buying advice for MindManager 9 depends on who's asking. Heavy-duty project managers who already rely on mind mapping will appreciate this upgrade. But if you don't care about Gantt charts and you already use an earlier version of MindManager,you probably don't need this upgrade.
If you're new to the field of mind mapping, you won't find a program with more functionality or elegance than MindManager. But you can certainly find one that's cheaper. I recommend trying one of those first before committing to Mindjet's price tag.