What's Up in Downloads? Latest Five Reviews: Mind Maps, Diff Tool, Free Game
PCWorld's reviewers examine so much software for desktop and Web, it can be easy to miss some of the reviews. Our most recent finds: three mindmappers, a differential tool for coders, and a space empire-building game. For downloads and full reviews, follow the links.
What if you were able to put your entire brain into one computer program? Every thought, work-related or personal, with links to Web pages or files on your computer, and any additional notes you'd care to make. And what if you could then link those thoughts together, weaving them into free and complex associative patterns, much like an actual train of thought going through your head? That's what TheBrain ($249, 30-day free trial) tries to let you do.
MindMeister (various pricing from free for personal use to $20/month) is a low-overhead, efficient online tool for creating such mind maps, on your own or with others. Not technically a download, MindMeister lets you create a mind map using nothing but a Web browser. Each node (or "idea") can have its own icon, as well as a color, font size, and text style (bold/italic). If you have more than a couple of words to say about an idea, you can attach a note to it. You can also add URLs to an idea, and even attach files to it.
Blumind (free/donationware) is a simple and friendly mind-mapping application. The entire package weighs in at less than 1 MB, and it is free and portable. This makes it diametrically opposed to TheBrain, which is large, commercial, and definitely not portable. What the two have in common, however, is the first thing you see when you start: a single node, or "thought". You can then start typing to change its content, press Enter to add a sibling node, or press Tab to add a sub-node.
It's been about two years and a major release since I last looked at ExamDiff Pro ($35, free trial). This differential program inhabits a narrowly defined niche used by programmers, Web site coders, and others who need to compare different versions of long, convoluted documents. A differential, or a diff for short, highlights the differences between two documents, both from the 35,000 foot view and down to the line and character level of detail. Typically, such a program compares two files, but more advanced differs are capable of diffing three files at once. Differs usually display the documents under scrutiny tiled next to one another, and highlight differences in lines, whole sections of the document, and even character-by-character differences. ExamDiff Pro is perhaps the most versatile such product available.
I was first drawn to Aurora (free) when I saw a long thread calling it "The Dwarf Fortress of 4X Games". This is an accurate description, and your reaction to that statement is a good gauge of your reaction to the game itself. If you've ever wanted to micromanage the exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination of intergalactic cultures and species, Aurora will be your thing.