Sunday, March 11, 2007

Mind mapping software

In my free time over the past week, I've been scouring the web and Linux repositories for a program that can draw concept maps and mind maps quickly and clearly. Both structures are radial, hierarchical lists, the difference is that a mind map radiates from one center, whereas a concept map includes multiple core concepts. This makes mind mapping more suitable for brainstorming, while concept mapping can better represent inter-relationships. I found three very different freeware programs that are suited to this task: Dia, Mindraider, and Freemind. All three are cross-platform (and free, ed.).

Dia is a general flow charting program and probably gives the most flexibility of the three programs. Unfortunately, it lacks the speed of input that brainstorming requires. Dia come with a package for making UML (Unified Modeling Language) figures; a software engineering process diagramming standard. A cursory look shows that no one has converted the great works of literature and philosophy into UML, which is an unmet need if we expect our robots to be at all educated.

Mindraider utilizes a super-cool visualization that you'll be familiar with if you've ever visited the Visual Thesaurus. It presents your map in two ways simultaneously, as a list and a tree, with a third pane open for metadata (exposition on a particular item, as well as web URLs and links to local resources). Mindraider integrates with Gnowsis, which is part of a class of programs that describe themselves as semantic desktops. The idea is to map the user's files into a flowchart along with things that might not be properly represented in the file system, such as projects, contacts and locales. I'm suspicious of the usefulness of this, because if you have two organizational structures for your file system, you'll get a lot of cross-talk and will probably end up with neither system being organized. Still, programs like DeepaMehta look snazzy, even if they don't end up being more than well designed widgets.

Freemind recently updated to its beta version nine, adding some very useful functions. It is the only program of the three that includes an embedded scheduler, which is useful when mapping projects and task dependencies. It includes includes image support, unlike Mindaider, and collapsible nodes and fast input, unlike Dia. Freemind can also export its mind maps to web pages via an embedded java engine. There are two similar programs for the Gnome-desktop: KDissert and VYM (View Your Mind) that are certainly well-made, but not as feature-rich.


Yanina said...

Freemind is good as it is free, but for me it is too simple. Software is more versitile and powerful to my mind. I like ConceptDraw MINDMAP

Pete said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I shall check out the free trial. I am a bit skeptical, because it doesn't cite Linux compatibility, and because it's $120 for the cripple-ware version and $190 for the full version. Also, compared to Freemind, isn't it a bit like brainstorming with a diamond encrusted pen on a silk napkin?