capsule review


At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder MindManager

Mindjet's MindManager 9 helps you create visual diagrams of your thinking process. That goal may make this mindmapper seem 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 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 to pay 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 Office.

MindManager is perhaps the most powerful mind-mapping program available. But the upgrades in this version are less than compelling.

Much of what Mindjet touts about MindManager 9 is its integration with Office. If you like 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, MindManager worked fairly seamlessly, but it's hard to imagine how I'd use it in real life. It makes sense to view Outlook's e-mail messages and appointments in Outlook, not in a mind map. Outlook's one exception is tasks. Mind maps can be great for managing a to-do list. 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.

MindManager has long had the ability to track tasks, including deadlines and resources. 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 new process to create slides from any node of the map you wish. (Previous versions of MindManager 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 afflicts some mind map programs: 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.

Heavy-duty project managers who already rely on mind mapping will appreciate this upgrade. 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 mindmapping, 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.

--Ed Albro

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder MindManager

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