For me the best tool is a mapping tool of some kind. I used to use Mind Manager, which is a good tool that does the job very well. I also liked the export to HTML and M$ Word. The corporate edition does things like allow you to have brainstorming meetings and so on. I like it but don’t need it. If  you work for a big corp and have to do a lot of collaborative design stuff I recommend it though.

If you want to put a lot of information on a node it goes into a note field at the bottom, which is OK

I then played with the brain for a while but the export tools are not good enough. You can get a tool from the website that will allow you to export the brains you generate to XML – this is where the fun starts because it doesn’t take the notes with it, these are held in separate RTF documents. In essence, if you are using it to plan a written document, it isn’t good enough. It’s good for organising thoughts and so on but just not that good to put up with the very poor export facilities.

I have finally started to use free mind, which is essentially an open-source clone of Mind Manager with better facilities. It also has this really useful multi-line node thing that means you can put a lot of text into a node, then press F6 to shrink the font. I’ve been using it a lot to plan my work at work as well. Free mind is a bit pure in that it won’t export to proprietry things like M$ Word but so what? I use Open Office for personal stuff anyway. Free mind has almost all of the same key strokes as Mind Manager, except that alt-enter puts you in multine node mode. It also supports notes on nodes but you have to dig for it on the menus. I like the mode where you can look at the nodes as a simple hieriachy and select many at a time, as well as the way it does links between nodes.

Another good thing about free mind is that it’s open source and, erm, free. You do need to have a Java Runtime installed though, but so what? You need one anyway for your web browser.

In an ideal world I’d like something like the brain with decent export facilities, the radiant thinking thing of mind maps is good but I like the way you can hoist another node into the centre of the visual field with the brain, just the export facilities are crap (who but a techie could even deal with XML, or even want to, for goodness’ sake!) and freemind does the job well enough for me. Mind maps work well for project planning and work management as well, they allow you to jump about and look at priorities, which is something I’ve been forced to do a lot of recently. Mind maps let you see the big picture and the brain doesn’t – it’s all horses for courses really. Actually, in an ideal world I’d like to be able to have a mind map with hook points where I can hoist a node up to be the centre of another map (and keep everything in sync) – the best of both worlds. Hmmm… Free mind is open source …. hmmm … maybe I could do some experimenting with it?

Maybe when I get some time…

[[ Note added 16-Apr-06 ]]

Not overwhelmed by Free Mind when I try and print a mind map. It looks fine on the screen but on my ink jet printer not so good, the text seems to be doubled up and higgledy piggledy. This may be something to do with the Java library’s printing facilities and not something that the free mind developers can control. I will ask them about it on the site.