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Swiss army knife for the visual mind

Swiss army knife for the visual mind

MindManager, now up to Version 7, is for people who like it visual

Awhile ago, they wheeled a psychologist into the office, with a questionnaire presumably designed to detect which of us is craziest. The diagnosis did touch on one interesting trait: the different ways different people like to receive information. MindManager, now up to Version 7, is for people who like it visual. A mind map is just a diagrammatic way to present an idea or project, with a central theme radiating linked thoughts and actions. People have used it to brainstorm on butchers' paper and whiteboards for decades, and pop psychologist Tony Buzan has built a career around mind mapping as a learning tool.

MindManager turns the technique into a slick, easy to use software tool. You start with a central theme and dream up topics that relate to it. For a recent business acquisition, we linked plant and equipment, intellectual property, staff, supply contracts, marketing, sales and other key topics, and created subtopics within each of them. As the deal proceeded, we added notes to items, attached spreadsheets and other documents, and gradually built a comprehensive visual plan of the whole transaction.

One feature we've liked in previous releases of the product is map parts. You can store a section of a map in a library, and drag it out when required. Say your current project involves producing a printed brochure, and you've worked out the steps and dependencies pretty well. Just store a copy of that portion of your visual plan in the library. Next time a project calls for a print job, call out your saved part, attach it to the current map, and your prior experience is instantly repurposed.

It's also a great reporting tool. One of MindManager's data export options is a custom website that replicates the maps' hierarchy and data with your notes for each item as the text of the site's pages. Produced automatically in a minute or two, it's an instant online report that can be accessed across the network or the web. Or there's even a free viewer program that works like the ubiquitous Acrobat Reader, allowing others to view but not edit your actual map.

Version 7 has switched to the new Windows ribbon interface a la Microsoft Office 2007. We're not a fan, but we can't blame publisher Mindjet for following Microsoft standards. It can now save custom views of a map and call them up later. Say you want to work through the marketing group's part of the project only. Filter out the various limbs and links that aren't relevant and save that view. You'll be able to return to it when the marketers meet with you.

A map topic can now incorporate an RSS live information feed. If you planned a building project, one topic could present the four-day weather forecast, automatically updated. And at last topics, sub-topics and their topical offspring can be sorted by degree of completion. We've long been able to attach a smart icon to a task showing how far to complete it is, but couldn't re-rank them all from least to most progressed.

Presentation mode is a nice alternative to Powerpoint, with the map focus moving from point to point, automatically highlighting and expanding the next in sequence. Version 7 introduces support for wireless remote control, freeing the presenter from the keyboard for advancing and rewinding.

The beauty of this software is that you needn't plan a rigid structure before you begin loading data. Plonk things down as they occur to you, and reorganise them with drag and drop when you like. Once a map for a conference is populated with topics for attendees and venue and entertainment and meal breaks and speakers, then loaded up with notes, diagrams and to-do items, nobody will believe it's the product of an unstructured, brainstorming process. Order seems to be an inevitable by-product of MindManager, not a prerequisite for using it.

For years we rated information manager InfoSelect as the most flexible product in desktop computing, but MindManager 7 has knocked it from the pedestal. As a rapid development tool for a serviceable website, an org chart producer, a to-do list manager, a project planner, a presentation tool and plenty more, its software's Swiss army knife. Highly recommended for those of us who like to get our information visually.

Visit www.mindjet.com for a trial copy.

Peter Moon is a partner in Logie-Smith Lanyon Lawyers. Email: peter.moon@privacy.com.au.

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