Inspiration 8 for Windows adds new functionality, numerous improvements

Inspiration 8, the latest upgrade to the popular mind-mapping program was introduced in April and contains numerous improvements that will benefit new and experienced users alike.

Inspiration 8, the latest upgrade to the popular mind-mapping program was introduced in April and contains numerous improvements that will benefit new and experienced users alike.

In this first look at Inspiration 8 for Windows, we will examine some of the most notable new features of the program and explain their significance to business users.

What’s new in inspiration 8

Inspiration continues to be focused on the education market, as reflected in its map templates. But there is still plenty for business users to love. Here is a summary of Inspiration 8′s new and improved features, and how business users can benefit from them:

Inspiration Starter screen: When you first open the program, you’re greeted by a new “Inspiration Starter” screen that asks you if you want to create a new diagram, outline, open an existing file, access the program’s template library or get help. This is terrific for first-time users, but there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to turn it off once you’ve become familiar with Inspiration.

Searchable symbols: One of the biggest improvements in Inspiration 8 is a vastly expanded symbol library. The program contains more than 1,000 symbols, plus provides online access to more than 1 million additional symbols through a new online service called Inspiration Web Resources. The program’s symbol palette now contains a search box; when you enter a search term and click the magnifying glass icon, Inspiration 8 searches its built-in symbol libraries and the online collection, and displays the search results right in the symbol palette. This works seamlessly. In fact, it’s hard to tell which symbols are from the built-in library and which are from the online service. It retrieves the symbols that match your search criteria quickly, regardless of their source. This feature is impressive!

Video and sound integration: You can now insert multimedia files, such as sound clips and video clips, into your Inspiration maps. I think you could actually do this before, but what’s different now is that when you insert a video clip into an Inspiration 8 map, the program automatically displays the first frame of it.

Enhanced drag-and-drop capabilities: In previous versions of Inspiration, you could always drag and drop symbols wherever you needed them within your map.  Now this capability has been enhanced to enable you to drag and drop files from other applications into your Inspiration workspace. For example, you can drag and drop URLs from your browser toolbar to create hyperlinks to web pages. When you do this, Inspiration inserts the web page name within the symbol (or it creates a new one if you drop the link in a blank area of your map) with the hyperlink embedded into the symbol text. Somehow this seems more intuitive to me than other mind mapping programs, where you need to click on separate icon attached to the symbol in order to navigate to the URL. You can also hyperlink to other files and even other Inspiration files (to the best of my knowledge, this is the first version of Inspiration that allows linked maps).

My only complaint about linking in Inspiration 8 is that you can’t tell what kind of a hyperlink a symbol contains. When you mouse over a symbol containing a hyperlink, a tool tip pop-up does appear that shows you the file pathname or URL, but it would be nice if there was some other kind of visual indicator or icon that would always be visible (like the notes icon is now). If you want to remove a link from a symbol, right clicking on it brings up a context sensitive menu that enables you to edit or remove it.

Gather hyperlinked files: Using this new command, the program creates a folder that contains a copy of your original map file, plus a separate folder containing a copy of each hyperlinked file. This makes it easy to manage your files and distribute them to other people – an essential feature for business users.

The Word Guide: Inspiration 8 now features an integrated dictionary and thesaurus, a real plus for writers. It appears in a 3-column format. The left column is the word list, where words matching your search criteria are displayed. The center column contains the definition of the selected word, and the right-hand column acts as the thesaurus, displaying synonyms for the selected word. What’s nice is that, after you have looked up a word, you can click on one of its synonyms to select it and then click on an “insert” button. The program immediately creates a new symbol within your map containing that word. Or if you double-click on a synonym, the Word Guide will re-focus its search around that word – nice! Inspiration 8 also includes an auto spell checker, which checks your spelling in both the diagram and outline views as you work and flags misspelled words.

Expanded export options: The Inspiration 8 toolbar now includes a “transfer” button, which enables you to move just the information you need to your preferred word processing program. When you click the “transfer” button, a dialog box is displayed that gives you check-box options for including the diagram in your exported outline (nice!), and to transfer the outline with topics, hidden topics, prefixes, notes, hidden notes and indentations. As you check and uncheck these options, a “preview” panel displays a generic outline based on the options you have selected. This makes it easy for new users to easily understand what they’re doing when they export an outline from Inspiration 8.

Auto arrangement of symbols: Inspiration 8 includes a new “arrange” button on the toolbar, which enables you to quickly convert your map into tree, web, split tree and other formats.  Most significantly, it also contains a new auto-arrange command, which automatically moves linked symbols into the map style you select. If you want some options beyond the basic three types, you can select a “more” option from the combo drop-down box, which displays a palette with more advanced features, such as selecting link styles (straight, curved, 90 degree). This is nicely done, because it gives beginners easy access to the most common map arrangements, while hiding the more advanced options. Yet power users can quickly drill down another level to change additional aspects of their map layouts.

This was a long overdue capability, and I’m glad to finally see it finally included in this version of Inspiration. In previous versions, especially if you were brainstorming, your map workspace ended up being a mess of overlapping symbols, which you had to manually drag and drop to create a cleaner diagram. This feature is a real time-saver!

One more thing about auto-arrange: It not only rearranges your existing symbols, but also maintains the map type as you add new ones. For example, I selected a tree type of layout (like an org chart) and added one row of symbols. Beneath one of the symbols, I added another level of detail, and another symbol below that. I then tried to drag the third-level symbol to the right of the second-level one. Inspiration moved it back to its original location, in order to maintain the tree map format. If you don’t want the program to do this, you can simply uncheck a checkbox in the auto-arrange dialog box.

Enhanced brainstorming mode: For many years, Inspiration has included a very useful “RapidFire ” brainstorming mode, which enables you to quickly enter items into your map using only the keyboard.  What’s new in version 8 is that you can do RapidFire brainstorming with or without links. In other words, new topics can be linked to the central one, or can be free-floating. This gives you much greater freedom when arranging your map after the brainstorming session. Also, RapidFire works by pressing the Enter key, instead of the F9 key, which previous versions of Inspiration used to invoke this function. This is definitely easier to remember, and isn’t as much of a reach for my carpal tunnel-addled fingers!

More enhanced export options: All of Inspiration’s export options are now gathered into a single export dialog box, which includes a preview pane so you can easily see how your exported content will look. A new “site skeleton export” exports your map to a web page, including symbol images. This adds visual interest to web pages created from your Inspiration maps. Apparently, the previous version only exported symbol content and notes into web pages.

Smart checklist: This new feature enables you to use your Inspiration maps as checklists. A Smart Checklist option is also available. When it’s turned on, if you click the checkbox of a parent topic, all of its subtopics will be checked off as well. If it’s turned off, you need to check the box of each symbol separately. One limitation I can see with the Smart checklist is that it’s an all or nothing deal – there doesn’t seem to be any way to assign checkboxes only to specific symbols.

Conclusion

Inspiration for Windows continues to get better with each new release. In version 8, Inspiration Software has obviously paid a lot of attention to providing increased ease of use, with useful features like auto-arrange and its enhanced transfer options. With the exception of a few quirks, I think this is a worthwhile upgrade

A free 30-day trial version of Inspiration 8 is available for download from the developer’s website. At $69 for a full licensed version and $29.95 for an upgrade version, this is one of the best bargains in the world of mind mapping software.

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