New MindManager X5 Pro takes mind mapping to a new level

MindManager X5 Pro from Mindjet LLC takes mind mapping software to a new level of effectiveness. Read this article to find out why!

MindManager X5 Pro from Mindjet LLC takes mind mapping software to a new level of effectiveness. Its new XML code base and a host of other improvements enable business users to gather information, analyze it, reach decisions and implement plans faster than ever before.

Mind mapping software has always been a highly effective medium for representing ideas and knowledge. But Mindjet decided to rethink the role that its popular MindManager program could play in today’s information-centric workplace. They realized that by connecting the program with outside data sources via XML, it could help knowledge workers to streamline some common tasks in powerful new ways. XML enables individuals and teams to use MindManager X5 Pro to gather information from a variety of sources, such as corporate databases, e-mail messages and planning documents, analyze it in a productive visual environment, reach conclusions and make decisions about it faster. The program then uses XML to push the results of these decisions to corporate information systems, scheduling applications, and databases.

In this “first look” article, you’ll learn what’s new in MindManager X5 Pro, and how you can utilize its new features and collaborative powers to think and work more effectively.

The new and improved MindManager interface

According to my contacts at Mindjet, one of their priorities for this upgrade was to provide users with an improved user interface with a stronger Windows XP look and feel. The program’s new interface is well organized and highly functional, and contains a host of evolutionary improvements over MindManager 2002. Functions and commands have been regrouped and clarified, in some cases. And the toolbars have been enhanced to bring more of MindManager’s power to the surface – functions like brainstorm mode and presentation mode that some users may have never tried because they were buried in the drop-down text menus of MindManager 2002 are more visible in this new version.

Experienced MindManager users will feel right at home with MindManager X5 Pro and will be pleased with the many new and enhanced features, while first-time users should find the program easy to use, right out of the box. Notable enhancements include:

An expanded workbook panel on the right side of the screen, which provides fast access to a myriad of resources, including My Maps (a list of shortcuts to your MindManager files), Map Markers (categorized lists of icons and images you can add to your map), task information, library (background images, shapes and map parts), a map search tool and a MindManager Learning Center. These tools and resources are now presented in a vertical tabbed view, replacing the drop-down list in MindManager 2002 (which tended to hide these options). Just above this vertical pane is a new set of buttons, which enable you to quickly convert from a map view to an outline view, a new multi-map view (which displays your currently-displayed map along with all of the other maps to which it links) and a new set of modes, which will be explained in greater detail later in this article.

Selected items are now designated with a blue rectangle that is very easy to see, and is more obvious than in MindManager 2002. Right-click options have been expanded, enabling you to modify even more topic properties than before.

Improved notes view: The notes view, which appeared as a separate window pane along the bottom of the workspace in previous versions of MindManager, now appears in a wide pane to the right of the map area. This new arrangement makes excellent use of available screen space, and shows more of your notes content than the old screen layout. It also functions more like a full-fledged document viewer window – which is important for some of the XML features that we’ll discuss later in this article.

More right-click options: MindManager X5 Pro gives you greater freedom to modify topic and map properties than previous versions of the program. Much of this functionality can be accessed through right-click commands. For example, if you prefer to have specific topics in your map formatted with a symbol or shape — rather than text on a line, you can access these options with a right-click command. You can also easily add images, logos and backgrounds to your maps using right-click mouse commands.

New outline view: Previous versions of MindManager lacked an outline view. Mindjet has addressed this shortcoming in MindManager X5 Pro, with a well-designed and highly functional outline view. Using the toolbar buttons, you can easily toggle back and forth between the map and outline views. This feature should be especially appreciated by users who may be more comfortable working with a hierarchical view of their information.

Map parts: Where the XML rubber hits the road

The most significant upgrade to MindManager X5 Pro is its support for XML, a set of data interchange standards that makes it possible for many different types of software programs, corporate databases and Web applications to exchange quickly and easily. These capabilities are only available in the professional version of the new MindManager.

Mindjet’s implementation of XML can be found in MindManager X5 Pro’s “Map Parts” library panel, which contains several XML-enabled applications, including:

Google search tool: Click on this map part, and a search form appears. Type in your search term, and MindManager X5 Pro grabs the top 10 search results from Google for your search term and displays them in a new topic. These 10 sub-topics contain URL link and notes icons. If you click on the URL icon, you can navigate directly to that web page. If you click on the notes icon, the program opens the notes pane and displays the text that Google displayed for that site in its search results. You can also annotate these results, making this map part a useful research tool.

RSS feed: RSS feeds are XML-enabled “headline streams” from news Web sites. Using this map part, you can select from three MindManager news feeds and eight RSS feeds on various technology topics from C|Net News.com. You can add other news feeds as well, via settings in the program’s tools/macros menu. It’s nice to see Mindjet supporting this increasingly popular technology for tracking news from multiple sources.

Outlook Linker: This feature is pretty amazing. When you install MindManager X5 Pro, it inserts two new icons into your Outlook toolbar. One allows you to send selected e-mails, contacts, appointments and other Outlook items to MindManager, while the other icon helps you to copy the contents of an entire Outlook folder to MindManager. I tried this feature with a single e-mail, and it worked very efficiently. When I viewed my map once again, it contained a new topic, displaying an envelope icon along with the subject of the e-mail and the name of the sender. When I clicked on an icon next to this new topic, MindManager’s enhanced topic notes window opened, and displayed the contents of the e-mail in a neat, templated format — very cool! Outlook Linker is another very useful research and information-gathering tool, since so much of the information and knowledge we work with today comes to us in the form of e-mail. Being able to pull this data into MindManager in a structured, easy-to-use way is a big plus!

In addition, when you install MindManager X5 Pro, it places new icons in each of the Microsoft Office programs, which enable you to “push” information from Word, Excel and PowerPoint to MindManager. I tried it with this review article. I selected several words within a paragraph of text and clicked on the little blue MindManager toolbar icon; MindManager pulled the entire paragraph into my mind map. Not exactly what I expected to happen, but I suppose it makes sense — a paragraph usually represents one complete idea.

I like the way Mindjet implemented these capabilities, as self-contained “objects” that can be added to your maps. You don’t have to know anything about programming to use them, a big benefit. Also, you can annotate any of these map parts in your mind maps, by simply typing information into its notes window. You can use this functionality to add your own thoughts and interpretations to information you’ve gathered from outside sources, and then share them with others on your team.

The Mindjet plans to offer additional XML-powered map parts in the near future, and is also providing its developer network with a development kit that will enable them to build their own XML services to work with MindManager X5 Pro.

Enhanced and expanded ‘modes’

MindManager X5 Pro contains several specialized operating modes. Two of the three were featured in MindManager 2002 and have been improved for this new version, while the third mode – review mode – is new in this version.

Brainstorm mode: Brainstorm mode displays your current map, maximized except for a narrow horizontal dialog box that stretches the width of the workspace. It contains 3 brief steps of brainstorming instructions, along with a form field, which you can use to quickly type your ideas, one after another. Each time you type some text into this form field and hit the Enter key, MindManager X5 Pro creates a new, free-floating topic containing your text. After you and your team have recorded all of your ideas, you can drag them and attach them to relevant topics, or create new topics to which you can attach your ideas.

MindManager 2002 contained a brainstorm mode, but it was a little harder to understand how to use it: When you entered brainstorm mode, the program would create a new topic with the word “idea?” in it. When you typed in your idea and clicked the Enter key, another new topic would sprout up, waiting for you to insert your next idea. To exit brainstorming mode, you clicked on a “done” icon floating at the top left corner of your workspace. The new version of brainstorming mode is much more intuitive!

Review mode: This new mode enables you to send your mind map to other people on your team to solicit their comments, for more efficent team communication. Comments are are tracked by the name of the person who submitted them. Clicking on a topic that has a comment displays it in a vertical pane on the right side of the screen. Each comment is also time and date stamped.

Presentation mode: This mode enables you to present your mind map to a group, as an alternative to a PowerPoint presentation. While you’re in this mode, clicking on a forward arrow opens one branch of your map, while closing all others. Click it again, and that branch closes and the next one opens. This feature was available in MindManager 2002; the developers at Mindjet made some minor enhancements to it in this new version.

Enhanced export options

MindManager has always enabled users to export their mind maps to a variety of formats, including image files and Web pages. The developers of MindManager X5 Pro have improved and enhanced the program’s HTML export options, and have added a new PDF export tool, which enables you to publish your maps to this popular document format, without having to purchase Adobe Acrobat Writer – very cool!

Conclusion

MindManager X5 Pro is quite possibly the most significant upgrade ever to the popular MindManager business mapping program. Hats off to Mindjet for figuring out how to leverage XML in the new version of MindManager, and for creating a platform that the company and third-party developers can begin building on. The XML-enabled map parts included in MindManager X5 Pro are quite intereresting, and I can’t wait to see what’s yet to come.

If you currently use an older version of MindManager, this new version contains enough new and enhanced features to make it a worthwhile upgrade. If you can’t forsee yourself using the XML capabilities of the professional version, there a regular version called MindManager X5 is also available.

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