XMIND 2008 Pro Offers a Great set of Features, Impressive Ease of Use

XMIND, developed by Mango Software of Beijing, China, is one of the newest entrants in the field of mind mapping software. And it aims to be one of the best, if XMIND 2008 Pro is any indication. This latest iteration of XMIND offers an impressive collection of well thought-out, easy-to-use features in a polished, professional user interface. Look out, MindManager!

In this “first look” review, we’ll take a detailed look at what makes XMIND 2008 Pro so remarkable, and what it means to you, the business user.

The user interface

The XMIND 2008 user interface consists of a large workspace, with a toolbar across the top and tabbed dialog boxes running down the right side of the screen. Starting at the top of the dialog boxes is an outline view, which displays the contents of your map in a hierarchical outline. Scrolling to the right reveals a table of metadata for each topic, including priority, task completion, URL and any flags attached to the topic. This is quite nice, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to adjust the width of the dialog box so that more of this valuable content can be displayed on the screen.

Below the outline view is a context-sensitive properties dialog box. If no topic is selected, it displays the options for modifying the map background and a check box that allows you to decide whether or not you want a legend displayed with your map. If a topic is selected, the properties pane shows settings for adjusting the font and text color, the topic shape, connector line settings and topic numbering options.

Below that is a markers pane, which includes graphical markers, task completion symbols and a variety of other small images that you can use to individualize your map.

Adding topics to your map

To add a topic to your map, you simply begin typing and then hit the enter key. Hitting the enter key again opens a new topic at the same level as the last one – an intuitive and quick way to add topics to your map. XMIND 2008 also supports using the insert key to add topics – the de facto standard for most mind mapping programs.

Right clicking on any topic reveals a rich set of commands for adjusting the properties of it – everything from adding markers and attachments to notes and more.

Adding notes is accomplished by right clicking on a topic and selecting the “notes” command. XMIND 2008 doesn’t open an entire window pane as many mind mapping programs do, but only a small rectangular, floating box – a much better use of screen real estate, in my opinion. When you’re done, you simply click in a blank area of the map workspace, and the notes window disappears. It’s nice not to have to toggle off a notes window display! When you hover your mouse over a topic that has a note, the text of the note is automatically displayed as a tool tip – a small, rectangular pop-up. This is a very elegant way to preview what a topic note contains, without having to actually open it. This feature is representative of the deep thought that has gone into the usability of XMIND 2008.

You can also add a text “label” to any map topic. This appears in a narrow rectangular yellow box below the topic; the text it contains is about half the font size of the topic above it. As you add labels, XMIND suggests names based on the other labels within your map. Based on the developer’s explanation of this feature, it appears to act like a form of meta data, giving you a unique and potentially powerful way to classify and add context to your topics. This also gives you another way to filter your map’s content – nice!

Types of maps

XMIND 2008 Pro supports an amazing variety of visual map types – everything from a traditional mind map and organizational chart to a fishbone diagram (used to show cause and effect) and logic diagrams. If you do a lot of diagramming, you may find this flexibility very attractive.

Handling of attachments

XMIND 2008 Pro treats attachments as topics, which means that any number of different properties can be assigned to them. You can drag and drop files into the XMIND workspace, attaching them to a topic or making them free floating. Attachments automatically travel with your XMIND files, making it easier to share your maps with others. It’s nice that XMIND does this automatically, without you having to even think about it.

New features in XMIND 2008 Pro

Here’s a summary of some of the newest features added to XMIND 2008 Pro:

Attach audio notes to topics: You can record an audio clip from within XMIND 2008 Pro; when you’re done recording, it appears as an attachment to the currently selected topic. Simple and effective – nice!

Map shot: This feature enables you to take a “snapshot” of part or all of your map – an image that can then be loaded into another program, like Microsoft Word. It’s a fast way to pull your map’s contents into another program, without having to export it.

Drilldown: You can focus in one section of your map, with the currently selected branch displayed as the central topic. This is a feature that Inspiration has had for years, and I have always loved it – because it allows you to make all other extraneous distractions disappear, so you can focus your full attention on adding details to one topic or section of your map. You can invoke this feature by right-clicking on a topic and then selecting the “drilldown” command. While you’re in “drilldown” mode, your currently selected topic displays a green “up arrow” next to its text. To “drillout” and display your full map once again, you simply click on that arrow. Very cool!

Search from within XMIND Pro: You can search for topics or images on the Web from within your map. Search results appear in a mini-browser window, from which you can drag and drop content into your map. I like this seamless integration of mind mapping and web searching, especially since many users will undoubtedly be using XMIND to capture the results of web research.

Concept maps: You can create a set of free floating topics, and then make whatever connections between them that you desire. You’re not constrained to having one central topic.

Conclusion

In XMIND 2008 Pro, Mango Software has succeeded in creating a mind mapping program that deserves your attention. It offers numerous productivity features, unrivalled ease of use and several surprising “why didn’t anyone else think of that?” features. If you’re looking for a way to organize your work and your life, but don’t want to scale a big learning curve, then XMIND 2008 Pro should be on your short list of programs to evaluate. A 21-day trial version is available for download and is a great way to try out his well-designed mind mapping program. It will cost you US$199 to buy; a basic version is also available for US$99.

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