FreeMind – Order from Chaos

It is nearly 20 years since I was introduced to the book that was to change my career – “Use Your Head” by Tony Buzan.

In about 150 pages, this tome taught me to bring order to the chaos of my thoughts, solve problems effectively and make detailed plans. In short, it introduced me to the mind map.

If you don’t know mind maps, they are an excellent way of allowing you to simultaneously analyse and record information. There is an example further down.

Working almost continuously with IT, it has always grated me that I had to resort to paper and pencil whenever I wanted to produce a mind map. I have tried several packages over the years and even resorted to drawing mind maps laboriously in Microsoft Powerpoint, but none really suited.

One of the beauties of a mind map is the speed at which it allows you to collate ideas and areas for investigation. The last thing you want is to break your stream of thought to decide “what type of node is this?” or “is this the right join type to allow me to link another topic later?”. Capturing the thought or the essence of a subject is key to creating a mind map and I worry about the formatting later.

Freemind has two great advantages over the competition:

  • There are no licensing costs
  • It is really quick and easy to use

Whilst it lacks some of the features of the heavyweight alternatives it contains all the basics. Building your first map is very easy: Create a map and rename your root node. Press insert and your first child appears. Enter adds a second child. Insert again creates a sibling. Enter again and the sibling has company. Need an arrow to link two concepts? Hold shift, click both and Ctrl + L. Format the link by right clicking it and using the drop down menu. Congratulations – you’ve created your first mind map!

Sample Mind Map

This is a great leap onwards from the elegant hand illustrated maps included in Buzan’s book, and illustrations and links can be added later.

Freemind also includes a variety of icons to emphasise your points and can import pictures from external files should you feel the need.

Freemind runs on a Java base so it may not suit everyone, but the other requirements are quite minimal for a modern program. It certainly gave no trouble to the author downloading and installing it from one of its mirrors. As a tool for creating fast, basic mind maps, it’s hard to beat.

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