Wednesday, April 04, 2007

ConceptDraw MINDMAP Review

I have been using mindmapping software ever since Jorge Kanahuati introduced me to Mindjet's MindManager sometime in the early 2000's in Baja California, Mexico. At that day long planning exercise Jorge took masterful notes throughout the day using MindManager. At the end of the day he was able to visually represent the meeting to the participants and walk participants through a process by which we came as a group to consensus on our collective conclusions. I was sold at that point on mindmapping but Mindjet wasn't cross-platform, I was using a Mac and began to search for cross-platform solutions. Surprisingly, there are several. Of those, ConceptDraw MINDMAP definitely deserves a look.

At its core, mindmapping software is relatively simple stuff. All the programs allow you to create visualizations of a conversation, a plan or a strategy, with text boxes hierarchically linked by lines. At this level what distinguishes the programs is how elegantly they're able to draw the boxes and connecting lines--not a lot from which to differentiate a program. ConceptDraw seems to have placed itself on the visually more interesting end of the spectrum. Ideas within the ConceptDraw MINDMAP are automatically linked with colorful and flowing lines versus MindManager which produces more conservative and "corporate" looking results. I tend to prefer the aesthetic that MindManager presents and initially found MINDMAP's interface visually overwhelming, with a tremendous number of generic clip-art icon presented as options around the edges of the screen. But you can ignore all that stuff and just make use of the drawing tools to enhance your mindmaps. As I use the product more I'll provide some more details of how well these tools work in practice. But so far so good.

Years ago I used ConceptDraw's initial product, now at v6, a diagramming package with vector drawing tools, libraries of pre-drawn shapes, scripting language etc. ConceptDraw MINDMAP distinguishes itself from other mindmapping products by its origin and home in the ConceptDraw family of products--all efficient programs targeted at the visualization needs of businesses.

One of the ways that I currently use MindManager is in combination with two tools I use frequently. FastTrack , the cross-platform project management product, imports MindManager files. The GTD (Getting Things Done) tools made by Gyronix make use of the MindManager engine. What I hadn't realized is that ConceptDraw's own cross-platform project management tool , ConceptDraw Project, will similarly import MINDMAP files. While I haven't used ConceptDraw Project as much as FastTrack yet, it appears to be excellent at rendering visually satisfying GANTT charts and to have fewer of the interface quirks that still sometimes trip me up on FastTrack. I'll report more about this later when I've made a bit more use of the product.

As with any of these tools, it is entirely up to the user whether their visual presentations are effective and beautiful or visual smorgasbords that obscure and confuse. The ConceptDraw suite provides powerful tools for users to go far, for better or worse in the direction of their choosing.

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