FreeMind is a free tool for handling mind mapping. Mind mapping is one of the hot buzzwords in organizing information. Conceptually, you use a mind map to visually organize just about anything you might normally put on a to-do list or in an outline. At the center of your mind map you post the core idea you want to map. Traditional outlining tools assume everything is linear, with a major concept gradually sub-divided by various headings, subheadings, and details about each of the subheadings. In a traditional outline, if you have 10 headings, it may be tough to see them all simultaneously because the subheadings for the first few points likely push the later ones of the screen or on to the next page. With a mind map, the center of the screen or page becomes the central idea, with headings and subheadings spreading out providing an easy view of the core concepts with an expansive view of any one concept available for quickly accessing the small details that make up the bigger concepts.
FreeMind supports all the basics of mind mapping, providing a mechanism for organizing ideas and outlines into nodes and sub-nodes, gradually spidering your personal universe of information about a topic from the center. The app is somewhat basic, lacking integration with apps like Microsoft Office or OpenOffice, which makes importing existing organizational items somewhat challenging. For these more advanced features, a commercial app like MindMapper may be in order. FreeMind does do a good job of importing outlines from apps like MS Word using copy and paste. If you already have an outline in place, FreeMind does a good job of retro-fitting that outline to a mind map without too much need for correcting misplaced items. FreeMind supports imbedded links, making mind maps an easy way to reference Web pages. Navigation supports map folding, which is similar to the idea of an expanding folder list in Windows where clicking on the top level folder reveals its contents. Custom icons may be used to help designate specific node types within the mind map. For my own mind mapping needs, I'm finding FreeMind to be more than adequate, readily supporting my organizational hierarchies and replacing some of the other crutches I typically use for keeping my ideas organized. I find it to be a particularly useful way to outline book concepts and am currently experimenting with how a mind map might work for laying the foundation for something like a fictional work. FreeMind does support exporting a mind map as HTML text or as a map viewable through a custom Java applet. [Windows/Linux/ Mac OS X $0.00]