Tools Of The Trade: The Mindjet MindManager Pro 6

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The Independent Online

Computers should be good at turning data into strong visuals, but quite often the software is too rigid to support creative thinking or too complex for the general business user to bother to learn.

MindManager Pro 6, from the German company Mindjet, aims to overcome both these limitations. The software helps create "business maps". Instead of a linear list of information - such as minutes from a meeting - MindManager makes it easy to create a visual map of the points raised and to add comments and connections between them.

Doing mind maps with the software is almost as straightforward as sketching them out with pen and paper, but the results look far more professional. And a computer also makes easy work of creating multiple charts from the same basic information.

Someone with good freehand drawing skills could no doubt do the job just as easily using a drawing package such as Adobe Illustrator. But MindManager offers a number of advantages.

The application comes with several predesigned mind-map templates, including an organisational chart, for the minutes of a meeting and for decision-making. Users can also make their own templates and use these as the basis for new projects.

Alternatively, they can assemble charts from a list. This is simple and quick: type in the required items and MindManager creates icons on the page. It is then easy to use the drawing tools to add links between the fields, and to add comments.

MindManager's interface follows the conventions for standard business applications, but is able to offer a good range of features without cluttering the screen.

The software also integrates with other sources of information, including Microsoft Word documents, PDF files, content from the internet and the user's hard drive. Adding a hyperlink to a map takes a few mouse clicks.

The links are stored in the MindManager file, so anyone who receives a map can open the file just by clicking on a button. The Pro version of MindManager, reviewed here, can also embed sections from Excel spreadsheets directly into a map. If the figures in the spreadsheet change, they will update in the map, too.

This makes MindManager a versatile tool for anyone who either likes to work through a problem in a visual way, or needs to create structured diagrams for presentations or meetings. It is far more flexible than the graphics elements in either Excel or PowerPoint, but is simple enough to learn in an afternoon.

RATING: 4 out of 5.

PROS: easy to learn, powerful visualisation tools, flexible.

CONS: Pro version is needed to unlock its full power.

COST: £199 plus VAT.