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FreeMind: Mind Mapping Tool For Project Management

written by: Venkatraman • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 7/6/2011

FreeMind is a free mind mapping application written in Java and licensed under GNU GPL license. Most mind mapping products allow the user to edit a hierarchical set of ideas, which is useful in brainstroming. FreeMind, besides serving this purpose, is also an excellent tool for project management.

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    What is Mind Mapping?

    The simplest way to define the concept of mind mapping is, it is a technique for arranging ideas and their interconnections visually - as our mind would draw up internally. This concept is very closely linked to brainstorming, which again is a process of divergent thinking adopted to lead us to some convergent analysis. Though the concept of mind mapping is not new to mankind, the credit for giving shape to this concept in the late 1960's goes to Tony Buzan.

    Essentially the ingredients you need for creating a mind map manually are - 1) a blank sheet of unruled paper, 2) some color pencils and pens, 3) a brain and 4) imagination. With these aids, you are ready to start off on mind mapping!!. It is as simple as that.

    Mind mapping can be used in practically any situation where graphical representation of your thoughts can be utilized for improved learning and clearer thinking. Conventionally, brainstorming exercises are considered ideal candidates for mind maps. But examples of areas where mind mapping is used, especially in the past decade, are innumerable. Application areas for mind maps range from preparing for exams to learning a new language, to student learning characteristics, to conceptualizing articles to be written on blogs to studying the characteristics of aspirin and other salicylates to writing out job descriptions to devising corporate strategies. The list can be endless. Some of the example areas where mind maps can be used are illustrated here.

    MindMapGuidlines  Student Learning characteristics  Aspirin and other Salicylates 

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    Overview of FreeMind

    FreeMind is a free open-source application, developed by Jörg Müller, Daniel Polansky, Petr Novak, Christian Foltin, Dimitri Polivaev, et al for meeting the needs of mind mapping on a computer terminal, instead of charting out the mind map on a piece of paper. There are several mind mapping software packages available in the market, such as:

    Free Software:

    • Compendium
    • Wikkawiki
    • VUE
    • XMind etc...

    Proprietary Software:

    • MindGenius
    • MindMapper
    • Inspiration
    • NovaMind
    • VisualMind etc...

    Written in Java for cross-platform portability, FreeMind is licensed under GNU General Public License, and is available under Microsoft Windows, Linux and MacOS with Java Runtime Environment.

    The current stable version is FreeMind 0.8.1 released on Feb 27, 2008.

    The subsequent preview release, FreeMind 0.9.0 RC3 has been available on beta since Mar 09, 2009 and the new RC4 since May 22, 2009.

    FreeMind has made it as the finalist for the 2009 Community Choice Award in the category of "Most likely to change the way you do everything"!!

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    Pros and Cons of FreeMind

    FreeMind, being an open source free software, you can download it free and start using it for your mind mapping or brainstorming needs immediately. I would suggest you try the stable bug fix release FreeMind 0.8.1 first.


    The whole exercise of brainstorming is depicted visually through a central core, a set of nodes and linking lines. The tree can be expanded through child nodes, sibling nodes and parent nodes. The very first feature that strikes you is the way online Help documentation is laid out. This itself is in a mind map format, gets you started very easily, and is extremely useful as you startFreemind Help Documentation  expanding your mind map with branches.

    Other excellent features that have made FreeMind such a popular package are:

    • Used friendliness and ease of use: The entire process is quite intuitive, and the online help comes in very handy.
    • Folding / unfolding of all branches from node - with a single click. This is very useful when you want to concentrate on one section of your mind map, and do not want to be distracted by other section details. This also makes the map look more manageable since you don't need to scroll up and down through cluttered branches.
    • You can store links to files on your own computer, or store hyperlinks to URLs on the Internet, and this feature is fully functional.
    • Excellent copy-paste functions and Drag'nDrop functions, allowing copying of content from external files (even from your Outlook messages; I found it very handy). You can even copy a list of selected files.
    • FreeMind stores all maps in XML format, making it that much easier in case you decide to port your maps to other software, so long as it supports Visual Basic scripting facility

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    This page, besides presenting some of the shortcomings of FreeMind, goes into the details of how FreeMind can be used for project management when drawing up projects for mind mapping and brainstorming initiatives. It explains about the attribute feature in FreeMind and how the attributes can be used for planning, monitoring and control.
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    Some areas where FreeMind could have helped more (I understand some of these are being addressed in future releases) are:

    • While FreeMind has a fairly good collection of icons that make your mind map come to life visually, it does not support embedding of pictures from external files. Thus when you are carrying your map along for a presentation, you must not forget to carry the image files separately or in a zip folder.
    • I wish FreeMind supported multi-user capability. This would have been extremely useful when you want your staff to update the same mind map with latest status from different branch offices.
    • With FreeMind 0.8.1, while you can chart all the activities of a project, you really cannot use it for project management. This feature is now addressed in the preview release 0.9.0. We will talk about this in the next paragraph.
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    Project Management Features

    Now we come to the most crucial feature of FreeMind. As mentioned in the beginning, besides its use for mind mapping and brainstorming initiatives, FreeMind can also be used productively for project management. This feature is available only in the present beta release, FreeMind 0.9.0. This release has many exciting features including WYSIWYG editing for nodes, scripting, filters, attributes etc...

    Mind Map with Attributes for Project Management Our interest here is mainly with the "attribute" feature which has been added, and the related scripting. An attribute, essentially provides a new perspective to the node, by including new parameters which can be used for filtering and viewing nodes and the mind map selectively. Thus we can define attributes like task name or task id, effort, start date, resource , predecessor and enter different values of these attributes for different nodes. Combine this concept with breaking up the map into nodes for tasks, resources and accounts, with actual tasks appearing as task sub-nodes, resources as resource sub-nodes etc..SAP Implementation Project with FreeMind 

    Then what we need is to be able to associate the attributes under the task sub-nodes with the attributes under the resource sub-nodes, to be able to come up with a project plan. This can be done using such a mind map in conjunction with Task Juggler , an open-source project management tool for Linux, and you have a complete project management capability built into FreeMind. This is what really gives FreeMind the exciting capability to "possibly change the way we do everything". I will be looking forward to a time when we can use FreeMind to manage a complex SAP implementation project covering planning, scheduling, monitoring and control.

    I am quite sure this will not be a faraway dream, given all the features and capabilities getting built into FreeMind.