Sometimes, you run into a problem that you just can’t work through with mental brute force alone. Brainstorming with others works, but that’s not always an option.
One popular and effective way of beating a problem or releasing your creativity is mindmapping. While you can go old school and use pen and paper, there is quite a bit of mindmapping software out there for the desktop and on the web.
There are a number of really solid mindmapping tools for the Linux desktop. Let’s take a closer look at three of them.
FreeMind is probably the best-known Open Source mindmapping tool out there. And it’s definitely the most powerful.
Even though it is powerful, FreeMind is fairly easy to use. Every function you need is available from a right-click menu. You can add branches to (called nodes) to your mindmap, insert images, apply formatting, and even incorporate hyperlinks.
What really gives FreeMind a lot of flexibility are its plugins. One of the most useful is the plugin to export a mindmap to PDF or SVG. Even if you don’t want to use those plugins, though, you can export a mindmap to a number of other formats including XHTML, a Java applet, Flash, JPEG or PNG, or even an OpenOffice.org Writer document or a page for Twiki (a popular wiki engine).
VYM is short for View Your Mind and is quite a bit easier to use than FreeMind. A big part of that comes from its very clean, almost stripped-down interface.
As with FreeMind, all of the functions you need – adding nodes, inserting links and images, and changing line styles – are available with a right click.
One noticeable way in which VYM differs from FreeMind is how colorful many of the elements of a mindmap are by default. With FreeMind, you need to manually set colors for nodes and connectors. In VYM, they’re automatically colored. You can, however, change the colors if you need to.
VYM’s export function isn’t as flexible as that of FreeMind, but it does do a pretty good job depending on the format you choose. Those formats include OpenOffice.org Impress documents, XHTML, several image formats, LaTeX, and XML. Your best options are XHTML and the image formats.
If you use the GNOME desktop manager and are looking for a simple mindmapping tool then you should give Labyrinth a look. While it lacks many of the bells and whistles in FreeMind and VYM, Labyrinth gets the job done.
While it’s easy to use, Labyrinth takes a bit of getting used to. Especially if you’ve used other mindmapping software. Forget about right-click menus. You add nodes by clicking somewhere in the editing area and then typing the label for the node. If you want to add a child, you need to click on the parent node first and then click in the editing area to create the new node. It’s a bit confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it editing in Labyrinth is fairly easy.
The mindmaps that you create with Labyrinth are like the application: very simple. You can add images to your mindmaps and export them in the following formats: PNG, JPEG, SVG, and PDF.
One feature that you’ll like about Labyrinth is map manager. When you launch Labyrinth, you get a window listing all of your existing mindmaps. No need to go hunting through a file explorer to try to find the one that you want.
Mindmapping is a great way to unleash your creativity and to clear any mental log jams. The right tool, when properly used, can help. And it can make the process of creating and using mindmaps even more enjoyable.
Photo credit: dumbledad