Mind-mapping is a useful way to organize your thoughts and process flow with visual diagrams. When done properly, it can make massive projects easily manageable and allow you to better allocate tasks between the members of your team, while always keeping tags on everything. Freeplane is one of the best free open-source mind-mapping software. It is also cross-platform compatible, so you can use it in Windows, macOS or Linux. Let’s see how you can use Freeplane to create mind maps.
To get started, download Freeplane from its official page at SourceForge. Extract it and find the installer for Windows, Mac and Linux.
- For Windows users, run the .exe file.
- Linux and Mac users can run the .sh file or the .jar file directly.
If you are using an Ubuntu-compatible distribution, install Freeplane by searching for it in Software Center and then clicking on the big, friendly, green “Install” button.
Alternatively, if you prefer the terminal, use:
Your First Mind-map
When you first run Freeplane, it will create a new, blank mind-map. Before that, though, it will prompt you to select a template for its appearance.
After you click “OK,” you will see Freeplane’s main interface, with most of its window taken up by your new mind-map. At its center will be your starting point and title of your mind-map.
Double-click on this “New Mind-map” default title to edit it. Change it to whatever you wish.
Topics, Subtopics, and Nodes
With your main topic/central point selected, press Enter on your keyboard to add a new topic. You can change its name directly or press Enter again to add more topics on the same level.
If you don’t enter names for the new topics you add, you can either double-click them as you did for the central topic or move around your mind-map using the cursor keys. Press F2 on any highlighted entry to rename it.
Press Insert on your keyboard to insert a subtopic to the highlighted one. All editable entries on your mind-map that connect to others are called “nodes.”
Although Freeplane will move things around trying to keep everything looking clean, you can also do it manually by clicking directly on the left of any entry (on the ellipse that will appear), and then dragging it where you want it.
If your mind map becomes too large and convoluted, you can collapse some nodes. Hover over a node and a little circle with a “-” icon will appear. Click on it and all sub-nodes will be hidden until you click on the “+” icon that replaced it.
Connections, Notes, and Reminders
Although your mind-map will present nodes within nodes, some of them might also relate outside of their inherited hierarchy. To connect them to show that relation visually, select the first one, then while holding Ctrl, click on the second one. Right-click and choose “Connect” from the menu that appears.
You can change the placement of this connection by clicking on its curve and dragging it around.
To keep everything clean, avoid using long names for your nodes. Instead, if you need to add more details, right-click on them and choose “Edit note in dialog.”
Enter a note that describes what it’s about” in the simple text editor that appears.
To add visual flair to your nodes, note the hidden pane on the left. Click on the arrow pointing to the right to expand it. Then, with a node selected, choose the icon you want to appear next to it.
There’s another hidden pane on the right where you will find far more options that will allow you to change the appearance of every element in your mind-map. For example, you can even change the shape of a node by enabling “Change” under “Node shape” and then choosing a shape from the drop-down menu, changing its margin, etc.
The “Calendar” tab in this pane will also allow you to set up reminders for each node, enabling you to use Freeplane as a real task manager.
Finally, you can save your map from “File -> Save map as … ” to come back to it later. If you’re collaborating with others, though, you can send them your mind-map in a format they can see without having to install this mind-mapping software themselves. Choose “File -> Export map … ” and your preferred format from the drop-down menu.
If for some reason you don’t like Freeplane as a mind-mapping software, you can try using Google Drawings to create some mind-maps – though it’s not optimal for that use.
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