XMind: A Cross-platform Mind-mapping Solution

XMind splash screen

The human mind can be a beautiful thing. Great human minds have constructed towering structures, synthesized cures for diseases, and created works of art that inspire millions with hope and compassion. But even the best of minds need a little help, and often times, the more a person has floating around in his/her mind, the more likely it is to become a jumbled mess.

Mind-mapping is a way to organize one’s thoughts before taking action. One excellent free and open source mind-mappoing solution is XMind. Whether you need to brainstorm, create an outline, or even design an organizational chart, XMind is the perfect tool for the job.

Getting XMind

XMind is currently available for free download for Windows, Mac OS X, Debian/Ubuntu Linux, and in source code. The website also offers a portable version for Windows, Mac, and Linux all in one package, convenient for USB drives, and optional “XMind Pro” subscription services that add some advanced features.

XMind full view

Getting Started

Once you have XMind installed, you can get started right away. It will first ask you if you want to log in, enabling some of its participatory features. This is completely optional, and XMind will work whether you are connected to the Internet or not.

Central topic balloon

The initial screen will present you with the default balloon with the title “Central Topic”. To change the title, press the Spacebar. Type in the new title and press Enter.

To make a “main topic” press enter again. You will see it branch off from the central topic. If you press enter again, another main topic will appear off the central topic. Press the tab key to create a subtopic under one of the main topics. You can also make numerous subtopics using the same method. All of this makes it easy to get your mind juices flowing without taking your hands away from the keyboard.


XMind comes with a number of useful features:

  • Several different structure options, including map (the default), fishbone, spreadsheet, org, tree, and logic chart.
  • Style elements such as font type, size, weight, color, alignment, shape of topic balloons, line type, and numbering.
  • Global style elements like wallpaper, legend, branch colors, and tapered lines.
  • The ability to add special notes to topics.
  • Relationship markers to show topic correlation.
  • Topic attachments for various file types.
  • Topic summaries.
  • Multiple sheets in a “workbook” with sheet thumbnails for easy identification.
  • Predesigned templates for brainstorming, meetings, organizational charts, project management, reading journals, and personal management.
  • Markers with both icons and color coding to categorize and classify.
  • Export support for multiple formats, including HTML and Images.

Participatory Component

XMind takes mind-mapping a step beyond individual mind-mapping with its online services and features. One of its useful free services is called XMind Share, which allows users to upload their mind maps and share them freely with the public. Other users can then view, comment, and even download those mind maps.

Participatory culture mind map

Mind-mapping Made Easy

Overall, XMind is easy to use and has certainly helped me organize my thoughts better, particularly when I am writing something that is longer than a few pages and/or requires research. It is also very useful when planning events or organizing a group of people on a project. For students who need help brainstorming and outlining for writing, XMind can take their work to the next level. Ultimately, the ability to use it in presentations or share it with the world sets XMind apart from other mind-mapping software. Best of all XMind is free and open source.

What other mind-mapping software do you use?

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