Free your mindmaps

by Volker Weber

I am not completely sold on mindmaps. Some of my friends are, others make fun of them. But all of them use MindManager in one form or another. There are older versions out there, which you can use for free. The program once started as freeware. Newer version are commercial software, a very successful one I believe. One problem haunts them all: The file formats are not compatible. Newer versions cannot even read all older formats. While the software runs on Windows, as wells as PocketPC and Palm Tungsten, it does not run on the Mac.

Enter FreeMind: FreeMind is a premier free mind-mapping software written in Java. Written in Java? Might run on the Mac. Indeed it does:


It does not follow the Mac style guide but it works. And that's not all. Instead of using a proprietary file format it stores everything as well-formed XML:

<map version="0.7.1">
<node TEXT="Root node">
<node TEXT="Child 1" POSITION="right">
<node TEXT="Grandchild 1"/>
<node TEXT="Child 2" POSITION="right"/>
<node TEXT="Child 3" POSITION="right"/>

That might come in handy if you want to turn your mindmap into something else. Today I read Martin Roell endorsing the software, which reminded me that I wanted to write about it for a long time. I played with Freemind a number of times already without ever really using it. On the Mac there is also one small usability problem. Freemind uses the insert key to create a new child node. A Mac however does not have an insert key. I need to poke around a bit to find a solution for that.

Update: Solved the insert key issue (see comments) and also was able to let it behave nicely in a Mac environment (screenshot).


You might want to launch the program differently - there's probably some shell script to start it, and if you add

-Xdock:name=FreeMind -Dapple.laf.useScreenMenuBar=true

to the java command that launches it (before any other arguments), it'll probably look *much* better ;-)

Stefan Tilkov, 2004-02-24

Indeed, it moves the menu bar to the screen menu. However I am still unable to size the window to a different height.

Volker Weber, 2004-02-24

OK, so I downloaded it and tried it myself; I can resize the main window without problems ... strange. My JDK version is 1.4.2_03, latest Panther/all updates except the last security patch (downloading now) applied.

Stefan Tilkov, 2004-02-24

Nice - seems as good as ConceptDraw MINDMAP Pro 2.0, for which I paid quite a tidy sum. A good tip.

The window resizes for me, but only if it remains larger than a certain mimum size - smaller than about 1/2 my screen area it will not go.

John, 2004-02-24

Freemind is indeed a nice piece of software. You could use CTRL-n to create a new node, at least with WinXP.

sascha, 2004-02-24

I fixed the insert problem. In your /freemind directory there is a file. I simply switched around two keyboard shortcuts:

##New node commands#keystroke_add = ENTERkeystroke_add_child = shift ENTERkeystroke_add_sibling_before = INSERT

Still working on the resize. I am on a 1024x768 screen here.

Volker Weber, 2004-02-24

That was easy. The file contains the rest of the settings. :-)

Volker Weber, 2004-02-24

And there is even more: Freemind-to-MindManager, MindManger-to-Freemind and Freemind-to-DocBook juggling using XSL transformations. As mentioned in

and detailed in

Haiko, 2004-02-25

MyMind may be worth a look, too. It's a native Mac app, donationware.

Christian Bogen, 2004-02-25

BTW, Volker, the 1024x768 pop-up window for the (2nd) screenshot isn't very 1024x768-screen-size-friendly ... ;-)

Christian Bogen, 2004-02-25

Have a look on

It's very intuitive and Mac-like.

Dennis, 2004-02-25

I use Freemind under WinXP and it is a truly beautiful program. Much better than the freeware versions of MindManager and much smaller than the commercial versions for the same functionality.
One of the things that Mindmaps suffer from is that they cannot easily be reduced to work schedules or calendars. Anybody know of anyone working in this sphere. A mindmap is just a more eye friendly treeview, so sticking a tableview beside that would give the possibility of a Gantt chart.

Paul Hanlon, 2005-02-22

I like freemind on the Mac, but the problem is my iBook doesnt have an "Insert" key, meaning I need to use the mouse to create a mindmap.

Did you check out .80 RC2? It has a nice icon finnally for the mac, and is distributed as a .dmg.

James O'Donnell, 2005-04-05

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