The developers of XMind recently introduced version 3.2, with a number of incremental improvements to its features and usability. Some of the main updates in this new version include:
New date and time selectors in the program’s task info pane. When you click on the “start” or “end” buttons in this pane, a calendar pops up and you can easily select the date you want. What’s nice is that today’s date is highlighted in a different color – a small usability enhancement, to be sure, but one that is appreciated, because it gives you a sense of context, of where you are right now (see image above right).
New “fit map” and “fit selection” commands enable you to optimize the zoom factor of your maps in the program’s workspace. The former zooms your map until it completely fills the workspace, while the latter takes any topics you have selected in the workspace (by dragging the cursor to select a rectangular region) and zooms them to fill the workspace. This feature is especially useful on larger mind maps.
Home map: In the program’s preferences, you can now select a “home map” that opens every time you start up XMind. If you have a master mind map that you utilize to manage your work, you will appreciate no longer having to manually open it every day.
A new overview viewer: When selected from the program’s “view” menu, it appears as a tab in a pane in the lower right corner of the workspace. It displays a high level view of your mind map, with the amout of the map that is currently displayed in the workspace outlined with a red box. You can easily drag and drop the red box in the viewer to show a different section of your mind map in the workspace. This is an essential tool for working with large mind maps in XMind.
What’s nice is that the developers don’t force this feature on you; you can easily add or remove nested tabs from this part of the user interface to customize it to your exact needs. What isn’t so good is that the overview viewer isn’t immediately visible on the “view” dropdown menu; you must click on the “other” command, which displays a hierarchical outline of the different tools that you can display in the tabbed properties area of the workspace. It would be nice if this new feature was one of the 6 default tools that are displayed when you first open the “view” menu. The same goes for tasks, which aren’t displayed by default in the tabbed properties panel or in the initial selection of 6 tools in the view menu. You have to dig for it, which is surprising, because I would think many users would want to use XMind’s task management capabilities.
It’s a minor complaint, but I don’t think that new or experienced users should have to hunt around to find the program’s new features. They should be intuitively obvious. I absolutely love the customizability of this properties panel – it’s great. But I think the developers may need to rethink how you access the dialog box to customize them.
Insert image from clipboard: Why is this a big deal? Often, if I’m looking for an image to enhance my mind maps, I must find one on a web page, save it to my computer’s hard drive, and then browse to find it and add it to my mind map. That’s the way it works in just about any other mind mapping program I’ve used. XMind version 3.2 makes this process much simpler. Step 1: Copy the image in your browser. Step 2: Paste it into your mind map.
Unlisted sharing of mind maps: XMind has supported the ability to upload maps directly to the developer’s XMind.net map sharing site for a while now. But version 3.2 adds the ability to upload your maps in a semi-private state – so that only the people to whom you send the map URL can view it. It will not be listed in search results or categories on XMind.net. Nice!
Enhanced search: XMind Pro 3.1’s powerful “search workbooks” feature, which enables you to search the contents of any open map workbooks, now adds support for any text contained in topic notes.
Enhanced export capabilities: The Windows version of XMind 3.2 can now export to the Office 2010 versions of Word and PowerPoint. In addition, when you export your map as an image in a PDF file, you can now select from a number of different page output sizes, using a dropdown menu. This should be appreciated by European users, who commonly utilize an A4 page size that is different than the 8-1/2 x 11 in. standard size paper in North America.
French and Spanish languages are now supported in XMind 3.2.
You can now use XMind Pro offline: XMind takes a unique approach to handling the Pro version’s license key information – it’s not stored with the program, but as part of your account on XMind.net. So when you started up the program, you had to sign in to XMind.net in order to access its more advanced features (assuming you had purchased a Pro subscription). It’s a nice way to encourage users to access the developer’s map gallery. But what if you were working somewhere with XMind on a laptop that didn’t have access to the Internet? You were forced to use XMind in its basic mode.
Version 3.2 now gives you the option to “remember me on this computer,” which transfers your license data to your PC. Now you can access all of the power of XMind Pro, without having to login to XMind.net.
Some of you may read this post and say, “There’s nothing earth-shattering here. Just a bunch of features that are similar to what other programs already offer.” And to a certain extent, you’re correct. But keep in mind the power of constant, incremental improvement. Since it’s introduction in 2007, XMind has steadily gotten better and better, and has pushed its way into the top tier of mind mapping software programs. It now has over 500,000 users. I’m not surprised.
I think a number of my fellow mind mapping bloggers assumed that when XMind introduced a free, open source version, this move would undermine its business model – if you’re giving your program away, how can you make any money and continue development of it? But XMind has proved its critics wrong, producing a terrific free version that satisfies the needs of many people, while giving them an affordable paid version to move up to when their needs outgrow the basic version. And its developer release updates and improvements 3 to 4 times a year, far more often than many of its competitors.
In case you can’t tell, XMind continues to impress me. It offers a nice selection of features in a well-presented, easy to use interface. The free, basic version of XMind is hands down the program I recommend to first-time users of mind mapping. It’s way better than FreeMind, which seems to be evolving very slowly these days and which hasn’t yet addressed some fundamental usability problems.
I have exchanged numerous e-mails with the XMind development team over the last few years. They are genuinely enthusiastic about exposing as many people as possible to the power of mind mapping. It shows in their product! By the way, I don’t benefit from saying this about XMind. I just very much admire how they’re doing business and wish them continued success.