FRAMINGHAM, 20 AUGUST 2010 - Mindjet's MindManager 9, which helps you create visual diagrams of your thinking, may seem far more esoteric than Microsoft Office. But it's actually in a similar predicament to Microsoft's (MSFT) ubiquitous productivity suite.
Just like Office, most of the basic functionality in MindManager has seen little change for years now. And, like Office, MindManager (which costs $349 for a single license and $179 for an upgrade) is facing competition from competent products that are free or cheap. (My favorite, XMind, is free and works on Windows, Mac and Linux systems.)
So what is Mindjet doing to keep people paying for a function they could get for free? The latest version adds automatic Gantt charts to diagram tasks in your maps and doubles down on its integration with that other embattled category leader, Office.
MindManager is perhaps the most powerful mind-mapping program available. But the upgrades in this version are less than compelling. The Gantt map functionality works smoothly and should be a boon to serious project managers, but many of the other additions are of minor significance or limited value.
Much of what Mindjet is touting about MindManager 9 is its integration with Office. For instance, if you're a fan of Office's ribbon interface, you'll feel right at home in MindManager, which apes much of that interface, even including the redesigned File menu area found in Office 2010.
You can also suck information - email messages, tasks, appointments and contacts - directly from Outlook into MindManager. As technology, this is powerful and impressive. You can choose preprogrammed queries, like Today's Tasks or New Contacts, or you can build your own query to get custom data.
It all worked fairly seamlessly, but I have a hard time imagining how I'd use it in real life. Most of the content in Outlook, like email messages and appointments, makes sense to view in Outlook, not in a mind map. The one exception is tasks. Mind maps can be great for managing a to-do list, but, even though MindManager syncs data with Outlook, I think that most users would want to manage their tasks in one program or the other, not in both simultaneously.
Keeping Tabs on Projects
MindManager has had the ability to track tasks, including deadlines and resources, for awhile now. MindManager 8 even introduced a feature that allowed you to make one task dependent on another and automatically push back the finish time of a whole project if one constituent task is delayed. The latest version of the product doesn't change the task functionality within maps significantly, but it does add a new Gantt view. The function works effortlessly and those Gantt bar charts provide a good alternative way of judging whether you're on track with a project. You can also export the data to Microsoft Project.
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