Mind-mapping is a form of visual outlining that can help you get a better overview of your projects, open your mind when brainstorming, take notes, and organize disparate ideas easily. Unlike text-based outlines, mind maps don't lock you into a rigid vertical structure: you can move items around, change their spatial relationships, and link them as you want.
A number of Mac programs let you make mind maps, and NovaMind 4.0.11 Pro is one of the most graphically advanced of these mind-mapping tools. You can start with a blank document, or get inspiration from one of a dozen preset templates, which contain formatted items that you can fill in, replace, and add to. You can also use RapidFire mode [renamed BranchStorm in version 4.1.14 of the software], which is great for brainstorming and note-taking. With this feature, you just type ideas and press the Return key after each one; when you’ve finished, each idea appears on its own branch. You’re then free to move them around, change their connections, and format them in any way you want.
The number of options for embellishing your documents is stunning, and can in fact be confusing. You can set your own styles for text, branches, links, graphics, backgrounds, and much more. More than a dozen palettes—that can sit in the program’s window or be dragged off to float on your desktop—let you access all these formatting options.
In addition to basic formatting—font styles, colors, borders, and links—you can add graphics to your mind maps. Import your own graphics, or use the more than 1,400 graphics available for download from the NovaMind Web site. Some of these are large graphics that stand out and illustrate ideas, and others are tiny adornments, which you can use to mark up your mind maps.
One useful feature in NovaMind is its ability to pack multiple mind maps into a single document; just create a new tab and you can start building a new mind map.
While the program is powerful, its graphic options may be overkill for some. Each type of item in a mind map has many options, and the numerous palettes can be confusing. However, when you’ve mastered the complex graphics, you can save your favorite layout as a template so you don’t have to keep tweaking new mind maps.
In addition, the program focuses on its graphic display; while it does have a text outline view, you can only view the outline, not reorder it as you can with some programs, such as Inspiration 8 ( ). You can add notes to any part of your mind map; formatting options are limited, but sufficient for most cases.
The program offers a full-screen mode, but what you get may not be what you may expect if you've used one of the many text programs that offer a similarly named mode. NovaMind's full-screen mode simply zooms the program's window and hides the menu bar, but retains its title bar. And one annoyance when working with large mind maps is that when you close a document and then reopen it, the program doesn’t remember the window's previous size; all documents reopen in cramped windows, regardless of their contents.
NovaMind has excellent printing options, allowing you to add headers and footers, crop marks, and borders, and you can export documents in a variety of graphic formats. NovaMind documents are also Spotlight-searchable.
The program comes with very good documentation, and an excellent set of tutorials, which, in both text and video form, introduce new users to the concepts of mind maps and the specific features of NovaMind.
Macworld’s buying advice
NovaMind 4.0.11 Pro is a powerful program designed for experienced mind-mappers. If you’re just getting into this method of organizing ideas, you may find the graphics options overwhelming. But the ability to create templates is a boon for those who use mind maps regularly, and if you take the time to discover all the program's graphical options, you can make a template that is perfect for your style. NovaMind is a bit pricey, but those who are familiar with mind maps will find it worth the money.
[ Kirk McElhearn writes more than just computer books and articles. His blog, Kirkville, talks about Macs, iPods, and much more. ]
[ EDITOR’S NOTE: This review was modified to indicate the author tested version 4.0.11 of the software; this change did not affect the product’s mouse rating. ]NovaMind lets you make colorful or simple outlines, in any style you want.