Useful multiplatform mental mapping software

Mind mapping is a useful way to organize your thoughts and process flow with visual diagrams. When done correctly, it can easily handle massive projects and allow you to better distribute tasks among your team members, while still keeping tags on everything. Freeplane is one of the best free open source mind mapping software. It is also compatible with several platforms, so you can use it on Windows, macOS or Linux. Let’s see how you can use Freeplane to create mind maps.

Installation

To get started, download Freeplane from its official page on SourceForge. Extract it and find the installer for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

  • For Windows users, run the .exe file.
  • Linux and Mac users can run the .sh file or the .jar file directly.

If you are using an Ubuntu compatible distribution, install Freeplane by searching for it in the Software Center, then by clicking on the large, user-friendly “Install” button.

Alternatively, if you prefer the terminal, use:

Organize your projects and your reflections with Freeplane Apt Install

Your first mind map

When you run Freeplane for the first time, it creates a new blank mind map. Before that, however, it will ask you to select a model for its appearance.

Organize your projects and your thoughts with the Freeplane model

After clicking “OK”, you will see the main interface of Freeplane, with most of its window occupied by your new mind map. At its center will be your starting point and the title of your mind map.

Organize your projects and your thoughts with Freeplane Blank

Double-click on this default title “New Mind Map” to modify it. Change it as you wish.

Organize your projects and your thoughts with Freeplane Rename Main

Subjects, sub-themes and nodes

With your main subject / central point selected, press Enter on your keyboard to add a new subject. You can directly change its name or press Enter again to add other topics at the same level.

Organize projects and reflections with Freeplane Add topics

If you do not enter names for the new topics you add, you can either double-click them as you did for the central topic, or move around your mind map using the cursor keys. hurry F2 on any highlighted entry to rename it.

Organize your projects and your reflections with the Freeplane renaming nodes

hurry Insert on your keyboard to insert a sub-theme into the highlighted one. All editable entries on your mind map that connect to others are called “nodes”.

Organize your projects and your reflections with Freeplane Add sub-themes

Although Freeplane moves things around trying to keep everything clean, you can also do it manually by clicking directly to the left of any entry (on the ellipse that will appear), then dragging it where you want.

Organize your projects and your reflections with the Freeplane displacement nodes

If your mind map becomes too large and convoluted, you can reduce some knots. Hover over a node and a small circle with a “-” icon will appear. Click on it and all the sub-nodes will be hidden until you click on the “+” icon which replaced it.

Organize your projects and your thoughts with the free plane reduction node

Connections, notes and reminders

Although your mind map has nodes inside nodes, some of them can also be linked outside of their inherited hierarchy. To connect them to visually show this relationship, select the first one, then while holding Ctrl, click on the second. Right click and choose “Connect” from the menu that appears.

Organize your projects and your reflections with the Freeplane Connect nodes

You can change the placement of this connection by clicking on its curve and dragging it.

Organize your projects and your reflections with Freeplane Edit Connector

To keep everything clean, avoid using long names for your nodes. Instead, if you need to add more details, right click on it and choose “Edit note in dialog”.

Organize projects and reflections with Freeplane Add a note

Enter a note describing what it is “in the simple text editor that appears.

Organize your projects and your reflections with Freeplane Edit Note

To add a visual touch to your knots, note the hidden pane on the left. Click on the arrow pointing to the right to enlarge it. Then, with a node selected, choose the icon you want to appear next to it.

Organize projects and reflections with Freeplane Add icons

There is another hidden pane on the right where you will find many more options that will allow you to change the appearance of each element of your mind map. For example, you can even change the shape of a node by activating “Modify” under “Knot shape” then choosing a shape from the drop-down menu, changing its margin, etc.

Organize projects and reflections with a free plan node shape

The “Calendar” tab in this pane will also allow you to configure reminders for each node, allowing you to use Freeplane as a real task manager.

Organize your projects and your thoughts with Freeplane Add Reminder

Finally, you can save your card in “File -> Save card as …” to come back to it later. If you collaborate with others, however, you can send them your mind map in a visible format without having to install this mind mapping software themselves. Choose “File -> Export map …” and your preferred format from the drop-down menu.

Organize your projects and your reflections with Freeplane Export

If for some reason you don’t like Freeplane as mind mapping software, you can try using Google Drawings to create mind maps, although it’s not optimal for that use.

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