If you’re looking for a simple, no-frills mind mapping software program that won’t confuse you with dozens of advanced functions and capabilities, then chances are you’ll like BrainMine Standard 2005 from Neural Matters. In fact, if you’re just getting started in mind mapping, this may be an ideal program for you.
The developers of BrainMine had several objectives in mind when they designed this program: keep it simple and give it a solid technological foundation for future growth. They have done an admirable job of accomplishing both of those goals. BrainMine Standard is more than adequate for capturing your ideas and inspirations, quickly and easily. To meet the second goal, they built the program on Microsoft’s .NET framework, giving it a very efficient technological foundation that should serve it well in the years ahead.
The BrainMine interface
Neural Matters has equipped BrainMine Standard with a simple, one-line toolbar that places the most common functions within easy reach for one-click access. From here, you can adjust the map’s background color, detect and fix overlapping elements, and choose from a variety of zooming options (zoom in, zoom out, zoom to a number of preset magnifications and zoom to fit the workspace window). Finally, a trio of buttons enable you to toggle the media window (which gives you access to clip art that you can add to your maps) on and off, an overview window (which enables you to easily move around larger maps) and a properties sir, which appears on the right side of the screen and can be used to quickly modify your map elements. If you want a clean interface with few distractions, you can easily turn these panes off, but they are always a mouse click away when you need them.
The media library is quite extensive, and contains 15 categories of images that you can add to your maps by dragging and dropping them to a specific topic. Each category has a button next to it, which enables you to collapse the listings from that category if you don’t want to see it — nice!
The properties panel changes, depending on what is currently selected in your map. Object properties can also be accessed via a right-click command, which displays a floating dialog box where you can adjust the properties of the elements.
The map background can be a single color or gradient, or can be based on an existing “texture file” — a photograph or bitmapped image.
Creating a map in BrainMine Standard
Like most mind mapping software programs, BrainMine Standard supports radial maps (with the main topic at the center, and sub-topic lines radiating out in all directions). You start by naming a central topic. Adding subtopics (which the program calls “elements”) can be done in several ways: you can right-click on the main topic and select the “new elements” command or you can simply use the insert key. Element properties can be adjusted using a right-click command or the aforementioned properties panel. It was nice to be able to modify the text of my map elements from the properties panel – a real time-saver!
Adding a piece of clip art to a topic in your map is a simple drag and drop operation. The image is displayed with a selection box around it, so you can easily re-size or re-proportion it to meet your needs – very intuitive. When you select a topic that has an image attached, a thin line appears between the two, so you can easily see that there’s a relationship between them.
Moving branches is also accomplished by dragging and dropping. Unlike some mind mapping programs, BrainMine Standard gives you complete freedom to place the branch exactly where you want it, including adjusting the distance of the sub-topic from its parent.
One glaring omission is the lack of support for attaching notes to topics. You can’t attach files to topics either, but this probably has to do with the fact that Neural Matters is trying to keep BrainMine Standard as easy to use for beginners as possible.
BrainMine Standard is an easy-to-use mind mapping program that is ideal for first-time users of this type of software. It behaves intuitively, and gives users a respectable toolset for creating basic visual maps. It’s also quite affordable, at only US $52 (€ 43). A trial version is available for download from the Neural Matters website.