The world of add-ins for MindManager has always been interesting, if a bit fluid. MindManager (MM) is one of the few desktop mind mapping programs with an API which allows the development of third-party add-ins and as a result a few great examples have appeared over the years – and often, unfortunately, also disappeared a few years later. Some were broken by MM upgrades which occasionally can change quite fundamental aspects of the program; others were brought out by Mindjet to be integrated into MM, a process which sometimes resulted in them being dumbed down as important but complex features were removed in misguided attempts to make these add-ins more user friendly.
Despite these difficulties a few companies have continued to support MM a range of established add-ins and even occasionally develop new ones. One example is UK company Olympic Limited which produces two of my favourite add-ins, WordX and MAP for MindManager. WordX offers a much more sophisticated version of Word export than MM’s built-in facility, with much greater control, for example the ability to tailor which Word style is applied to groups of topics or even individual topics. WordX also uses Word’s own templates, which means that it is much easier to use default Word styles in reformatting and editing the resulting documents.
However it is MAP that I wanted to highlight in this post. MAP – Map Action Pack – is as Olympic put it a “re-envisioning” of the company’s previous successful OPTi-Add-In which contained a number of handy commands which extended MM’s core feature set. MAP takes this a step further with the latest version 1.6 providing 30 extra commands and over 350 additional icons.
While several add-ins may have more than one key feature – and there’s certainly nothing wrong with specialisation – none offer the sheer range provided by MAP. Hence the Swiss army knife comparison. I think a lot of children (especially those who grew up in the 1970s and earlier) as well as anyone who’s gone bush walking, tramping or camping will be familiar with these. In their simplest form they offer just a blade or two, but go further up the range to the Mountaineer or the Ranger and you will be presented with dozens of tools like saws, scissors, openers and corkscrews. There will also be one or two things you don’t recognise and don’t think you’ll need, but you never know when they might prove to be useful, if not essential in an emergency.
So it goes with MAP. It’s 30 functions are organised into eight groups – Navigation, Auto Views, Show/Hide, Map Actions, Topic Actions, Linking, Math and a new group for version 1.6, Exports. It isn’t possible to describe all 30 actions in a single post and they range from the “wow, that’s really useful” to the “what’s the use of that?”, but the point is that each user will have a different idea about which functions fall into each of these categories and those that are somewhere in between.
With this in mind I’m going to talk about one of MAP’s features which I find particularly useful and here I have to declare an interest. I have acted as a beta tester for a couple of MAP’s functions – the Image Export facility which debuts in version 1.6 and the Fixed Topic Width feature which appeared in an earlier version. The latter feature is based in part on a suggestion I made to someone who wanted to standardise the width of topics in their maps.
So on to my favourite in the MAP collection – the Image Export facility. I believe this may prove to be the standout with a lot of people because it fixes a basic shortcoming in MM which Mindjet have consistently failed to address – the lack of any ability to export MM slides as images to PowerPoint (PP). It is of course possible to export a MM map as a text outline to PP or to make use of PP’s rather primitive graphic objects, but MM provides no facility to send actual images of parts of the map directly to PP.
Many people have wanted to do this in a more effective manner than taking screen shots of bits of mindmaps and pasting them in PP one-by-one. As a result a number of enthusiasts have tried to develop workarounds based on various undocumented aspects of MM, combined with little-used features in PP. I’ve also suggested options using third-party applications, which was partly the reason I was asked to test the beta version of MAP 1.6. While these have filled a need I think all the authors involved would agree that the results are a little fiddly in use.
MAP provides a more elegant solution and a much better experience for the end user. To begin you set up slides within MM in exactly the same way that you would for a MM presentation or a conventional MM-to-PP export. Then you can use MAP’s image export facility to export individual JPG images of these slides or to send the images either to MS Word or PowerPoint.
This export process is very simple. First check you have all the slides you need and how they appear (a tip – you can hide various topic attributes, like for example the slide icons). Then you use MAP’s settings to determine whether the export process will use the map background slide colour or remove this to make the background transparent; this is especially important for PP if you don’t want to obscure the background that’s provided by the PP slide template. MAP will retain your selection until you change this setting.
When you are ready to export select the MAP tab to call up the MAP ribbon and then click either the Image Export button to create JPG image files of each of the slides, or the arrow underneath the button to select image export to either Word or PowerPoint. If you elect to export the images as images you will be asked where you want to save the resulting JPG files; these are then created with filenames based on a combination of a number and the main topic text.
If you decide instead to export to Word or PP you will then be offered the option to use the default template in either program or to select another template. MAP will then create either a new Word or PP document fairly quickly; in the former, the slides will appear as images, preceded by the text contained in each slide’s main topic which will formatted using the templates default level 1 heading style. Similarly in exporting to PP each MM slide will appear as a separate slide with the main topic text appearing as the slide heading. This means you can create a complete PowerPoint presentation or Word documentation of your mindmap in seconds.
There are only two or three minor shortcomings to the image export process. The first is that while the export map images are clear and usable, they are not quite the same resolution as MM slides viewed (or printed) within MM itself; if you want this level of quality you will need to use the workaround I documented and mentioned earlier which involves using image printing software to create high-res image files.
The second is caused by a limitation inherent to the MM slide facility – it does not show MM’s user-inserted relationship lines which link topics that are not on the same tree as the main topic in the slide. If you want to do this you will have to use the Windows snipping tool or something similar to take a snapshot of the linked topics and then paste the result in the PP or Word document.
The third is more subtle and is only really an issue if you make use of the often-overlooked capacity of MM slides to “remember” the level of map expansion that was applied when they were created, irrespective of the level of expansion applied subsequently in the map. This feature is handy within MM because it means you can make multiple slides of the same topic showing its branches in different levels of expansion and also because it’s the basis of MM’s ability to allow users to expand or contract topic branches on slides “live” during a presentation. The MAP slide export works differently and will show topics only with the level of expansion applied to the map at the time of export and not that which was applied when the slides were created.
These are minor quibbles in what is otherwise an great feature. And while image export is the pick of the MAP pack (for me at least anyway), there are plenty of other goodies. These include the ability I mentioned earlier to impose a fixed width on MM topics, as well as facilities to “sweep” a map removing task icons and other features with a single command, globally alter the font in topic notes, hyperlink two topics in the same map, convert sub-topics to markers or to notes, or to switch them to call-outs and to resize topic images – just to name a few.
In summary, I imagine most users would find something in MAP to more than justify its purchase – and if you have ever wanted to turn your mindmap into a PowerPoint presentation, or to document the slide images in Word, the image export facility alone is worth the price of admission.