Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Software Evaluation Synopsis

The tables below summarize my evaluation of the mindmapping software that I chose to assess and that I described in the previous blogs. It's qualitative, my own impressions during the testing of various aspects of the software. A quantitative analysis would have required a more rigorous testing regime, but I'm not convinced the end results would necessarily have been any different. A quantitative analysis would have removed any personal bias; but what I have found over this past year is that choosing and using mindmapping software "is a personal thing" --- if the software doesn't "feel right", it doesn't matter how many features it has.
Software features were rated on a scale of 0 to 5, zero meaning the feature did not exist and 5 meaning the software at least met my expectations and usually exceeded them.
The following images were taken from an Excel spreadsheet, where I had added comments to many cells. I've summarized a few of the comments below.

Under System Requirements, only FreeMind required Java.
Licensing options can affect pricing significantly: at the time, FreeMind and MindMapper offered only one version, ConceptDraw and Mind Manager offered personal and professional versions, and only MindGenius offered an additional educational version.
I have found page breaks to be very useful in dividing a map into decent readable chunks. MindGenius excels in this regard; however, ConceptDraw does offer its own option of breaking a map into smaller maps that are all maintained within the same instance or file.

MindMapper, Mind Manager and MindGenius offered a presentation screen option, which is useful because additional software, such as Powerpoint, then may not be required.
When it came to principles and elements of design, MindMapper and ConceptDraw were much more flexible and offered the best options.
The two most expensive packages offered the least functionality in regard to branch movement: it was only applied to Level 1 branches. ConceptDraw's branch movement functionality was essentially limitless.

I found the inability to add more than one attachment link to a branch in ConceptDraw to be a disappointment. There was a workaround but it cluttered up the map.
On the other hand, I found the inability to group or link multiple branches, using graphic symbols such as "}" or "]", with a descriptive note, to be equally disappointing in Mind Manager and MindGenius. Considering the cost of these two software packages, this feature and many other frills that are available in less expensive software, should be standard attributes in these two packages.
An interesting aspect of map layout exists only with MindMapper (a later version than the one I tested): multiple main topics. This could be quite useful in some situations (e.g., comparative analysis).
I use the note option extensively, but only ConceptDraw and Mind Manager offered a large enough mouseover window to my liking; it grows with the text. MindGenius' mouseover window is woefully inadequate; that means the full notes window must be kept open, taking up valuable screen real estate. None of the software allows the mouseover window to be size-adjusted, which would be a nice feature.
Resouce allocations, categories and sorting of such, were primarily dedicated to the more expensive packages, which were more geared to business operations. Other than to check of their availability and see how they work, I didn't spend much time on these aspects, particularly resource allocations. For me, resource allocations is a minor "nice to have"; I have other obligatory corporate software to handle this function.
ConceptDraw was the only software that had a full-fledged, integrated, drawing option, which could be a real plus in some cases, especially if other drawing software is not available. ConceptDraw excels again in the availability of built-in drawing symbols and images.

The quality of Input/Output and Import/Export options are extremely important in most situations. Based on the work that I did, ConceptDraw, Mind Manager and Mind Genius appeared to rank equally. All the major options were present, and I used the .doc, .html, .ppt, .txt, .pdf, and image conversions. However, I didn't test all options thoroughly, only those that I knew I would use most frequently.
The most effective and practical presentations were available in Mind Manager and MindGenius.

After considerable use of my chosen software over the past year, I found one feature that I should have tested on all software: keyboard and mouse interactions. Put simply, everything that can be done with the mouse should be readily available on the keyboard and easy to use. Being addicted to the mouse after years of using Microsoft Office products, I find I'm constantly moving between the keyboard and mouse when creating a map. This slows the process and can become quite irritating. As far as I know, the software tested provides keyboard equivalents. But these should be evaluated for their practicality, and then learned. A friend of mine is mouse averse and can still finish work much faster than my dueling with the two devices can achieve.
In terms of feature availability, not one of the software packages met all my requirements. Purchasing more than one package was really not a practical solution. If I wanted all the features listed, I would have had to buy at least 3 and possibly 4 packages. However, in terms of usage, I found I quickly compromised and now use one package for almost all my work.
Selection in most cases will likely be based on a combination of technical capability and emotions. I gave up some major features that I would have liked to have had, in exchange for more flexibility in map design and functionality, and for software that felt right...for me. After a year of using this software, however, I'm still irritated about some deficiencies that I hope a new version will remedy.

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