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Why I want a Tablet PC


I could not live without mind maps. All four of us (Bert, Beth, Eric and I) all use mind maps exclusively to map out a book, then a chapter, then each topic, before we go to storyboards. We don't use the concept of a conventional "outline" for our books--mind maps take us from initial brainstorming to final storyboards.

So when I made my tutorial workbook for the ETech participants, it was a no-brainer to have the attendees create mind-maps, rather than writing linear outline notes. From the overview to the last page, everything in the tutorial was done via mind maps like this initial one:

A typical page in the workbook gave the center part of the map (the central theme) and the users were to fill in the rest of the map as we went along:

The main reason I do it this way is because when you use a linear format rather than pieces radiating out from the center, the brain imposes a hierarchical structure on the content, regardless of whether one was intended. And this matters. It changes, even if subtly, the way you process and understand the material. Another thing mindmaps let you do is make connections between different nodes; something that's especially hard (or impossible) to do with linear notes.

BUT... when it came to ETech, I had completely overlooked one crucial thing...a lot of people take notes on their laptops! And for all the right reasons... they have an electronic copy they can store, file, share, modify, blog, whatever.

That meant, however, that there was a serious mismatch between what they were being asked to do-- fill out mind maps-- vs. what they could do--type linear notes into a text editor or outliner.

And a lot of the mind maps I was asking them to create didn't just involve organizing the words into nodes, but also included simple drawings for them to sketch out. So even if they were using mind-mapping software (I'll give some links in a moment), they still couldn't draw the pictures. Although using mind-mapping software would still be a huge step closer to the intended idea, what I really wanted was a way for people to replicate the experience of taking notes and sketching in the paper workbook. I wanted them to do on the computer exactly what those not using a computer were doing. Mind maps, pictures, everything.

Then... I met a guy from Microsoft Search, Brady Forrest, who I'll never forgive for what happened next. He came up with his tablet PC and showed me the notes he took during my tutorial:

He'd created a mind map... complete with drawings! I fell in love right there in the hallway. Just to make sure I wouldn't recover, he then handed me the tablet PC and the pen and said, "Here... draw something..." Then he even had me enter my contact info into a mind map.

The software he used was Mind Manager from MindJet, and it seemed to do a fantastic job of capturing everything I intended, and in a natural way (and that also lets you collapse the thing in various ways and even print an outline and a set of HTML pages!) Here's a close-up of one section of his map:

There are other programs out there, including an open source Java project Free Mind.

At home, I don't have a problem because I use a Wacom tablet instead of a mouse. But I never realized how hard it would be to take notes in a presentation using my laptop with a tablet. I'd have to, say, ask the guy next to me if I could rest my Wacom on his thigh : )

Anyway, that was the most expensive hallway meeting of my life, because now I simply must have one. And I don't even like Windows. I've been hearing Robert Scoble talk about them (almost endlessly), but they registered a zero on my personal emotional richter scale, until I saw what Brady had done, and it finally hit me how much more natural this was.

If you haven't become a mind map convert, you might not be able to appreciate the dramatic difference between typing linear notes vs. creating branching (non-top-down hierarchy) mind maps. The important point is that your brain knows the difference. You can see things with a mind map that you simply won't see with a hierarchical top-down representation.

I urge you to try it whether in software or on paper. There are some instructions on getting started here and here, but a quick Google search should tell you everything.

Gee, thanks Brady. There goes that new camera I was going to get with my next royalty check ; (

Posted by Kathy on April 4, 2005 | Permalink


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» Mind Mapping from Perception Analyzer Dial.Log
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» Mind Mapping with a tablet from Content Fairy - Guy Redwood's Blog
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» Creating Passionate Users: Why I want a Tablet PC from Space to Think
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And now you know why every Mac user out there has been drooling for the fabled "iPad" for years...

Posted by: Peter Herndon | Apr 4, 2005 5:38:52 PM

I'd love one too. Already a MindManager fan, it would be even better on a tablet.

Posted by: Robin Capper | Apr 4, 2005 6:19:39 PM

Lycoris do a version of their Desktop/LX Linux for tablet PCs, and there's now handwriting recognition software for linux available for free too. MoBitS bundle Lycoris with their tablets - you you've no need to subject yourself to Windows. You can even set up KDE with a Mac look-and-feel if you like. I've not used it myself, but I have used Lycoris SME Server, and if that's anything to go by, user-friendliness is something they'll have made a priority.

Posted by: Matt Moran | Apr 5, 2005 1:02:52 AM

eep - typo! s/you/so/1. D'oh!

Posted by: Matt Moran | Apr 5, 2005 1:05:26 AM

I tried contacting Mindject before - three times! Never got a reply to my questions. With such a bad customer service on pre-sale how can we confidently spend the amount of money (not cheap!) they're asking for the software?

Posted by: Mauricio Freitas | Apr 5, 2005 3:34:34 AM

There is also some software called Mind Genius. It creates mind maps, but you can enter the text on a keyboard, so it might reduce your need for a thinkpad. It has various versions: business, personal etc. I find it useful in an industry which does not have high-end IT equipment readily available - it allows us to mind map without needing to have tablet PCs. It has all sorts of clever tools, like linking nodes etc too. http://www.mindgenius.com/

Posted by: Kitty | Apr 5, 2005 4:39:01 AM

I've been using a TC1100 for nearly a year now and while it has had it's advantages, it's not really had that "killer app". It may be that mind mapping software is just that.

I get a lot of ideas when I'm walking the dogs (no pressure, fresh air, e.t.c). When you have a tablet PC in a small shoulder bag those ideas go straight into mind mapping software in, most importantly, a structured and restructurable way. A fingerprint recognition device means logon on is quick and easy and the device is secured if I lose it (not much chance of that!).

All I'm waiting for now are fuel cell batteries!

Posted by: Andrew Hussey | Apr 5, 2005 7:30:59 AM

I facilitate a lot of global/diverse online events. A few years ago I started using mind maps (via Mind Manager) to summarize discussions, linking each key node back to the original discussion thread. This worked FAR better than text only summaries. For some, it totally changed their online asynchronous interaction.

Do you know who is doing research into visual thinking tools for online/distributed groups? I'd love to know.

Posted by: Nancy White | Apr 5, 2005 8:15:36 AM

On the current Tablet PC Show podcast (#4) Marc Orchant and I discuss the use of MindManager on the Tablet PC at length. We talk about how well it is integrated with the Tablet PC and also unusual applications for mind maps in general.

Posted by: James Kendrick | Apr 5, 2005 8:16:58 AM

Sorry, here's the link for the podcast:


Posted by: James Kendrick | Apr 5, 2005 8:17:55 AM

Sorry, but I"m having a hard time understanding why Mind Mapping isn't hierarchal.

It seems to me you're creating a tree of information. Each node in the tree can have multiple children, but only one parent. Isn't that a hierarchy?

Posted by: David | Apr 5, 2005 9:07:27 AM

On the Mac side (Windows soon), you might also want to think about Tinderbox. It's a personal content management assistant with many views -- the Tinderbox Map view can be nice for map-style notemaking, and it's got nice agents for automatic classification and organization.


Posted by: Mark Bernstein | Apr 5, 2005 9:40:58 AM

Mindjet has bloggers. Mike Jetter, Chief Technology Officer and Chris Holmes, Vice President of Business Development, and finally Tim Leberecht, Corporate Communications Manager are all blogging at: http://blog.mindjet.com/ - Go there, rant/rave, complain or praise.

But "killer app"? Well that all depends upon the audience. :) Educators will be more buggy-eyed over Classroom Presenter, xThink apps, MathPractice and MS Reader. Corporates will run to TabletPlanner, Groove and MindManager X5 Pro. Verticals will go for Mi-Forms, Orderpad, ESRI ArcMap, Dassault Systemes and factory-automation software. Health Care all wow'ed over Allscripts TouchWorks, Eclipsys SunriseXA and the slew of other Medical Tablet PC apps. But Mindjet is totally killer-app for those in mind-map and planning areas.

Regardless, my "top ten list" of the Tablet PC "show-off" apps for the typical audience, highly subjective, but my varied sampling data at least...

1. ArtRage (Has no equal in Wow! factor) / Experience Pack goes here now.
2. Alias SketchBook Pro (Close second)
3. FranklinCovey TabletPlanner 3 (Heavens to Betsy!)
4. MindManager X5 Pro (for some an easy #1, near killer-app if one use/gets the concept, if not, then skip.)
5. OneNote/Journal (Practical and impressive. Easily understood)
6. Corel Grafigo 2 / xThink Calculator (also MathPratice) (Keep on Shape Reco'ing me...)
7. MS Reader and Zinio Reader (eBooking still not yet a force, but still has some Wow! power)
8. The New York Times Crossword Puzzle / Music Composition Tool / Dots / Pool / Tic Tac Toe (Nifty, if just fun gimmicks)
9. TabletUML (for those on planet UML that is, if not never mind...)
10. ActiveDocs, OrderPad and form-filling software (could be #1 dependent upon audience, harder to grasp for most, they think just part of the system)

Honorable mentions: MSN Messenger 6.1+, PenOffice, Agilix GoBinder, Opera Web Browser, The Brain.

Posted by: Christopher Coulter | Apr 5, 2005 12:18:48 PM

Does anyone have any experience/opinion on The Brain (http://www.thebrain.com/)?

Posted by: SteveG | Apr 5, 2005 3:04:00 PM

Why don't you buy an iBook and run the mind map software on that? You can rest your iBook on one knee and your mini Wacom tablet on the other. (Basically, anything to avoid buying a Windows machine). Where's that iPad when I need it? Steve????? Are you listening?

Posted by: Beth | Apr 5, 2005 3:32:06 PM

I was thinking I was the only one who was using mind-mapping and looking at MindJet. Glad I'm not alone!


Posted by: William | Apr 5, 2005 7:19:38 PM

Kathy, why don't you look at getting a PDA instead? On the Palm side, there are some apps that might do what you're looking for (Mind Image, Idea Pad, and Inspiration come to mind). They are much cheaper than a Tablet PC and may do what you're looking for. Maybe even let you get that camera too!

Posted by: Rachel | Apr 5, 2005 8:48:56 PM

Glad to see you discovered MindManager and the Tablet PC.

I've posted a few articles about their combined use on my blog, the Student Tablet PC. I use MindManager for most everything.




Enjoy! Feel free to ask me any questions about the tablet or mindmanager.


Posted by: Trevor Claiborne | Apr 6, 2005 2:06:33 AM

Although a heavy user of MindManager (X5 Pro) myself, I would certainly recommend MAC users to consider Nova Mind (http://www.nova-mind.com) which offers many cool and helpful features. They even come much closer to longhand mindmaps on paper with their organic curved FlexiBranches.

Posted by: Chris | Apr 6, 2005 2:35:35 PM

I recently wrote a post on my financial blog concerning Tablet PC's and making money. The post is in part text, part tablet writing.

Check it out!

Posted by: Neville Medhora | Apr 13, 2005 8:44:51 PM

Steve G. I have had experiance using both The Brain and Mind Manager X5 pro. I was originally a heavy user of The Brain, but made the switch when I started using the trial version of MM.
The reasons I prefer it:
The Brain has no starting point. This makes it hard to have a progression of thoughts that are easily tracked from beginning to end. Although it has a powerful search, it still makes things harder to find.
It doesn't have the connectivity options to Microsoft Office Mind Manager has.
The maps in The Brain aren't as presentable to others for sharing information.
Mind Manager has RSS feed capabilities.
Note taking is easier in Mind Manager.
It is easier to move topics around in Mind Manager, especially compared to a very large Brain in The Brain.

Hope this helps.

Posted by: Alex B | Apr 22, 2005 10:03:08 AM

I just saw this on Livejournal - Apple are patenting a design for a tablet Mac!

On engadget:

Posted by: Matt Moran | May 11, 2005 1:39:00 AM

Can I use MS One note with Genius WizardPen 5x4 tablet attached to my Notebook?

Posted by: Nandor | Jul 16, 2005 12:58:39 PM

If you don't want to purchase MindManager, or you want to try before you buy, you can get a pretty good open source Java knockoff at http://freemind.sourceforge.net/.

Posted by: elvisplives | Aug 26, 2005 12:03:36 PM

Are you still looking for a tablet? I have the Gateway m275XL - SaaaWeeeet! I love this computer... and MindMaps from Mind Jet- wow!

Posted by: david | Apr 6, 2006 10:12:58 PM

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