I recently learned of a new program called the Solution Language Tool, which does mind mapping plus something called activity mapping (a simple form of process mapping). Produced by Solution Language Oy in Finland, the software application aims to provide users with a rich environment for organizing thoughts, presenting ideas and planning activities
I downloaded a trial version of the program, installed it and played with a bit, and discovered that it's a fairly rudimentary mind mapping tool that suffers from some usability issues. The program creates organic (curvy, tapered) branches using a technique similar to iMindMap. When you hover the cursor near your map’s central topic, a red cross hairs icon called a "hot spot” appears, which you can click on and drag your branch out from it. The program supports both automatic branch shaping, as well as free-form branches. While this worked well for the main branches, I had trouble getting it to work with the sub-branches. I was never sure when a branch was selected, which caused it to move instead of enabling me to drag a subtopic branch out from it.
The program features a two-paned interface, with a large workspace area for the visual map on the right and a narrow vertical pane containing an outline version of it on the left. The toolbar is positioned on the border between the two window panes. Mysteriously, when I was working with a mind map, the activity map icons were grayed out, and I couldn't figure out how to get them to work, so I had to send a support e-mail to the developer. It turns out that I had to right-click on the main topic in the outline view (called the Solution Explorer) and select the “new activity map” command - not very intuitive!
Activity mapping, as defined by the developer, is this:
“(It) lets the idea... be studied from a new dimension – (a) behavioral view. Activity mapping is a must in areas like business processes, information systems, logistics systems and technical systems. The topics presented in mind maps appear as responsibilities in activity maps. The communication between responsibilities is presented by messages. (An) activity map forms (a) high level behavioral presentation of the idea.” An example of an activity map is displayed to the upper right (click on the image to view a larger version). Click here to read more about activity mapping on the developer’s website.
In mind mapping mode, you can add notes to topics and create free-floating notes. You can also import images, videos and sounds into your maps, and can add file links and hypertext links to your maps. If you want to share the contents of your map with a business application like Microsoft Word, you simply perform a “select all” command, copy your map and then paste it into Word as text or as an OLE object - nice! In addition, you can publish your map to a web page, or export it to a number of image formats.
Overall, I think the developers of the Solution Language Tool need to figure out what they want this program to be when it grows up. As a mind mapping tool, it’s fairly rudimentary and has a few usability issues. And it’s competing in a market that is already crowded with many players, each of which is trying to offer something unique to users. I didn’t see anything that stood out as unique in this program.
As a process mapping tool, it asks you to arrange your information in a unique format that may seem foreign to many users - which is likely to be an uphill battle. Also, in this space, Solution Language Tool must compete against well entrenched, well accepted and easier to use business diagramming tools like Visio and SmartDraw.
In addition, I was hoping that there would be some way to capture my ideas in the mind map view, and then somehow convert them into an activity map. But apparently the program's developers consider these two types of maps to be mutually exclusive. One more thing: A shorter, more memorable name for this product would really help...
Solution Language Tool is priced at US$349, which seems rather high for a new program of somewhat limited capabilities (that's the same price as MindManager Pro 7, the market leader in mind mapping software). A student license can be purchased for only US$99. A 30-day trial version is also available from the developer’s website.