FreeMind is a mind mapping tool (opens in new tab) that allows you to create images that capture ideas visually. Whether you are planning a project, writing an article or a book, or simply working through a concept visually, FreeMind can help you create diagrams that can be easily manipulated—unlike a simple document or spreadsheet, you aren’t confined to linear structures (e.g., paragraphs or spreadsheet cells).
FreeMind is a cross-platform tool that runs on Windows, Linux, and macOS machines with the Java Runtime Environment installed, which means that it is accessible to most users. It is an open source project, so anyone is welcome to contribute to the software.
Plans and pricing
FreeMind is an open source project and therefore free to use. It can be downloaded and installed by anyone running a Windows, Linux, or macOS machine, though the product does require the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). JRE is a product offered by Oracle, and you can get it free of charge from the company's website. (opens in new tab)
You can download FreeMind via its SourceForge repository (opens in new tab). The installation wizard will walk you through the whole process, but unfortunately, if you run into issues or get stuck, you’re on your own—FreeMind, which is available free of charge, doesn’t guarantee you access to customer support agents.
The purpose of FreeMind is to enable non-linear approaches to brainstorming and mindmapping, and most of the product’s noteworthy features support these tasks.
FreeMind’s MindMaps are created using notes that are joined by branches. You can choose to have your nodes and branches shifted around automatically, but you can also rearrange items manually if desired. FreeMind also allows you to make batch edits by copying and pasting groups of items (without loss of formatting).
Other design features include folding branches, icons on individual nodes, and clouds around branches. And if you want to refer to outside files, you can add HTML links, as well as links to files living on your local machine.
FreeMind allows you to export your work into HTML, XHTML, PDF, and OpenDocument formats. However, if you prefer to create an image file, FreeMind also supports PNG, JPEG, and SVD.
The software stores its maps in XML format, so if you decide to move to another product, you may be able to export the maps it creates and then import them into the tool of your choice (assuming it supports XML imports).
Interface and in use
One of the first things you will likely notice is that FreeMind appears a bit dated. Its user interface (UI) screams early 2000s, and we found it somewhat difficult to find the features we needed in the various menus.
However, once we figured out where different features lived, we felt that it was definitely usable for mind mapping, especially since the product is free.
FreeMind supports a number of features that make it easier to use in spite of its UI, including keyboard shortcuts and its preservation of formatting when you copy and paste content.
FreeMind’s documentation is itself a FreeMind mindmap, which you can use to familiarize yourself with the product. If you want to use the documentation outside the software, you can export it and view it using a browser with Adobe Flash installed and enabled.
As a free product, FreeMind does not come with guaranteed support. Nevertheless, you can post your questions to the project’s forums and get answers from the FreeMind community.
If you think there are features missing from the product, you can also log a feature request. However, FreeMind is open source software, so there is no guarantee that your feature request will be implemented.
FreeMind is not the only mind mapping tool on the market, so here are some alternatives we think are noteworthy.
Freeplan is a mind mapping tool that was created using FreeMind files as the starting point. Though Freeplan offers some support for FreeMind files, the files created by the two apps are not 100% mutually compatible when it comes to file formats.
Freeplan builds on FreeMind, adding features like different cloud shapes, a grid system, better menus and UI, and better support for add-ons that extend and customize the features and functionality of the tool.
Meanwhile, MindMeister (opens in new tab) is a web-based mind mapping software that features a modern, easy to use UI. Although MindMeister offers a free plan, you will need to purchase a subscription if you want to access all of its features. The subscription will also get you access to the MindMeister customer service team if you have any questions or concerns.
Finally, Draw.io is a free, web-based mind mapping software product. You have the option of saving your work locally onto your machine, Google Drive (opens in new tab), or Microsoft OneDrive (opens in new tab). Draw.io also has a UI that looks fairly dated, but we found that it was nevertheless more intuitive to use than FreeMind.
FreeMind is open source, cross-platform mind mapping software that allows you to brainstorm in a nonlinear fashion. It doesn’t have the most aesthetically appealing interface, and the way its menus are set up can be confusing to many. However, its cost (free) and powerful functionality mean that it is worth a try.