Beginners Guide to FreeMind - Martin Rinehart

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Beginner’s Guide to FreeMind

©2008, Martin Rinehart

1 Introduction

Why I wrote this guide: FreeMind's documentation is a FreeMind MindMap. This is superb, once you know how to navigate a mind map. But it's a challenge for the beginner.

Just reading this tutorial will not teach you much. Following this tutorial building your own mind map will make you an ace in no time. Create your own to do list, using the things you have to do, not slavishly copying mine.

2 Tutorial

FreeMind (originally MindMap) began life as a tool for mind mapping (aka brainstorming). It's a great tool for the original goal. FreeMind is also a superb tool for handling any hierarchical data structure. I’ll use To Do lists as a sample application.

First, install FreeMind.(Appendix A for instructions). Installation ends with a “Launch FreeMind” checkbox. Check it and launching will happen next. Otherwise, launch via the desktop item. (Do not worry that FreeMind is only in release 0.80. I’ve used it since 0.70, on Linux, without a single crash. Since it’s in Java, Windows and Linux share the same code.)

Originally you get the FreeMind application, with nearly every option grayed out.


Dumb Opening

Click the New icon to start a mind map. I think that New should have been clicked by default. This is a minor glitch in an otherwise superb user interface. For example, the next time you load FreeMind, it will open the last mind map you created. That is normally exactly what you want.


Click New

You get this:

Default New Mindmap

Right click the New Mindmap oval, choose Edit (the first menu choice, and it pays to remember that the F2 key will also edit the current item). Replace the “New Mindmap” text with something you like.


Enter Your Own Text

You get something like this:


Created the “My Todo List” Mindmap

Now enter an item to do. If you right-click the oval you’ll see the New Child Node choice. Note that it’s also the light bulb icon or the Insert key. Either of these is quicker than the right-click/make choice combo. So press Insert or click the light bulb, type an item, and you’ll get here:


Entering First Child

When you press enter, you get your first child, this way:


First Item Added

Note that “pay bills” is grayed. This means that it is the current active node. If you press Insert or click the light bulb, you’ll add a child to “pay bills.” We’ll get there, but for now I want another child of “My Todo List.” So click the oval, then the light bulb and add another item.


Adding Second Item

By default, FreeMind alternates sides as you add children to the central node. I want the second child under the first, so I’ll drag it to the right side of the oval.


Dragging “do homework” to the Right Side of the Oval

When you release, you get this:


Both Children on Right

Now, let’s add a child of a child. Click “do homework”; click the light bulb and add a course:


Adding a Grandchild

When you press Enter, the new child is the active node. To add another child of “do homework”, you could press the left arrow (makes “do homework” active) and then press Insert to add another item, but since this is so common, pressing Enter again triggers “New Sibling Node.”


Adding Grandchildren

On your own, add some categories to “pay bills” and some specific items to each category to get something like this:


Categories and Specific Bills Added

Do you see a problem here? I wish it weren’t so, but if I pay the phone bill this month, the phone company will send another one next month. So let’s use the right side as a template, and put the actual bills to pay on the left.

Click the oval and press Insert to add January. It will be added on the left After you type the last letter, press Enter to complete the entry, then press Enter again for “New Sibling Node” and you’ll get a sibling, on the same side. Add twelve months and you’ll have this:


Months Added

It’s October, so lets clone “pay bills” as a child of October. Select “pay bills” and click the “copy” icon. Then select October and click the paste icon. You get this:


Bills Cloned into October

A note here. You may have had trouble highlighting October and clicking Paste because you automatically highlight any node the cursor touches. You can turn automatic highlighting off (Tools/Preferences) so it takes a click. Another way is to highlight with the mouse and press Ctrl+C to copy, Ctrl+V to paste.

I’ve not paid my October bills, yet, so I’ll add bills to September. They’re already in the clipboard, so I’ll just cursor over September and press Ctrl+V.


Bills Added to September

This is getting messy. We’ll clear the clutter after we mark some bills as “paid.” I use the check mark icon that appears on the left-side menu. Select a bill and then click the check mark icon:


Adding a Checkmark to Master Card

You’ll get this:


Marking a Bill as Paid

You can add as many of those icons as you like to any node. The top, red X deletes the last icon added. (The lower, red X is an icon you can add.)

You can see that the clutter factor here could get entirely out of hand. Fortunately, collapsing and expanding nodes is trivial. Just select the node and press the space bar to toggle the expanded/collapsed status.

In the next graphic, you’ll see that I’ve collapsed “pay bills” in both months and marked “pay bills” in September as completed.


Nodes Collapsed, Last Month Completed

You can do lots more with this software, but this should be enough to get you started. On your own, try putting your homework into a cloud, like this:


Putting Your Homework in the Clouds

Hint: when you right-click a node, look at the sub menus at the bottom. They’re all interesting.

I’ve used a skinny, documentation-friendly width for the screen shots here. If you have a larger monitor you’ll see that type style and size are on the right side of the main menu. My real To Do lists have a nice, big font for the more important items.

Another hint: you can scroll the MindMap with the horizontal and vertical scrollbars. You can also scroll by dragging on the background.

And yet another hint: your nodes don’t have to be the simple ones we’ve used here. You can have multi-line text nodes. You can have other MindMaps as nodes. And you can have URLs pointing to web pages, images and other interesting things such as embedded HTML. There’s an applet that gives you view-only access to MindMaps embedded in web pages.

I can’t wait to see all the new goodies when this program finally gets to a 1.0 release.

Good luck!

Post Script

I wrote this before I tried HTML in the nodes. Just start your node “” and you're in HTML. To illustrate, I copied a couple tables from my website's Articles page and pasted them into FreeMind nodes.

Slick stuff!

Appendix A

Installing FreeMind

1 Installing under Linspire

Click the Install button on FreeMind in the CNR warehouse. When the installation is finished you’ll see a butterfly icon on your desktop.

2 Installing under Windows

Why the world puts up with this [expletive deleted] is a mystery to me. The rest of this Appendix is for Windows’ victims.

As I write this (October, 2006), the download is from:

If it’s moved, ask your friend Google for some help in finding it. From this page pick the download you want. For Windows, you can choose a smaller (3MB) or larger (8MB) version. If you have dial-up Internet service, the smaller one will be fine.

You then get a standard “file to save” dialog. Choose whatever location you normally use for download files (e.g., C:\Download Files). The installer will let you choose a separate location for the software. The sensible default is C:\Program Files\FreeMind.

First, you’ll get a splash screen. Click Next. Then there’s a license to Accept and click Next. (It’s the GNU General Public License, one you should be happy to accept.)

Here you’ll get:


FreeMind is written in Java. It requires, as this says, Java 1.4 or higher. If you don’t know you have it, you probably need to follow the link in this screen. It will take you to a Sun download sight.

When you get the Sun page in your browser, go back to the FreeMind install and click cancel to end it. Then return to your browser.

At the Sun download page, you don’t want the JDK! That’s a huge development kit. You want the Java Runtime Environment. Click the JRE button.

Follow the on screen instructions to finish installing your JRE. This requires accepting Sun’s license agreement, which I’ve not read in recent years. Sun’s licenses used to be very reasonable.

With the JRE installed, rerun the FreeMind installer. Now you’re ready to click Next, as this shows:


From here you can review the options (storage location, icons to create). I found them all sensible and just clicked Next right through to the end where it lets you click a checkbox to automatically launch FreeMind. Do this and you’re in business.





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