MindJet MindManager 7 becomes Fluent with the ribbon: interview


Rob Furnivallmindmanager ribbon

The upcoming version 7 of MindJet MindManager, the popular visualisation tool releases on 31st May.  One of its key selling points is the use of the new Microsoft Office Fluent user interface. I caught up with Rob Furnivall from MindJet (above and left) to get the inside track.

Welcome, Rob, please introduce yourself and what you do.

I’m Rob Furnivall, I run channels and alliances for Mindjet in the UK.

Remind us, what is MindManager for?

MindManager is about the visualisation of ideas and thoughts, it helps creativity and brainstorming. We see it as a complement to Microsoft Office. If you have some thoughts on what you want to put in Word, PowerPoint or Project, people tend to just type them in and try to edit them right away. This cuts down the number of ideas.

So people run past their creative phase too quickly?

Yes if you look at why projects fail, often it’s because people rush into the project before they've thought about the objectives and approach. Sometimes a mapping exercise can stop an ill-conceived project before it starts. When people can see the ideas on the screen, they tend to contribute better. Your brain doesn't work in lists; it works in pictures and in visual formats. This stimulates creativity and in the end that is what we are all striving to do in business.

Microsoft LicencingThe other big area is information dashboards. Mind manager can aggregate data in a product/project specific way. For example you can bring your emails, files and ideas all into one visual dashboard. With one click you can find all the related materials from sql, sharepoint, spreadsheets - wherever. Windows in the map can be updated automatically if the underlying data changes. This saves me hours on a weekly basis. Studies we ran recently shows it can save 30 minutes a day. So we are complementary and we add significant benefits to Office and now also you see the look is very 2007-like.

Why move to the ribbon? Were your customers finding the application hard to use?

Not so much difficult but they were not aware of the levels of functionality that existed. 15-20% were being used but people didn't know there was more there. It’s the same problem you guys had with Excel and Word. For example, Integration with Outlook has been there for 4 years but people are only now seeing it as a new feature, never having found it before the ribbon. So we added the ribbon for two main reasons: First, to expose incremental features and make them easier to find. Secondly, we think as 2007 is widely adopted, people will find it a familiar interface.

So are we helping to break in this change for you?

Yes the problem will be for the people who know the old version inside out. Moving from 6 to 7 I became very comfortable in a very short space of time. For non power users or new users the feedback is exceptional in particular.

The tabs look great but I notice you haven't used live preview or galleries and Context switching is not really happening yet. Did you implement all of Fluent or just parts of it?Executive Dashboard

Yes that’s true, it was purely a question of priorities for the 7 release schedule. So from a quality point of view, we've started with the tabs. I am sure there will be further enhancements in future releases.

Are you committed to the ribbon then?

Yes we've spent a lot of money and time on this and the feedback is that this is a step change and I can't think why we would ever want to go back.

How many features do you have?

The feature set has just developed over time as we responded to customer needs. We had a roadmap for 7 development and about a year ago while working in Redmond, engineers showed us the ribbon. Microsoft explained the reasons for the ribbon and we realised that all of those reasons applied just as much to us. So we got a license to implement the ribbon and decided to go for it in 7. The other interesting thing is the partners who do add-ins for Mind manager. It will be easier for them to add those without the interface starting to look really cluttered .

What reaction have you had? Is it similar to reactions to Microsoft Office?

Even accomplished users are making the switch in a few hours. It’s harder if you use both the old and new versions in parallel but once you make the switch, it is really quick . It’s only some of the more obscure features I struggled a bit to find initially but once you get used to the logical groupings of the tabs its easy.

Do you find most interest from sites already moving to 2007 or is there no link?

I'd like to think there would be a link. It depends how much marketing you do for us! :-)

Are you going to offer a "classic" mode?

No. Same as you guys, we are committed to this approach. You can modify it slightly to make it more similar but no there are no plans to implement a classic mode.

I understand you can export to Microsoft Office applications – is that using Open XML?

We are indeed using the new Open XML standard. We've found the export performance dramatically increased. We have a number of new integration tools, as either free downloads or included in future releases. For example, a free add in for word 2007 whereby using Open XML Ii can dynamically generate a Word docx. When you export it, it adds new icons into the Word ribbon which then allows you to make changes from Word and synchronise the changes back into the MindManager map. We couldn't have done this without Open XML, it wouldn't have been practical. Moving forward, responding to customer requests for integration will be much easier to respond to because of the Open XML integration.

MindManager v7 is available on the 31st May 2007. You can find out more and download a trial at http://www.mindjet.com/uk

Rob Furnivall can be contacted at robert.furnivall@mindjet.co.uk