OneNote Gem Mindmap for Onenote review
I love OneNote.
I love the fact I can write a stream of consciousness during meetings; I can add ToDo boxes, ToDo actions, meeting details from Outlook, and so much more. Although we all wish we were super-organised before and after every meeting, the fact is we’re not, and OneNote is there to take whatever I throw at it and make it instantly searchable and accessible everywhere.
And I love mindmaps.
I love the fact that you can visualise a hierarchy of ideas, or an org chart, and rearrange it dynamically. I love the fact that you can use it simultaneously as an organisational tool, and a presentation dashboard of your project.
And so, I hate the fact that there’s no mindmap in Onenote. That I can’t get the best of both worlds. Until now…..?
OneNote Gem appears to be a small company that produces productivity add-ons for OneNote. I’m aware of the other major player, Onetastic, which is a one-man band in the form of Omer Atay, who now works for Microsoft directly. I use his excellent OneCalendar and a few of his OneNote macros, and they’re all excellent. OneNote Gem, I was less familiar with, but I really, really wanted that mindmap, so I bit the bullet and bought it.
In short? Not good. Avoid.
For a start, the company seems dodgy-as! The installer itself triggers a virus warning on Virus Total, saying that 1/37 of the virus scanners identified it as a Trojan. Granted, that’s probably a false positive, but it leaves a sense of unease. The author stated that it was an artefact of the licensing engine that he can’t change that triggers a false positive, but it would be the kind of thing you’d want to fix.
Added to this is that while the company is based in, or linked to, China, the author’s name is Anglophone – “James Linton”, but he writes emails as if his native language is not English. It feels like a pseudonym, which with the ‘false’ Trojan malware warning, leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Despite the website and domain, he uses an MS Live email address, from which every email I sent was replied to immediately. Within a minute. Excellent service? But also a bit creepy.
There’s no trial for the app – you download, install, and have to pay USD20 / AUD29 to get the key to run it. For one-man productivity apps, this is a reasonable price for a suite of functionality like Onetastic, but James Linton charges prices like this for each module – you can pay USD 95 with discounts for a package of six modules from the set, and that’s a big leap of faith for something you’ve not even tried yet. He also charges for each version of the software – so you buy one of the Office 2010/2013/2016 versions for each module, but it seems you must pay again if you buy an alternate version,say, if you upgraded Office.
And that brings me to the product itself. It sucks.
Lines and Boxes
The fact it, it seems that you can’t work magic with OneNote. It can only draw boxes, lines, ‘ink’, and insert images… and if you’re going to try to create a mindmap, you need to do it with boxes, lines, etc. Therefore, it becomes apparent all too quickly that Mind Map for Onenote behaves like some kind of macro language, creating one-cell tables and connecting lines whenever you add a node.
However, that’s about it. If you try dragging a node, then the line stays where it is – it doesn’t move with the node, at least not there and then. If you add sub-branches to two adjacent branches, the sub-branches and nodes can end up overlapping each other. If you try deleting a branch’s line, it actually turns out to be a series of three lines drawn individually to look like one, and you only delete one of them at a time.
It’s not all bad – there is a ‘Refresh’ button. Evidently, MMfO does track which nodes are connected together, and if you make some edits such as deleting nodes and then click ‘Refresh’, it will remove any orphaned nodes, redraw the connecting lines, and try to tidy things up a bit. It won’t move nodes or detect overlapping/crossing nodes, however.
The toolbar appears rich with functionality. However, many of these are layout / alignment tools trying to provide some of the functionality that should be automatic in a mindmapping tool. For example, the ‘move’ arrows allow you to move the mindmap as a whole around the page without completely messing up the entire layout, as you would if you tried to shift-select-drag it.
The problem with all this is that mindmaps are supposed to be aids to productivity, by creating this infinitely scalable space that automatically re-organises as you move nodes, or thoughts, around – allowing you to brainstorm or organise without having to worry about managing the layout.
In contrast to this, Mind Map for Onenote requires intense micro-managing to create a readable layout. It has no automatic re-organising, a very basic layout, no node collapsing/expansion. It’s effectly no more than a very basic hierarchical layout designer, much like a hierarchy SmartArt in Powerpoint, but less dynamic and flexible.
And, to be honest, that’s where you should go. If you need to display hierarchies in OneNote, do it in Powerpoint and insert it as a file and image. If you need to use Mindmaps in Onenote – use something like Xmind or Freemind, and attach the file and a GIF export in the note.
I was hoping that this would be the app to merge these two incredible productivity tools into one, but sadly, that’s not the case.