FreeMind is mind-mapping software that facilitates the creation of two-dimensional visual models that establish relationships among concepts. These maps resemble webs of nodes and linkages, and they are commonly used for purposes including brainstorming or clustering, project management, and knowledge organization. FreeMind allows visual differentiation of nodes through colored shading and multiple icons. Maps may be embedded in web pages through a Java applet or Flash. Maps also may be exported as static images in .png, .jpg, .svg, or .pdf formats, or converted into a textual HTML format.

FreeMind is available at no cost, and because it is written in Java, it will run on almost any platform that has a Java runtime environment (this includes all modern personal computer operating systems). It also stores maps natively in an XML format, so data is easily accessed by other applications.

Academic Uses

FreeMind has many features that make it suited to academic environments. It is particularly adept in educational situations because it is platform-independent, so it can accommodate mixed-platform computer labs as well as a broad range of instructor and student personal computers. Moreover, the creation of mind maps is a very common prewriting practice. Such maps help organize relevant but disconnected material into a coherent structure. FreeMind's interface is nimble and keyboard-based, so it is a minimal obstacle in transferring concepts into a tangible form.

In addition to facilitating prewriting, mind maps are also useful visual outlines for parsing large composition tasks into multiple components. Unfortunately, because FreeMind offers only a single-user environment, its utility in collaborative outlining is limited. (Multiuser mind-mapping applications such as MindMeister flourish in this context.)

Many of these same features make FreeMind productive in other academic contexts, such as scholarship and administration. Prewriting practices that are useful for students are also often useful for scholarly authors, and braking down large composition tasks is vital when creating sustained texts. (A similar application, Semantik, is specifically designed to facilitate the production of longer academic works.) Mind maps are also useful administrative tools, and are commonly used for project management and personnel organization—hence the abundance of mind-mapping software targeted to business contexts.


  • Broad cross-platform support (useable on almost any platform with a Java runtime environment)
  • Multiple text colors, bubble shades, and icons
  • Quick keyboard shortcuts
  • One-click navigation
  • Drag and drop support
  • Searchable text
  • Open XML file format
  • Maps may be embedded in web pages through a Java applet or Flash
  • Export to HTML
  • Export to .png, .jpg, .svg, and .pdf


  • Long load time
  • Somewhat slow running speed
  • Limited media import capabilities
  • Single-user environment only (collaborative mind mapping tools such as MindMeiser can be advantageous in an academic context)

The Bottom Line

Although FreeMind inhabits a saturated software genre, it finds a niche because it is available on a broad range of platforms at no cost, and because it features a nimble interface and the ability to export to multiple web-friendly formats.