Personal Brain is a mind mapping tool originally developed for Windows and since some time also available to Mac users. It's a unique approach to mind mapping that goes beyond the exotic terminology used by the program.In Personal Brain you enter thoughts (logical) into the Plex (the visible, graphical portion of the Brain window). Personal Brain enables you to attach notes, attachments and metadata to thoughts. And the metadata you can attach can further expand on the Brain’s usability. Originally a Windows application, Personal Brain is a Java implementation on the Mac. This makes it somewhat slower than a native program, but not so much as to be annoying or getting in the way of what you want to do—even when your Brain gets filled up nicely.
Except for Personal Brain being a Java application, there is one other critique that I have. Although Personal Brain doesn’t look like a Windows program—it looks pretty unique—it does lack some typical Mac functionality. For example, you can attach dates to Thoughts, but you can’t synchronise these with iCal. The same goes for Mail and Address Book. However, The Brain Technologies says it’s working on that for a future update or upgrade.
Now for the good news: Personal Brain must be the best and most thought process supporting mind mapping application I’ve ever seen and tested. It leaves all others miles behind, and the reason for that is its concept. In other mind mapping applications, you are shown all your topics, with the application leaving it up to you to collapse what you don’t want to see anymore. Personal Brain automatically collapses topics that are beyond the level you’re working on at any moment. You can get a complete overview and you can even get a partially expanded overview, but never are you confronted with the complete chaos large mind maps can look like.
Navigating thoughtsIf you’ve ever worked with other mind mapping applications, this approach does take some getting used to, but it quickly grows upon you, especially so as Personal Brain makes it very easy to navigate through your thoughts—oddly enough without you losing track of which thoughts you entered where. Linked thoughts are shown in a sort of dynamic history along the bottom of the chart, while Personal Brain also has a Search feature that is the most powerful available to find thoughts and associated topics, files, and metadata.
Import capabilities of Personal Brain are somewhat limited—just as with OpenMind, you have little options to import outlines or projects into the program, but the way Personal Brain is conceived, it makes the lack of a large number of import options less aggravating than with the competition—it feels like you’re going to start thinking anew, anyway.
Export capabilities are also not terribly stunning, except for one group of export functionalities: the export to the web. Here, Personal Brain allows you to export into HTML with the added bonus that you will see your brain in the browser exactly as in the application, with your thought notes listed at the bottom of the Plex, and with attachments and hyperlinks all intact. The nicest part, however, is that the web Brain functions the same as the original: it will dynamically show and hide topics.
This means you can use Personal Brain to run online trainings, walk people through your own thought process, or (for example) let them make a number of decisions by clicking on different thoughts and have them end up with an advice. The possibilities are endless.
Working in the Plex is easy: you drag a connecting line from a topic (the top level one is called “Brain” by default) and automatically a text box is shown. Here you enter your child thought and you can go on like this for as long as your Mac’s memory and CPU power allow. Thoughts can be added as children, but also as nephews, i.e. you can connect two same-level thoughts together.
To make navigation through very large brains easier, Personal Brain lets you use pins (bookmarks) and Thought Types (metadata). Attaching files is done by dragging. Unfortunately, dragging addresses or e-mail messages, or even iCal events is currently impossible. Everything can be customised, from the background to the colours of text and connectors.
One feature the Mac version totally lacks is Personal Brain’s Extra Sensory Perception. In Windows, users can type something in another application and Personal Brain will automatically activate the thought corresponding to this action.
Nevertheless, I was very impressed with Personal Brain, and it was the first time ever that I felt totally comfortable working with a mind mapping application. Personal Brain seems to really support and help with your thought processes—the very reason why you use it—and that’s not always apparent with other mind mapping programs. Personal Brain also exists as a server based enterprise solution, but only for Windows servers.