FreeMind versus SimpleMind – Simply free your mind and freely come back

Mind mapping software such as FreeMind or SimpleMind  is a great way to explore (brainstorm) new ideas or solidify what you’ve learned. I use it all the time to help me organize my knowledge or help me spark new ideas.
Since circa 2005, I’ve been using FreeMind on Windows and Mac. I recently tried SimpleMind and found the app beautiful but lacking.


  • My mind maps are huge but lots of good info that I need in one place. Practically speaking, I could not  search (find) by keywords such as “load” because the lower branches (nodes) overlapped too much and I could not see the context.
  • I quickly got 2 conflicts when syncing via Dropbox with my Android device.
  • No practical way to reconcile the differences when a conflict arises.

The bad:

  • Poor search (find) support. Maybe my mind maps are huge. I use them as a knowledge base. In SimpleMind, I spent way too much time… maybe over 1 hour… compulsively organizer my higher level  branches (pardon my advance math speak, but I’ll call the individual branch points nodes) as much as possible so they would not overlap. I thought I could adapt to SimpleMind. But alas, I was wrong. When searching for something such as “load”, the nodes expanded, no exploded, into an impossible amount of overlapping. The currently highlighted node can sometimes be hidden, as it is below, depending on how you finagle the search. For all you Clint Eastwood fans :D, I must say, this is the ugly (see screenshot below):


Searching and Finding in SimpleMind is not simple

The context is impossible searching with SimpleMind. Way too much overlap.

  • In all my years with FreeMind, I never had this problem. FreeMind would automatically layout the nodes and leaves so that I could always understand the context and content. FreeMind auto-layout makes searching clean and useable. See screenshot below (search emphasis of keyword “load” is mine):
Searching in FreeMind is clean

With auto-layout, searching in FreeMind is simple and clean.


  • Conflicts of syncing – The syncing from Dropbox was pretty sweet and enticing feature, but I knew I had to buy to test if I would have problems. So I paid $5 on Google Play to test my primary Android device with syncing. I modified on my Android device, went back to my Desktop, waited for the Dropbox notification “<SimpleMind file name here> was recently updated” in the upper right of my Mac, and started viewing the mind map in SimpleMind, and expanding nodes. Minutes later, SimpleMind popped-up a notice that there was a conflict and SimpleMind would save another mind map. Bummer. This means I probably have to remember to confirm the sync with Dropbox and SimpleMind happened. What is worse, I went back to my Android device, opened up SimpleMind Pro there, and WOW, more conflicts and another mind map created. Props for recognizing the conflicts but -2 for not providing a way to help me out of my quandary.
  • No way to reconcile your conflict problems – Maybe there is a secret to syncing, but I know I won’t remember to sync in whatever certain way to avoid conflict, so, in light of this, how can I reconcile?
    • Let’s try what savvy FreeMind on Linux or OS X user would do –  compare the conflicting mind maps with diff. Ouch! No way to do this  the files are binary:
      $ diff /Users/davidregal/Dropbox/Entrepreneur{,\ \(1\)}.smmx
      Binary files /Users/davidregal/Dropbox/Entrepreneur.smmx and /Users/me/Dropbox/Entrepreneur (1).smmx differ
  • Lags on medium size mind maps – Expanding to about 200 nodes or more, the app started to lag when zooming or panning, consuming about 50-90% of CPU on my pampered MacBook Air, mid-2011. Compare this to FreeMind which can handle showing way more than 200 nodes, I never tested or experience much lagging, but prolly 1,000 nodes or more.

The Good:

  • Beautiful interface. Native Mac feel.
    • Mac pinch zooming was smooth if open nodes are under circa 200.
  • Low memory usage compared to the latest FreeMind
    • FreeMind 1.0.1 – right now is hogging 401 MB but luckily only 16 MB of real. Installed through a dmg installer.
    • SimpleMind – did not go over 200 MB.
  • Semi-syncing with iOS for free!
  • Sweet automatic styling for higher level nodes.
  • Reasonable one-time cost – for both Android and Desktop.
    • The other mind mapping I considered, MindMeister, couldn’t open my huge mind map on Android and they wanted a relatively expensive monthly subscription.
  • Opens large FreeMind files on Android and iOS. This was impressive. Using the one of main competitors on Android, MindMeister.
    • Side rant – With MindMeister on Android 4.x, this app couldn’t open my mind map even with a beautiful Nexus 7 2013, 2nd gen, with plenty of CPU, memory and on a ridiculously fast Comcast cable internet connection.
    • Android is my choice platform of mobile devices. With my reasonably large FreeMind file successfully imported through their web app, the Android  MindMeister app failed miserably every time –  stalling, crashing with the final prompt for “Send error report”.
  • Export into FreeMind format.
    • Exporting to FreeMind format is available in both paid versions of desktop and mobile so SimpleMind is provides a way out.
    • Because I can create on mobile and send to myself with FreeMind format, I will keep using SimpleMind on my Android device mobile but only for small, brainstorming mind maps.
On Android, Simple Mind Pro export to FreeMind format.


I’ve retreated to FreeMind for my mind mapping home base but will keep my eye on  SimpleMind and come back if the issues above are resolved.
I will keep using SimpleMind to brainstorm on my Android device, especially since I already bought it, but I won’t do that much since I’ll have to manually export and import to FreeMind on my desktop. I don’t mind paying a one-time fee for solid software.
Versions tested and technical details:
  • Mac, desktop Simple Mind Trial, trial, app version 1.9.4.
    • OS X Yosemite (10.10.1).
  • Android, Simple Mind Pro, paid, app version 1.9.1.
    • Nexus 7, 2013 2nd gen, with stock ROM 4.x.
    • Samsung Galaxy S2 with custom ROM CM 10.2, carrier T-Mobile.
  • iOS Simple Mind, free, app version 1.8.3 on iOS 6.x.
    • iPhone 3GS.
  • Importing file from FreeMind version 1.0.1.
    • Authored on Mac OS X Yosemite, native FreeMind app (i.e. dmg install).
    • FreeMind file (*.mm) size 350KB.