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Get Yourself Organized – Use Mind Map

Novell Cool Solutions: Feature
By Jana Jaeger

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Posted: 21 Jun 2005

Got lost in sheer masses of post-it notes sticking to your monitor or even worse all over your office? Or tried to use any of the desktops' note taking tools and lost track of what you originally wanted to put down or get done? Ever tried to use mind maps instead? Go ahead, read this article, fall in love with vym (view your mind) and enjoy being a little bit more organized.

What is This?

vym is a smart little tool that lets you put down your thoughts in a very intuitive way using tree-like structures aka mind maps. At first sight, a mind map might look like a child's scribble or drawing. But have you ever tried to get through a pile of long-forgotten notes on an important project to try understand them? Well, depending how big a pile that was and how good you are at structuring your thoughts, this surely was a nightmarish experience.

vym's mind maps come to your rescue. Instead of shuffling through papers just follow the branches of the mind map to get an idea what you wanted to put down. If you don't like the structure of this project anymore, go ahead swap branches, modify them or even delete them. It's not as easy as that, doing the same with your good old paper notes, is it?

A mind map structure of this article

vym comes in handy in any situation that involves brainstorming and quick thinking. Some typical examples:

  • preparing this article or any other sort of publication

  • preparing a talk

  • meeting minutes

  • to-do lists

  • ... many more

How do I Get Started?

vym comes with the latest edition of SUSE Linux Professional (9.3, at this time) or can be downloaded as RPM package for SUSE Linux Professional 9.1 and 9.2 from Install the package with YaST. vym requires QT3 which is installed on your machine anyway if you are running the KDE desktop environment and some viewer applications for external documents, such as a PDF viewer and a web and file browser. vym assumes these to be Konqueror and Acrobat Reader, but you can change these settings if you prefer other viewer applications. Once installed, it can be started via the Project Management entry in the SUSE menu.

How Does it Work?

Any vym file opens in a tab in the main window which enables you to easily switch between different files, just by clicking the respective tab or by navigating using Alt-N (for next window) and Alt-P (previous window). Anywhere on the canvas, a right-click offers you a menu of formatting options available in this particular. Depending whether your mouse pointer is on an entry or a branch or the canvas itself, the content of these menus differs. But all options can also be accessed through the Edit and Format menus in the top menu bar. The Settings menu lets you configure the basic behavior of vym. The map editing functions are mainly controlled through the toolbar icons, keyboard shortcuts and context menus.

Start off with an empty sheet and put your central thought right in the middle. Just double-click on the spot that reads "New Map" and enter what you need to enter. To add new branches to your center point, just hit Insert and you get prompted for the name of this branch. This can go on and on and result in an increasingly complex structure down on your sheet (aka canvas).

Now, what does vym offer you to deal with this? Pick from the following options:

Zoom  vym Zoom
Zoom in and out of regions of interest on your canvas.
Scroll Branches  Collapsing Branches
Collapse entire branches to save space. The content of these branches won't be lost, just hidden. Use the ScrolLock key to toggle this behavior. You can also use the cursor keys to unfold collapsed branches and collapse them on deselecting them.
Move Branch  Move Branch up or down
You are free to change the position of any branch. Just select the branch and pull it to a new position holding your left mouse button and releasing it when the final position is reached. Or select the branch, and move it by Cut & Paste. Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V also work in vym. Yet another way to rearrange branches is to use the arrow icons of the toolbar or the PageUp/PageDown keys of your keyboard. Any branch that is not directly connected with the map's center can be moved upwards or downwards using this function.

Some branches of your mind map might require additional info to be associated with them. If appropriate, create sub branches and add more detail there. Or Use the note editor window to enter explanatory remarks to your topic. The notes will not be shown in the mind map, but a little notes icon is added to your branch entry. Click on it to view the note. The note editor allows you to use Rich Text Format (colored, bold, italics, several different fonts).

vym Note Editor

If additional information is available in an external file or web site, use vym's Edit URL feature. Right-click on the entry, select Edit URL and enter the URL of the external source.

Adding a URL

Of course you can link to another vym mind map just as well. Select Edit vym link and select the other map's filename.

If you prefer to import external map files to a certain level of your map, select the position where the map should be integrated into your existing one. Right-click on the appropriate entry and choose either to replace the existing entry and subtree with the external tree or to add it in this position.

To highlight an entry's importance or to further illustrate its contents, use flags. Just select the entry and choose the flag from vym's toolbar. To remove a flag, just click on the flag's icon in the toolbar.


To further highlight an entry, you can edit the color of the branch or subtree, and of the entry heading itself, as well as add or remove a frame around the entry. To change a heading's color, select the entry, open the color chooser dialog by clicking on the black square in the toolbar. Choose the color you want and leave this dialog. The square will now adjust to the color you have just chosen. Then decide whether just a single header should be changed to the new color or whether you want to apply this coloring to all the hierarchy levels below and select the appropriate icon to trigger the coloring. To change the coloring of the branches (aka links), right-click on the canvas and select Set Link Color. Set the color to any value you want, select the entry to which child elements this coloring scheme should apply and then again decide whether it should be applied to one link only or all the following. To change the background color, simply right-click on the canvas, select Set Background Color and adjust the color settings.

Coloring Branches

Navigating your tree is also pretty straightforward. Either use the Find function (Edit > Find) or use the four cursor keys to navigate through the subtrees. Using the left and right cursors you will climb one subtrees hierarchy from top to bottom and vice versa. Top and bottom cursors let you skip between entries of the same hierarchy level all around your tree.

If you intend to share your mind map with others, consider exporting it either to an image format or to XHTML. Exporting it to an image format just exports the pure map. Notes and links will be neglected. Exporting to XHTML can convert the map into a clickable image map and will display any additional content (links and notes) right below the image map. Clicking an item in the image map takes you right to any other content associated with this entry. The Export function can be found under File > Export.

Exporting to XHTML

N.B. the vym's home page is an example for an XHTML export out of a standard vym file.

Tweaking vym

Behind the scenes of vym, you will find not find much more than a special flavor of XML, XSL stylesheets for various export types, CSS and a few images and scripts. So feel free to adjust vym's look and feel to your needs by toying around with the CSS and XSL stylesheets or integrating your own custom scripts. Under /usr/share/vym/ you will find the already existing stylesheets and scripts. Feedback and contributions of any kind are more than welcome. Contact the author.

Help and Documentation

Each toolbar icon offers a tool tip providing a hint on its purpose. If in need for a more comprehensive documentation, read the PDF docs that can be viewed with Help > Open VYM Documentation. General information on vym can be found on the project's home page.

If interested in general information on mind maps, turn to Wikipedia

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