You've almost certainly seen mind maps, which depict ideas, words, tasks, projects, and other elements as graphical symbols arrayed around a central idea. They're nothing new; the Ancient Greeks knew of them, and today mind maps are used in business, industry, government, academia, the military, and other planning-dependent fields. Freeplane is a free, Java-based tool for creating mind maps. As with many open-source projects, Freeplane is available in a wide range of interface languages.
The first thing we noticed about Freeplane's efficiently configured layout was a toolbar containing a row of quick-access Function keys, beginning with F1, the User's Manual. We clicked this right away because the second thing we noticed about the interface was that it's a bit busy, though well laid out, and that most of the controls are unfamiliar. The manual opened with a mind map describing Freeplane's main concepts and functions, but it was also a bit overwhelming for a newcomer. However, we quickly realized that nodes are the key to Freeplane's functionality: creating, deleting, and editing them; adding links, attributes, files, and connectors; and related functions. In fact, it took mere moments to realize the logic and efficiency of the mind map concept and Freeplane's layout, once we'd taken it all in. Freeplane's tools menu contains icons that clearly depict actions like adding nodes.
We won't pretend that it doesn't take some practice to master this program's features and concepts; for instance, Ancestors, Descendants, and Children aren't people in mind maps! But Freeplane takes a powerful concept and makes it about as easy to use as can be, and without sacrificing features or flexibility. For some users, Freeplane serves as an alternative to tabbed notebooks or PIMs. We can see how that would work, arraying various tasks and associated ideas around an assignment, for instance. If you use mind maps, though, Freeplane is essential.