Mindjet, windows 8, digital ink and pen/active digitizer support

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Here's the thing with windows 8 tablets - it's a killer thing for anyone dealing with paper. Having an active digitizer along with MS OneNote is a blessing. The problem is - OneNote does not mindmap, and there really is a place for a decent, touch and ink friendly app on the market (could be desktop, not neceserrily metro, although minimalistic, or at least clean UI is nice).

Here's how it looks from my perespective. I'm a physics student. I've been using a windows 8 tablet (hybrid actually) with a pen for the past two months. I have not written a single page of paper since then, and I love it. From now on I know I will not ever come back to paper again and all my future computers will be like this - touch and pen hybrids with keyboard docking stations. This thing is just too good. I love OneNote. But I need mindmapping. I need mindmapping with traditional keyboard shortcut support, so I can create mindmaps fast when my tablet is docked. I need it with touch support, so I can use it while on the go, when touch-based navigation is very pleasant and natural. And MOST importantly, I need it with ink support. I want to write equations, with tiny indices. Use whatever symbols I like. Physics, mathematics, you name it.

And lastly I need it to be somehow battery friendly, since these days, computing is mobile and I need my battery to last all day.

The trend is, that in a perespetive of a few years, tablets will sell. And windows hybrids will be a large part of them. Windows 8 on a tablet is just a dream of a professional. It has incredible usability. And the ink totally rocks. Whoever has ever dreamed of paperless life - this is it. I love the fact that I can carry a ton of papers in my bag and not even feel it, and I've got all the goodness of the whole internet there, also. And I can write on documents, pdfs, word, excel, whatever, edit them on the go with touch-friendly Office 2013. I just need mindmapping. Ink-friendly, a little bit social (group edition - students and teams in companies know how to use such features), and MS office integrated (truth is - most people use MS Office).

Think about this - we live in the XXI century and we're using dead trees to write. Also, it just somehow happens that a very large percentage of people who get to play with windows tablet PCs, especially the new windows 8 based devices, and especially people who could be described somehow as "professionals", those who know what they need mindmapping for - which is your market - they fall madly in love with digital ink. I'd say digital ink and mindmapping is a match made in heaven.

I've played with Mindjet 11 for windows. I like the fact that it has ink support, but there's a lot to do to make it smoother. It's as if the designers themselves never really bothered to use it. The pen mode is so circa 2004, old tablet-pc style.

The main problem I have with the pen mode as it is right now - it limits my writing space (I can make the pen input box a little bigger, but that's it). How I would suggest to have this done, is to allow the user to ink freely on the white space (as in OneNote), then right-click the pen button, select a chunk of ink the user just wrote, fit it into a smallest square possible while getting all of it, thus making a node - and allow user to just attach by drag and drop wherever the user wants.

So I could just write on white space, brainstorm, then select chunks of ink by right-clicking the pen, selection being equivalent to creating a node out of the selected ink, and plainly attach one node to another. So if I need to write longer equation, or I suddenly need more vertical space to write something above or below, I don't have to squeeze - I can just ink.
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Krzysztof Szerenos

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Posted 6 years ago

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Krzysztof Szerenos

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Going more on mindjet's problems with ink - the navigation in pen mode is unintuitive. I have the scrollbars at the edges of the screen, but it would be much better if it was possible to make use of duality present, again the same example - in OneNote. In Onenote, fingers navigate (pan around, besides obvious UI controls accessed by tapping buttons or whitespace) - whereas the pen just writes (and selects, with pen right click). It's really nice, fast - you need to write something, go scribble with the pen, you want to zoom in/out, navigate/pan, use your fingers. Very comfortable. In Mindjet, however, the fingers do basically the same thing as the pen - invoking pen gestures. Which are really, really neat idea (very fast and useful), but it would be also great to take advantage of the pen/finger duality and use fingers to pan (yup, I tried the two finger panning gesture an it does not work in pen mode - only mouse mode).

Second thing - the web version of mindjet does not display ink. At all. That's a shame - the exact reason I wanted to get mindjet was to use it as a tool to collaborate on mindmaps with equations (and a bunch of tiny indices) with a group of fellow students. Collaboration - check. The web version is great job. But. I need that ink on it. So either there's something really wrong with my browser, or the web version does not display ink even as simple graphic files. That's weird, cause the desktop version, from what I see, knows how to make graphic files from ink.

I'll give you a story. I study and work in a department at a faculty of physics (as a student member of a scientific team). I was the first person at the whole faculty to have a smartphone. Since then, a bunch of people here decided to buy one for themselves, for a number of reasons - as a mobile notepad, pdf & web browser, agenda/calendar/organizer/Get It Done device etc. I mean, for the scientists at my faculty, a smartphone was just a fancy toy - before you showed them how much it could get done for them, oh then they get hooked on the idea so much they just had to get one.

For the past two months I've been walking around the faculty with a windows 8 tab, using the active digitizer to take notes, you know, going completely paperless. And people come and ask - how it's like? How's the pen? Cause all of these physicists here have the same problem - tons of paper on the desk. And the limitations of the paper itself. You just can't do a lot of stuff with paper, stuff that you can do easily with digital ink. And I've already had like 5-6 PhDs (and the Dean) expressing strong interest. And I mean drooling. Tablets were just kid toys for them, but you show them digital ink for the first time in their lives (really, not that much people have heard about tablet PC pen functionality), and they're instantly hooked. In two years time, a significant part of the whole faculty will be doing the same thing I'm doing right now - it's just so much more practical than paper. And it's cooler. Geeky people dig this.

And all these people, all over the world, will need mindmapping software, able to work with ink in general and equations in specific. Scientists, engineers, mathematicians, tens of millions of students. Also, inking is far more comfortable on a tablet, than the virtual keyboard. Way faster, whereas the virtual keyboard inevitably makes annoying mistakes. Any kind of professional, who has to do with paperwork, will have interest in digital ink. Lawyers, doctors, business people, you name it. Wherever there's paper, there's place for digital ink. So by working on the support for digital ink, you're buying yourself a ticket to the future, which is very close, I'd say 5 years time. How long it took smartphones to proliferate everywhere?

We've had smartphone/tablet revolution, courtesy of Apple. Now we're going to have paperless/digital ink revolution, courtesy of Microsoft. Wanna grab a ride?
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Andrew Wilcox, Champion

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I have been using MindManager in ink mode since 2004. It disappointing that virtually nothing has changed in a decade.

Although I like Windows 8 overall, I think the loss of the TabTip tool in favour of the touch lead panels is disappointing. I have found a workaround See my blog..

Krzysztof have you tried ink in topic notes?
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Krzysztof Szerenos

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Yup, I just tried inking in topic notes. Works fine on Samsung Smart PC 500T. Both pen and highlighter, with color chooser. Nice. Although I'd prefer action on hover for displaying topic notes - hover the pen over a topic to see a quick glimpse of what's inside, in a floating overlay that disappears the moment you hover away or click blank space (clicking the overlay would be equivalent to an intent of editing, then). Again, previous era UI limitations.

I read your blog post about handwrittten ink to text panel. Actually, I bumped on it a while back when doing a research on mindmapping apps working with ink, and that lead me to try mindjet in the first place.

My humble opinion - from a POV of an equation eager pearson (so - completely subjective and biased for most other people) - ink to text will never work as it should. I mean, if one writes very slow, very pretty and in English, then I'll admit, it sometimes impressess me, but it's only text, no way it will ever work properly with mathematics. So since I won't ever be able to really use this the way I would like, I scrapped the whole idea of ink to text from my mind.

In fact, digital ink is way better than plain pen & paper, so I'm happy anyway.

However, for someone who does not need equations, well it's an obvious pain in the neck, because ink to text should be perfectly doable in this department. So - my sympathy.

And yes, the remarks about the fact that the ink input panel in windows 8 is too big, chunky and messes with the perespective by taking half the screen, all true. It's a little bit better in portrait mode - in my case, 11.6 inch screen, 16:9 ratio, the windows 8 virtual keyboard, in whatever mode, keys or ink input, takes a little bit less than 1/3 of the screen.

By the way, a suggestion for you, Andrew. Take a look at TouchPal keyboard for windows. It's a virtual keyboard that uses "curve" input. You swype the keys, whole words in single strokes, instead of tapping them one by one. This is aided by predictive suggestion/correction. It's a blessing on android smartphone, and I like it much more than the stock virtual keyboard from windows 8. Much, much faster. Some nice gestures also - like swyping vertically upper row keys to input numbers.