XMind mind mapping software went open … what’s really behind it?

I was intrigued when XMind announced that they were going to release their software to open source recently. What was up?  Running out of money and looking for a way to keep the product live? Seeing more income from subscriptions rather than selling individual packages once, with occasional upgrades? Aiming at ad-income? Was the free version a ‘come-on’ for the full XMind Pro? Could this be the start of a trend with other mind mapping software?

All interesting issues for those who like and use mind mapping software, so I contacted them and asked if I could interview them about this for mind-mapping.org. Here’s what they had to say:

Vic: What motivated you to change your business model from selling software to making it available free under an open source license?

XMind: We decided it was time to shake things up in this space. Mind mapping is still a niche category of software. We believe it can become an all-purpose productivity tool for content authoring, brainstorming and collaboration, but it has not yet crossed the chasm into mainstream usage. Providing a full-featured version of XMind that is both royalty-free and open source makes mind mapping more accessible to 2 principal groups of people: knowledge workers who want to create, organize and deliver content visually, and developers who want to incorporate and further extend mind mapping functionality. We also believe that having a vibrant developer community around XMind can take it in new and interesting directions, and make it an even stronger product.

Vic: I certainly believe that mind mapping needs to become as normal as spreadsheets or presentations myself, as those who followed my recent competition will know. So who will maintain and develop the software now?

XMind: XMind Ltd will continue to maintain and develop XMind 3. We welcome other developers to contribute to and extend XMind functionality by building additional plugins for XMind, of course provided that they respect the terms of the open source licenses we’ve chosen for XMind 3 (EPL v1.0 and LGPL v3).

Vic: How will you control the feature set and quality if anyone can jump in and submit code? You presumably have an acceptance process, do you?

XMind: For modifications to our source code, we are developing a process for reviewing and accepting these types of contributions similar to other popular open source projects like Eclipse. For developers who write their own plugins, it’s more straightforward because they can create a separate module that’s distinct from the base code.

Vic: Are any developers outside XMind Ltd. working on the open source version already? If not will you let them? (Of course, anyone can fork XMind and rename it so long as they keep the resulting project open, I’m referring to XMind itself.)

XMind: We’ve had some companies and individual developers express interest in writing some plugins for XMind, and we think this is the most likely scenario for how developers will work with the open source version. As mentioned above, the only limitations imposed on developers who want to work with XMind open source is that they comply with the open source licenses that we’ve specified.

Vic: How do you control the fork between the open source XMind and XMind Pro 3?

XMind: Basically we will control the XMind 3 code base that we distribute and make sure that XMind Pro 3 is based on that code base. The advanced features of XMind Pro 3 are in a separate plugin, so we can clearly differentiate between the 2 products while keeping Pro based on the same XMind open source code base. That’s the beauty of a plugin architecture like Eclipse. If there is a fork, it will be between our XMind 3 and other versions with modifications that we do not accept for whatever reason.

Vic: It looks as if your business model is moving towards ad-supported from those occasions when users place mind maps online, plus subscription from users who need privacy. At the same time, XMind Pro 3 will no doubt go on selling, so when I try to work out your approach, I wonder if …
– sales may drop as people choose the free open source version, or
– the free distribution may expand the user base and users will then choose to pay to upgrade.
What is your expectation? And what did you see as the advantage when you risk giving up income from sales of the software?

XMind: As stated earlier, we want to make mind mapping software a mainstream office productivity tool, and the prior offerings in the market, including our own, weren’t getting that done. Providing a full-featured, high-quality, royalty-free XMind will introduce mind mapping to many who have not yet adopted it. Also, with the popularity of Web 2.0 style content sharing websites ala YouTube and Flickr, we think XMind Share will further stimulate the adoption of mind mapping and of course XMind. If you think about it, mind mapping software is just another form of digital content delivery, and has its own unique characteristics like idea visualization that make it appealing. We’ve already seen some great examples of bloggers using our embedded viewer from XMind Share to capture the big picture of their ideas through a mind map right within their blog posts.We also believe we’ve got the best mind mapping product out there, and once people see how useful and cool it is, many will choose to upgrade to XMind Pro, especially knowledge workers and companies needing advanced features like Presentation mode, Audio Notes, Task Info, Gantt View, and private sharing. Put that all together, and our expectation is that Pro sales will grow rapidly along with the overall adoption of mind mapping and XMind.

Vic: Collaborative mind mapping, not just sharing, is widely available from most of the browser-based applications now. Do you plan to move in that direction in the near future?

XMind: If you’re talking about web-based mind mapping, we think it’s got limitations in terms of the richness of functionality you can provide through the browser. Online collaboration is definitely an important trend. We are planning an online collaboration solution for business work groups, and it will be broader than just mind mapping. Stay tuned!

Vic: I participate in the FreeMind forum and watch what’s going on there.  There has been a discussion going on there about whether FreeMind should be abandoned, whether they should keep on developing FreeMind as now or whether some XMind code should be meged into FreeMind (I don’t think it could as FreeMind is GPL2 or later, not LGPL).  This was kicked off by this post: http://sourceforge.net/forum/message.php?msg_id=5847653  You’ve probably seen it. What is XMind’s view about this?

XMind: In our team, we think this discussion is good for FreeMind, XMind, and even all the mind map developers and companies; and all mind mapping fans.  And XMind will still follow its own plan. XMind Open Source will grow everyday with new powerful features, performance improvement, bugs fixed.

Freemind is a good software too. It has done many things to let more people know and use mind mapping software.  There are no contradictions between us. Because both XMind and FreeMind want to create a great and powerful productivity tool for the whole human! Of course, this tool is open source.

XMind has its licenses. And we think, if Freemind’s developers think it is necessary, XMind team is glad to talk with them about what’s the future of mind mapping software, and what should it be.

More important, we think there are too many file formats now. We don’t think this is useful for all. There should be one or two main and major file formats. From my personal opinion, XMind and FreeMind may be two good choices. So it will be better to see that FreeMind can read XMind files. (XMind can read FreeMind files now).

Vic: As most mind map software developers know, because I’ve been communicating with them (including XMind) for more than a year, I’m very much in favour of  interchange capabilities between different software packages.  A large part of mind-mapping.org is devoted to acting as a clearing house for information supporting interoperability.

Click image to see mind-mapping.org's software interoperability resource
(Click image to see mind-mapping.org's software interoperability resource)

A final question: Changing from .org to .net (or any domain name change) places a lot of past work at risk. What inspired that move?

XMind: We thought it was an appropriate change given our move into online sharing, and our offering of both open source and commercial editions of XMind. We of course want to continue to foster a community around XMind, but we also want to shake things up and try different approaches to driving adoption of mind mapping and XMind. XMind.net is our umbrella for doing that.

So there it is, apparently.

The master list of mind mapping &
information management software


4 Replies to “XMind mind mapping software went open … what’s really behind it?”

  1. I like the direction we’re heading with XMind in general!
    There are so many useful scenarios for Mind mapping AND for me the (Freemind) mindmaps were very often starting points for further work. Then I found myself needing more flexibility than the hierarchical tree-structure of a mindmap (plus pointers between nodes).

    I love the interoperability diagram of the various mindmap tools in the market.
    On your interview …
    > […] There should be one or two main and major file formats. From my personal opinion,
    > XMind and FreeMind may be two good choices. So it will be better to see that FreeMind can read XMind files. (XMind can read FreeMind files now). […]

    … I totally agree and would add to have Import AND Export capabilities for real interoperability.
    I’d like to see both tools alive, as Freemind IMHO pretty lightweight and runs well from a USB-stick so I can take it to my clients as I need and use it.


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