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"As Time Passes By" or "It was the Best of Times, It was the Worst of Times"
on March 18, 2010
Inspiration is a concept mapping/outliner tool that has been around for a while (20 years I've been told) and apparently has a wide audience particularly among writers. Inspiration may concentrate on the educational market but this edition seems aimed at the general market since they offer another version, Kidspiration. I have owned versions 7 and 8. This latest version 9, a new release that is now a Universal application for Mac, has some minuses and pluses. My comments below apply to the Mac version which was tested on new Intel Macbook Pro.
The first thing one notices, if one is a previous Inspiration owner, is that the user interface (UI) is the same as the last two versions (i.e. un-Mac like). This is a double-edge sword. Some may feel at home with a familiar look but new owners, especially ones familiar with most other Mac applications may be unhappy and confused. A pet peeve of mine which is continued here is with the setting of default fonts: they don't stick.
There are performance issues with version 9 that make it slower than v8 was. It is slower changing from outline to map views. Accessing the menu items is also slower. For instance, it takes 10 seconds for the font menu to appear and every time the Help menu is selected the spinning ball appears. I see none of this on the PPC v8.
I had hoped that the developers would have improved the map scaling. There are a small number of steps of zoom with the maximum of 200%. I don't find these satisfactory and it should be replaced by a slide and the maximum zoom should be increased considerably.
The maps themselves do not seem changed. The symbols can have shadows but the links can not. Don't expect to see nice liquid 3D symbols that you will find in other mind-mappers but only flat 2D shapes. The default links' straight arrows still seems amateurish. The new Map Document feature transforms the standard Inspiration map into - well - an ugly version of a traditional mind map ala Tony Buzan; the branch options are very limited - the ends can only be horizontal, the text can only be put on the ends, they can become so thin that they almost disappear, and adjusting the thickness is way too cumbersome. There is no option to add boundaries to branches and no way to add photos or texture to the background. You do get a good library of clip-art, which has been improved from the very pixelated ones in version 8. One begins to wonder why the developers improved the these but did nothing with the nodes or symbols. You will also get an assortment of templates, although most are limited by being aimed at the educational market.
Inspiration 9 has added an option to add symbols from the map to the outline topics. This does help somewhat but the small icons are hard to see. Another option for link text has been added but it only shows on the original links. If a link is drawn from one branch's node to another it won't show up in the outline.
Unfortunately for owners of the portable Palm version, Inspiration 9 has inexplicably dropped support for the Palm export, stranding those owners without a way to upgrade. Despite its so-called legacy status Palm applications can be still be run on other current devices by Nokia and the new Palm units. Inspiration has a history of supporting legacy applications such as Appleworks long after they've stopped development so why not support their own Palm app? This situation also means that Inspiration no longer has any portable option.
Portability among applications is also important these days. Inspiration has supported a few export/import options, none of which allowed much, if any, portability to other outlining or mind-mapping applications. This new version dropped export support for Appleworks and PowerPoint while adding iWork, OpenOffice and something called "Presentation Slides". But these don't allow you to exchange your information with other outliners or mind-mappers, such as OmniOutliner or MindManager. OPML, the definitive standard outline format included with most other mind mappers, is still missing from Inspiration's import/export options. Had OPML been added then work done on Inspiration 9 could have been exported to an already existing iPhone mapping app. But it wasn't...again.
Overall I am somewhat disappointed with this new release. It's really a mixed bag. They've added some new features, some not so good, and some new questionable export options. But more importantly they have not updated an ancient and aged UI, have still limited import/export options, dropped support for its own Palm app, and it has some new annoying performance issues. The maps themselves have not really been improved and they need polishing and modernization. Version 9 is also a missed opportunity to add tasks. They have had years to fix some of these issues, hence, my disappointment. The developers simply do not seem to be very interested in really modernizing this program. As such it has already been surpassed in a number of areas by the tough competition, especially on the Mac. In its favor Inspiration is a competent application with a outliner that is better than in most other concept/mind-mapping applications at a relatively attractive price. But at this point I can't see much advantage in my moving from version 8 to 9 since its future looks bleak.