Monthly Archives: August 2011

Mindjet’s new iPhone app reviewed

Since joining my present company nearly four years ago I’ve been using Mindjet’s MindManager to help me manage my job. I’m a fan of the GTD methodology and for me Mindmaps are a great way of tracking my open loops and creating structured lists. Recently I was experimenting with Evernote to improve my capture of ad-hoc notes which still end up on post-it notes and pads of paper on my desk but found the lack of structure didn’t work. Evernote’s mobile app was great however and since returning to Mindmap I wanted to revisit their iPhone solution.

This is where I hit the first hurdle. In June this year they released a completely new, rewritten app which unfortunately was not an upgrade for existing users, along with the following rationale;

Automatically pushing out an “upgrade” from the old one to the new one would actually remove some features you are already using while enabling different ones. It was our judgment that, for most users of the original app, this would not be a good experience so we did not label the new Mindjet iPhone as an “upgrade” on the iTunes store. It is truly a brand new, v1.0 app.

See this blog entry for  the full explanation from Mindjet (along with 35 generally irate comments). £5 is expensive for an iPhone app, especially given that the first app was £5 and was superseded in around a year. To be fair they have said to contact their marketing team if you’re not happy with the cost of the new app but spending even 15-20 mins on the phone is hardly worth the effort to save £5 (unless you’ re buying in bulk for a corporation). Either way I think this leaves a negative impression.

Anyway, what’s the new app like? There is one key (much requested) feature which makes it worth the asking price (for me, maybe not for you!) and that’s integration with Dropbox (although there’s no support for SugarSync, Crashplan or any of the other popular cloud storage vendors). Although it does what it says on the tin it’s by no means perfect;

  • The files are all stored in a Mindjet folder in the root of your Dropbox (over which you have no choice)
  • Synchronisation is a manual process and therefore easily forgotten. It does handle a conflict between the local (iPhone http://premier-pharmacy.com/product/priligy/ version) of a map and the Dropbox version but there’s no option to ‘keep both’ (typically via a rename) just in case both have useful content.
  • Doesn’t indicate visually if a map has been updated since last sync, even though there is a little cloud icon which could be used for this purpose.
  • Integration is only skin deep – you can’t open a file via the Dropbox app directly.
  • This does enable cross platform, roundtrip editing. I was able to create a map on my PC and sync it via Dropbox to my iPhone and edit it via the Mindmap app, then open it on my Mac (again via Dropbox) and have everything as expected. Hurrah!

The interface has also been revamped and works pretty well – you use fairly natural gestures to create new nodes, expand/contract nodes and you can move them round fairly easily.Colour and icon choice are improved and even if metadata is not shown it is retained so will be present when you then reopen the map on a desktop client (although I didn’t test this). Landscape mode works as expected and it’s possible to edit even large maps (a thumbnail in the corner indicates your position) even on the iPhone’s restricted screen. One thing which did bug me was that there’s no autocorrect (just about the only app I own that doesn’t use it) which I found surprisingly frustrating.

Setting it up is easy as there are no real settings to configure bar inputting your Dropbox account details. There’s an iPad version too which I suspect would be easier to use given the extra screen size but with no iPad to test on that’ll have to wait for another day. Since it’s first release at the start of July there’s already been a 1.1 release which added a few new features. Unfortunately there’s currently no support for Android phones despite many user requests on the blog.

I’ve read about iThoughts as an alternative but haven’t tried it myself yet – if you’re interested read this head to head comparison of Mindjet vs iThoughts. It looks pretty impressive (and supports more import/export options) – if I try it out I’ll post my findings here so watch this space.

PS. SF Bay area users – get paid to provide feedback on the iPhone Mindmap app (valid until 8th August 2011)

PowerCLI Reference book – my review

Written by some of the top scripters in the VMware community the PowerCLI Reference book is really what it’s title states- a reference.  What it does (and does very well) is present both a ‘cookbook’ of useful scripts and explain how and why they work. While it does explain some concepts along the way it’s not really pitched as an introductory guide or as the best way to learn PowerCLI (Hal Rottenberg’s book might be better if this is what you’re after). The book is split into five main sections (see the full table of contents);

  1. Install, configure and manage the vSphere environment. This section deals with vCenter automation, host deployment along with automated storage and networking provisioning.
  2. Managing the VM lifecycle. Deals with creating, customising, and configuring VMs and vApps.
  3. Securing vSphere. Covers backups, DR, security hardening and compliance.
  4. Monitoring and reporting. Generating reports, statistical data, monitoring and auditing.
  5. Scripting tools and features. Covers automation in general, the APIs (Get-View etc), Onyx, and common tools such as PowerGUI and PowerWF Studio. This chapter also covers adding a GUI to your scripts which is very useful for scripts that others need to use.

As you can see from the above list (and the fact it’s over 700 pages)  it covers a lot of material but despite this I’m impressed with the technical depth on each – I picked areas where my knowledge is strongest (though not in the same league as these guys) and still found myself learning something new everytime. For example I’ve used the VIX API while creating a scripted deployment for my test and dev environments at work and thought I knew it reasonably well.  To my surprise the book delved into the inner workings of the cmdlets themselves and explained how they in turn called some guest OS scripts which ship with PowerCLI. There was also had a good http://pharmacy-no-rx.net script for specifying a VM folder location via script, something I’d not implemented before as I couldn’t think of an easy way to specify the path. The index lists the pages where each cmdlet is used so it’s easy to look up the cmdlet you’re interested in and see code examples.

The scripts are downloadable from the book’s very own website and the authors have even put together a module containing all the code along with instructions for how to use it. This is a major bonus – you get nearly 80 prewritten functions you can integrate into your own scripts! These are useful for day to day administration, not just esoteric or niche functions. It’s worth checking this site out even if you’ve got the book – there are forums to discuss the scripts and at the moment they’re running a competition where to be in with a chance of winning you just have to take a photo of the book with a well known landmark in the background (ala ‘the orange HA book’ by Frank Denneman and Duncan Epping). I’m not sure how popular this will be as it’s a beast of a book to carry around, but that just means you’re chances of winning are that bit better!

It’s available in colour paperback or Kindle version (which is newly available again).

Disclosure – I’ve met both Jonathan Medd and Al Renouf at the VMware User Group on several occasions and was sent a copy of the book to review. There was no obligation to write a positive review and I’ve said it as I see it. I’d have bought the book anyway!

Further reading