Structure your ideas with Heimer mind maps

Tutorial – Heimer

Article from Issue 265/2022

Mind maps help you organize your thoughts and ideas in a clear-cut tree structure. Heimer can help you draw those trees.

What are you having for dinner tonight? This is always a tricky question, with family members having different ideas about what they would put on the menu. Fortunately, the many suggestions can be quickly organized in a mind map. This involves writing a central term at the center of a sheet of paper and then branching off with topically related, derived, or subordinate terms. Like a tree, this creates branches, which in turn help to structure the ideas, thoughts – or recipes.

Besides helping you choose a recipe, mind maps can also help you gather the content you need for a thesis or visualize complex relationships. And they are particularly useful for lectures: The memorable graphics make it easier to remember all the topics you need to address in your lecture rather than just using a list. With Heimer [1], mind maps can be drawn with a pen and paper or quickly assembled with a mouse click. When you add a new item, Heimer rearranges all the existing elements at the push of a button. You can export the finished mind map in either PNG or SVG format.


Some distributions include Heimer in their package sources – openSUSE Tumbleweed, for example. On Ubuntu, you can install the software at the command line using:

sudo snap install heimer

If you prefer the deb package manager to Snap, you can download packages, which currently support the last three Ubuntu LTS releases, from Heimer's GitHub page [2]. These deb packages can also be imported on all Ubuntu derivatives, such as Linux Mint. For Linux Mint, just run the command in line 2 of Listing 1.

Listing 1

Installing Heimer

01 ### Install a package
02 $ sudo apt install ./heimer-2.5.0-ubuntu-20.04_amd64.deb
03 ### Install an Appimage
04 $ chmod +x Heimer-3.4.0-x86_64.AppImage
05 $ ./Heimer-3.4.0-x86_64.AppImage
06 ### Build Heimer yourself
07 $ wget
08 $ sudo apt install build-essential cmake qtbase5-dev qtchooser qt5-qmake qtbase5-dev-tools qttools5-dev-tools qttools5-dev libqt5svg5-dev
09 $ mkdir build && cd build
10 $ cmake ..
11 $ make -j4
12 $ sudo make install

No matter how you install, you can launch Heimer via the Start menu or the Activities view. If you can't find Heimer in the your favorite distribution's software manager, and you are not using Ubuntu (or a derivative), your best option is to download the AppImage from the GitHub page. If your distribution supports this format, you just need to flag the retrieved file as executable and run it (Listing 1, line 4).

If this method does not work either, you will have to build from the source code (Listing 1, starting with line 6). However, the build requires CMake and some Qt 5 libraries. On Debian and Ubuntu-based distributions, the command from line 7 fetches all the required components. Then compile and install Heimer using the commands starting in line 9.

Starting Point

On first launch, you will see an empty window with a white box at the center. This is the starting point for your new mind map. It stands for the central thought, the basic idea, or the initial situation – in our example, the question of what the family wants to eat. As you proceed, create a separate box for each additional idea. The software refers to these boxes as nodes. As soon as you touch a node with the mouse pointer, several icons pop up (Figure 1).

Figure 1: You can use the icons to manipulate the node, for example, adding a color.

These icons let you reshape the node to suit your requirements. The node contains a light gray input box in the upper third; this is for the label. Click on the box and then enter a central term, such as "What are we going to eat?" To complete the input, just move the mouse cursor. Pressing the Enter key moves to a new line instead.

To save your new mind map, select File | Save as. As you continue to work, you should periodically press Ctrl+S to save the current state. Alternatively, select File | Preferences, switch to the Editing tab, and check Enable automatic saving at the very bottom. Heimer then automatically saves any changes.


Starting from the central node, I'm sure you will quickly think of other items you want to add. For example, the family could make noodle soup, put together a chef's salad, or opt for a sweet option and have cake. For each of these ideas, you would then create a new node in the mind map. To do this, move the mouse cursor to the central term and click on the icon at the bottom, the box with the downward-pointing arrow. Heimer then creates a new white node on the workspace, but it will most likely be behind or in front of the central node.

To tidy up, move the mouse pointer to one of the two nodes. Then drag and drop the icon in the top left corner to another location. The associated node automatically follows the movement. As shown in Figure 2, drag the node slightly to the side and away from the other node. Instead of clicking on the icon, you can move the mouse pointer to the white area of the node and then drag the node while holding down the left mouse button. If you do use this method, it is easy to accidentally click on the bottom icon create a new box. I recommend getting into the habit of moving nodes with the icon provided for that purpose.

Figure 2: New nodes can be dragged to different positions using the icon in the top left corner.

Click on the gray box in the new node and enter an appropriate label. In the example, the family might make noodle soup. This new, more detailed idea is directly derived from the central element. The tool shows this dependency as an arrow, which it automatically creates. When you drag and drop a node, the arrow automatically moves with it. Red dots mark the points where the ends of the arrows dock. The arrows themselves can also be labeled. In the example, you might note on the arrow that the suggestion was not popular. To do this, touch the arrow with the mouse pointer, click on the beige box, and type the note.

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