Mobile OS

Product Review: BrainForest is a simple tool for managing complex projects

BrainForest may be just the ticket for Palm OS users who need to organize and manage multiple projects. This product review outlines both the plusses and the problems you may encounter when using this project management tool.

If you’re fed up with the limitations of the Palm OS default to-do list, you might consider BrainForest Professional, an organizational tool for the Palm.

BrainForest is the creation of Aportis Technologies, better known for the essential AportisDoc Palm software. The company describes it as a “hierarchical outlining tool” that uses a tree metaphor similar to the outline function employed in Microsoft Word.

If you’re unsure what that means, think back to middle school when your teacher explained how to create outlines. Now imagine that you can rearrange the items on a whim, create due dates, and collapse portions of the outline, in Web forum style.

The problem is, when you shrink everything into a Palm, it becomes cumbersome to use. And that, of course, is the last thing you want in an organizational tool.
BrainForest is described as an ideal tool for the road warrior. Some of the suggested uses include:
  • Using a task template to ensure that real estate agents complete all the elements needed for a sale.
  • Allowing mobile workers to have a portable version of their entire work schedule.

Can’t see the forest for the trees
One problem I saw right away was that you can create separate “trees” for different areas or projects.

For instance, if you were overseeing the revamp of your company’s Web site, you might create that as one “tree.” You then would create to-do items that you could group into subsets called branches.

But let’s say you also have to manage the integration of a new marketing application that’s completely unrelated to the revamp. So you create a separate tree for that, with its own branches and leaves and due dates.

A sample tree


How can you evaluate which tasks have to be completed first to ensure both products are completed on time? There’s no automated way to do that with BrainForest. You’ll have to view each tree individually and figure it out yourself.
Try Outliner, a shareware program that uses a similar outline organization.
The other major problem: It crashed my Palm twice. While I didn’t lose data in either case, I probably would’ve been quite upset if I were on the road and hadn’t done a hot sync that morning. Also, when I played with it in the Palm Emulator, a tool used by developers to debug programs, I received several bug warnings.

Beyond basic to-do
Still, BrainForest is a useful tool if you need to keep a detailed, comprehensive to-do list. One of the tenets of most organizational programs is setting daily priorities and limiting your scope for the day. With BrainForest’s collapsible outline, you can do that and still keep a comprehensive task list.

BrainForest allows you to view tasks—which it calls leaves—by due date, priority or completion.

The application also adds depth to the basic to-do list by allowing you to designate a tree as a project tree, which enables you to indicate what percentage of a task is complete. You can also create additional notes on each to-do item and generate reoccurring tasks.

Plus, in addition to setting a due date, you can indicate the date started, which is particularly useful for those of us who lose track of how long ago we added an item to our list.

It also allows you to create a visual view of your workload. With BrainForest, you can view a bar graph of your tree’s timeline that shows what percentage is complete vs. what remains to be done.

The BrainForest menu


One thing that is very cool about BrainForest: It comes with a desktop application that works on Windows and Macs, which means you don’t have to have a handheld to use it. And the desktop application is easier to use because you can see more of your tree at a glance.

Other useful aspects of BrainForest:
  • You can export your trees to a memo in HTML. It did a good job of inserting the correct code and exported the task’s percentage complete figure, due date, any notes I’d added, and original outline.
  • You can export your trees to your Palm OS ToDo software.
  • Plug-ins that allow you to import and export files from Outliner, Memo, ToDo and Hi-Note.

Costs vs. benefit
The BrainForest Professional goes for $39.95, but includes the desktop version. The BrainForest Mobile sells for $30, but does not include the desktop version. You can download a 30-day trial version.

BrainForest is useful if you need a simple tool to keep track of multiple aspects of a project, need a way to keep track of reoccurring tasks, and are really only using the tool to manage your own workload.

However, if you’re in charge of managing a large project with multiple players, this tool will probably create more frustration than solutions.
What’s your favorite program for loading up your workload for the road? E-mail us or post your comments.
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