Best Free Outliner


Outliners allow you to organize text or place random pieces of information into tree-type notes or a well organized database.

They occupy a unique niche among computer users. Many people see no benefit from them while others consider them an essential piece of software.

If you are among the group that loves them, then you should check out some freeware reviewed here.

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KeynoteKeyNote is a freeware program with a dedicated band of followers. While most software designers like to use the term user friendly, in this case it really applies. This is one of the few software programs that you can install and start using right away.

What do you do with KeyNote? Well to quote the web site “KeyNote is used by screenwriters to draft screenplays, by medical doctors to keep patient databases, by developers to store source code snippets - and to everyone it serves as a place to put all the random pieces of information that have no particular structure or relationship to other data, and do not fit easily in task-specific applications such as word-processors, databases or spreadsheets.


NeoMemIf it is a problem for you that KeyNote is no longer under development then you might want to consider NeoMem. It's not really a dedicated outliner but is rather more of a general purpose note taking program that can be used as an outliner.

It's a kind of hybrid of a database and word processor that's designed to allow you to organize, store, hyperlink and search information.

The bland description totally under-sells the product. It's one of those programs that you really need to use in order to understand its full potential. It works with all Windows versions so try it.


TreeDBNotes FreeAs another alternative, TreeDBNotes Free can be used with full text and paragraph formatting with customizable images. It supports many useful features such as hyperlinks, word tables, auto time-stamping, filtered search and more.

With this application, you can backup and restore your database, print your notes or export them to txt, rtf, html, doc and other formats.

Though most basic features in this free version are sufficient for average users, there're some extra features, such as setting passwords and spell checker that need to be enabled through a registration which is not free.


KeepNoteKeepNote works as an outliner and keep notes or other content in a simple hierarchy of folders as well. In each notebook, you can create folders and pages, as well as sub-folders and sub-pages, and you can re-organize them easily by drag-and-drop. In each page, rich text formatting including colored fonts, bullet point lists and hyperlinks are supported.

As an added advantage, not only can you store images, you can also directly insert a screenshot you take with this application into an opened note.

KeepNote auto saves your files in xml format and allows you to archive and restore your notes from your storage device. No print option is available in the application.


FreeMindAnother possibility is FreeMind. It's an Open Source "mind mapping" program written in Java that can serve as an outliner as well.

Functionally it's closer to Keynote than NeoMem. It's slower than Keynote but is more powerful for mapping complex relationships.

The software is cross platforms and you can run it in Windows, Mac OS X or Linux.


ZuluPadZuluPad is another program that is not really an outliner but rather a cross between a note-taking program and a wiki. Its strong card is the ease with which you can create a set of linked and cross linked documents.

In its current release, it is lacking in features when compared to the other products but this is more than compensated for by its high level of usability.


Other freeware products to be reviewed:

SEO Note is used for any tree-like structured information. It saves your file in a proprietary seo format but allows for export to txt, rtf or html format.

Related Products and Links

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Quick Selection Guide


Gizmo's Freeware award as the best product in its class!

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
User friendly, a dedicated band of followers
No longer being developed but remains popular in its current release
1.8 MB
32 bit only
Unrestricted freeware
Windows 98 users may need to install version 4.01 of Microsoft common controls. Since 2009, further development has been taken up by Daniel Pradov, who has been releasing new versions under the name of KeyNote NF (New Features). It is 64-bit compatible. v1.7.9.4 beta4 available here
Windows 98/Me/2000/NT/XP


Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Rich text formatting, take screenshots and store images.
Searching by tags not supported, no print option, lack of online syncing.
7.6 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
v0.7.8 released 26 March, 2012 v0.7.9 nr available 04 July, 2012 here
Windows XP to Vista, Mac OS X, Linux


Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Open source, functionally closer to Keynote, powerful for mapping complex relationships.
Slower than Keynote
27.2 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Unrestricted freeware
Additional Software Required: Java v0.9.0 stable released 18 February 2011 v1.0.0 release candidate 4 available here
Windows, Linux, Mac OSX and any system with Java installed


Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
General purpose note taking program, allows to organize, store, hyperlink and search information.
Not really a dedicated outliner.
680 KB
Unrestricted freeware
Windows 98/Me/NT/2000/XP

TreeDBNotes Free

Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Supports for full text and paragraph formatting, customizable images, hyperlinks, word tables, time stamping, filtered search and more.
Some extra features such as setting passwords and spell checker are available after a non-free registration.
4.34 (Build 01)
9.0 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
v4.34 (build 1) released 17 June, 2013
Windows XP/ Vista/ 7 (32 & 64)


Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Create a set of linked and cross linked documents, high level of usability.
Lacking in features when compared to other products.
1.6 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Feature limited freeware
There is no portable version of this product available.
Windows ME/XP/2003, Mac OS X

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I miss the old Buttonware's PC-Outline. It was a real classic and its visible shifting hierarchy was unique.
I used in the DOS form for quite sometime as it helped my thinking and progress in working on problems.

I gave KeyNote a try, and loved it.
However, when storing images into it, it gets too large.
I used a copy of their sample file and added a couple of Tabs.
Pasted about 3 images into it, and it is up to 100MB already
The author advises against having large files, and I think that is already bigger than he likes.
He apparently is not storing the images in a suitable (small size) format.
Anyone know of a similar program that is economic when storing images ?

I am searching for NeoMem to give it a try (the link above don't work)

PS one of the images was a scrolled capture of the Author's Features web page.
It is 12MB as a jpg, yet added approx 70MB to the file size
(I managed to work out how to get PicPick to do a web page scroll capture, if anyone is interested)

PPS I tried TreeDBNotes some time ago and loved it.
Then it's complex (internally complex) auto backing up, went haywire up, and the program was unusable thereafter.
I wish people (and developers) would use 'KISS'

Software ideas modeler (standard edition is free) is a lightweight and powerful CASE tool. It helps you to describe and design your software and processes using UML 2.4, BPMN 2.0, SysML 1.3, ERD, flowcharts and other diagrams:

Just came across a new one that shows some promise: CherryTree. It's portable and has good import/export (e.g. backup) functions.

Here's a link to a review:

Yes I saw that too and thought it looked very promisong. However when I double click on the software in my W7 x64 limited user account, it doesn't respond.

Unless I'm making the wrong assumption (I downloaded cherrytree_0.34.1_win32_portable.7z) that's not 'portable enough' for me :)

No word count...on cherry tree..So doesn't work for me...
When are developers going to learn that writers want a Word Count...

Have you tried DBNotesFree yet ?
What advantages does CherryTree have over DBNotesFree ?

I can tell you one massive advantage that TreeDBNotesFree has over CherryTree -
TreeDBNotesFree has Tabs



I'm actually using the paid version of treedbnotes and am migrating some stuff to CherryTree for four reasons:

1) The search feature in treedbnotes is INCREDIBLY slow, I have a few thousand coding scripts and it takes too long to search, CherryTree is way faster. I just did a text search in each with the same data.

56 seconds for treedbnotes
8 seconds for CherryTree.

For that matter, Keynote was much faster at searching than treedbnotes in my memory.

2) CherryTree saves all its info in an sqllite database which is something that I'm familiar with, I trust, and I can access it via other means if needed. Not sure what treedbnotes uses, it may be similar but unknown to me.

3) The Treedbnotes interface is bloated and hard to use, I was looking something simpler.

4) CherryTree is part of the portable apps platform updates automatically. Treedb has to be updated manually as a portable.

Thanks for replying
I loved TreeDBNotes, however today I am getting message "there is no disk in the drive" and it takes a stick to kill it.
I googled but could not find others with same problem. I have attempted to turn off all the auto backups, but even those checkboxes insist on staying ticked.
Thus I will check out your CherryTree, BUT
I am nervous about being able to access the data by other means.
Could you share how you do that ?


Cherry Tree has some options for how to save the database, if you choose SQLITE, then you can access the database like any other SQL database. If you're not familiar with SQL, its a very common way to store data.

I've accessed the CherryTree SQLITE database with a simple tool called SQLite Database Browser ( In my mind, the saved data is as accessible as it would be with a folder of saved text files (which both CherryTree and TreeDBNotes can export to I believe.)

No mystery, it just has an option to save in a very commonly used database format that is accessible via other programs if needed.


If it wasn't for his lack of importing/exporting features, I would certainly go for uvOutliner. For now, I'm stuck with Java Outline Editor (JOE) which still make for a great single-pane and light-weight outliner. It is cross platform and openSource, allow for import/export in OPML, OML, TXT and HTML (with customizable CSS formating). It otherwise does not support, as uvOutliner, rich text formatting, multi-column or printing(you must export to print JOE's outline).

n.b. You may need to manually install java-64 to run JOE on a win64 OS.

Today, April 3, 2014 the NeoMem page does not come up

If you don't need all the bells and whistles, then seriously consider these two portable apps:

TreePad Lite (freeware)
The Guide (open source)

They're currently the best free "light" tree outliners that I'm aware of, and I've tried just about all of them.

KeyNote "No longer being developed ..."
KeyNote NF (improved KeyNote) new version was just released earlier this year: Release_1.7.9.3 Beta 4. No need to install, works as portable version.

Ideal solution in combination with Dropbox/DropboxPortableAHK + BoxCryptor/BoxCryptorPortable. Client side data double encryption (KeyNote+BoxCryptor) before synchronizing into cloud.

PORTABLE'ness should always rate a mention, as some of us love portable.
(PS when I say 'Portable' I mean I create a folder wherever I choose, and I place the EXE into it, and it just runs from there, keeping everything it needs in that folder.)

I am not sure if Keynote NF is the same as your top recommendation ? (I believe it is the successor of Keynote ?).
It can be used as a portable program.

I agree that TreeDBNotes is much prettier, and you can also create a Portable version.
There is an option in the Tools menu 'Copy the program onto a Flash drive'
It will copy everything it needs into your chosen folder (even on your C drive).
You might care to install it on your spare PC, and use the option I just described. Then copy that folder into your main PC.
If you don't have a spare PC, then you can do it all on one PC. (I did, to see what happens.) What happens is there may be slight cross talk on the location of some files (it is not too bad, as I have seen much worse with other programs.)
The cause of that slight problem is they appear to be using the Registry for some settings, instead of confining them to an INI file in the same folder.

I don't know if anyone's mentioned it, but here's an excellent list (an online spreadsheet, actually!) of outliner apps that seems to be regularly updated:

Also, it's hard to consider NeoMem a replacement for KeyNote, as KN has one outstanding feature NM doesn't: It lets you keep multiple outlines—each on its own tab—in a single file. NM is limited to a single outline.

Cheers, Ander