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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.

In a Hurry?

Go to details...  Go straight to the Quick Selection Guide


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

You might want to check out these articles too:

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/Me/2000/NT/XP

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

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
Windows XP/ Vista/ 7 (32 & 64)

v4.34 (build 1) released 17 June, 2013

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
Windows XP to Vista, Mac OS X, Linux

v0.7.8 released 26 March, 2012
v0.7.9 nr available 04 July, 2012 here

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
Windows, Linux, Mac OSX and any system with Java installed

Additional Software Required: Java
v0.9.0 stable released 18 February 2011
v1.0.0 release candidate 4 available here

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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outliner, free outliner, note outliner, note taker, note organizer, note organiser, freeware, free note taking program

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by Ibiscus on 7. June 2014 - 16:04  (116667)

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.

by cpedley on 3. April 2014 - 10:06  (115464)

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

by 10basetom on 1. January 2014 - 17:05  (113316)

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.

by Panzer on 1. August 2013 - 7:53  (109849)

InfoRapid KnowledgeBase Builder - program for creating huge and complex Mind Maps with millions of interconnected items:

by gizmo_user on 10. June 2013 - 7:55  (108433)

how about fishCode Library Free (

by potyi on 18. April 2013 - 13:45  (107171)

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.

by crombierob on 10. January 2013 - 15:53  (104390)

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.

by Ander on 10. January 2013 - 11:41  (103917)

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

by yb (not verified) on 2. December 2012 - 18:46  (103220)

I use ubuntu. I have tried nearly 30/40 notetakers/outliners/mind-mappers etc. all free, under linux. I need something which can import from text files and export to a single pdf file. Importing is important, because I have already typed a few hundred pages in a text file. The file text is to be broken into different chapters (new nodes?) while importing. Exporting of the entire book consisting of all the chapters (nodes?) we have to go for pdf or at least epub format.

by danielgaga (not verified) on 29. October 2012 - 9:11  (101545)

oh my god! it's a week since I switched from keynote to *TreeDBNotes*

It's like keynote but a lot more stylish, and with a lot more features

I specially love the timer feature!

TreeDBNotes is awesome!

by potyi on 18. April 2013 - 13:57  (107173)

Are you speaking about PRO version or really FREE version ?

by Stilez (not verified) on 18. September 2012 - 11:29  (99419)

I'm looking for something like this but no idea what it's called or what software exists! Help appreciated.

The kind of s/w I want lets me tag my random notes/snippets - and lets me define a tree structure on the tags.

So I might have a tag tree:

2011 notes
Jan 2011
Feb 2011
2012 notes
Jan 2012
Feb 2012
Areas of life
Company A
Project 1
Project 2
Company B
Books to buy
To do
Big tasks
Small tasks

You get the idea.

I can then add a note, tag it as a Feb 2012 note, related to project 2, non-urgent - and it appears in the relevant nodes, and (optionally, haven't decided if I'd use this but I would like the choice!) is inherited by parents of these tags, so I can look at "all 2012" not just "by month", and logically filter for all 2012 and non-urgent.

Ideally I'd also like to be able to filter the tree so it hides branches where no notes/snippets exist meeting the search criterion.

No idea if this is "exactly what some category of s/w does" or which category or anything. Any help figuring what I'm after?


by Susan123 (not verified) on 14. July 2012 - 12:50  (96164)

This article lacks a fundamental understanding that there are two distinct types of outliners and the reasons for liking them are different.
For instance, a writer needs a single-pane outliner that is simple, collapses and opens through simple keystrokes, and is not WYSWYG, because on a screen that takes up too much space.
The EMACS Org mode comes closest to this, also a couple of Apple programs, but other than that there is nothing out there for writers who really want to see the structure of what they are writing.
If you get LibreOffice, the Navigator pane looks like an ideal single-pane outliner, but it can't be edited.
Other outliners, two-pane and so on, are for accumulating information, not for writing. And not too much information, either. I wrote a book with several hundred distinct pieces of information, and found that appropriately naming files and storing them properly is better than any "organizer."
The world needs a good, simple, fast, single-pane outliner that reads clearly on-screen.

by TreeMan (not verified) on 30. May 2012 - 3:00  (94164)

The best free tree notes program that you will find is named Cherrytree. If you're familiar with TreePad, it's very much like the paid version of that program (rather than the stripped down TreePad Lite freeware). Actually, CherryTree is much better. You can find it here

It was developed for linux but there's also a windows version, two versions in fact; an installer and a portable. Since the program needs the GTK library (its a Linux thing), the installer version is pretty messy. Much easier is the portable version which handles all of that for you.

The portable version is a big download of about 150mb (because it contains the GTK stuff among other necessary things) but it works beautifully and easily.

Once you try it, you'll thank me for it because it really is the best of its type -- freeware OR payware.

by texastech (not verified) on 27. September 2012 - 1:05  (99812)

a little unintuitive installing, portable version, but I like it so far.
thanks for mentioning

by Rob (not verified) on 10. July 2012 - 15:32  (95985)

You are right.
I am trying it, and I am liking it.
I am preparing my first help file, for a neighbor, and so far I cannot fault it.

Thanks for the 'heads up'

by RisqA (not verified) on 18. May 2012 - 15:21  (93676)

ZimDesktopWiki is another wiki-tree hybrid that has some terrific features (like an on-the-fly to do list with reminders).

I'm not a big fan of wiki-type software but if I were, this is the one that I would choose.

by ynys (not verified) on 10. May 2012 - 2:01  (93281)

I do think that for any of these outliner / note-taking apps the ability to encrypt its database file is very important. No encryption equals no go imho.

by WRONG CONTEXT (not verified) on 21. March 2012 - 11:27  (90923)

basic misunderstanding of outliners, wikis and notetaking programs. only people with knowledge about an issue should write articles about it. very low quality site.

by MidnightCowboy on 21. March 2012 - 11:51  (90924)

Why not offer to help us out with this one, or at least say how the existing content can be improved?

by Vignesh (not verified) on 27. October 2012 - 2:30  (101425)

I agree that the apps provided don't strictly fall under outliners. All the apps provided can be classified as Note taking programs and not as outliners. An outliner must have the facility of "hoisting" (working with only a part of the document) and also viewing the original document as such. I am fond of more outliner (now available free since symantec abandoned it but not used since it is only for mac). Some outliners for windows which can be reviewed here are:
1. noteliner (my personal favorite and what i use)
2. OPML Editor

by Eugeniy (not verified) on 5. March 2012 - 15:05  (89951)

There is OutWiker - This is personal wiki and outliner with plugin suppotring.

by Hank Friedman (not verified) on 17. February 2012 - 2:01  (88942)

Does anyone out there know of an outliner that can export to (and perhaps import from) the .WPD WordPerfect file format?

by swim (not verified) on 26. January 2012 - 17:27  (87839)

Noticed that you don't have UV Outliner mentioned. It's a free multi-columned outline program for Win in the style of the old Symantec dos products, Grandview and ThinkTank (remember those?)

If you're looking for a great outliner, this is it.

by Rebeccah (not verified) on 23. November 2011 - 22:37  (83798)

I must have tried out over a dozen outliner programs and tree-based information organizer programs in the last two days. I've only found two that meet a very important requirement of mine, which is the ability to print and/or export the entire tree and notes with formatting (rtf is fine), INCLUDING having the tree nodes/note titles indented to reflect the tree hierarchy.

This seems like such a simple, obvious feature for an OUTLINER, and yet it is a very rare feature. A couple of others at least had the ability to number the nodes hierarchically ( in the output, but no indenting.

The two that I have found are [edited out*]. I do like TreeDBNotes very much (I tried the free one today), but it won't output the way I want to.

[*Moderator's note : Commercial software edited out. This is a freeware site, and we discuss about freeware only. Commercial software are not allowed to be discussed. The second product mentioned was commercial. First had a lite free version, but it was crippled, and the feature about exporting to RTF was present in the commercial version. Can't be allowed, sorry. Please keep discussion to freeware.]

by non-nymous (not verified) on 14. March 2012 - 7:50  (90552)

The free ToDoList by AbstractSpoon is free and has indented numbered position output.

in Tools->preferences->user interface->column selection
check "position" to see numbered hierarchy.

There are two views in todolist: task tree and list view (the tabs below your items allow you to switch between these). There is a button on the toolbar which maximizes tasks, hiding properties (numerous if all enabled for display) and comments. also available from the view menu

to export click Tools->Export tasks. if you want "position" showing then click the checkbox in the dialog under Custom or export all fields.

The output is clean and indented. afaik there's no support for images.

.txt, .csv (can import this to a spreadsheet), and the nicest, .html are the export typpes supported.

In truth todolist is a project management tool for small groups, but can manage one-person lists with ease.

Please note that note comments can be rich text (click the drop-down above the comments area).

As for gripes my only one is that it's ugly.

open source license:


Be well

by Remah on 23. November 2011 - 23:16  (83801)

Rebecca, What other products did you try. Thanks.

by Rebeccah (not verified) on 1. December 2011 - 18:55  (84247)

I've tried a bunch more since this original post - the few that have an assortment of output/export options have more difficult UIs for the basics (though some have some really cool features that I don't really need).

I've tried:

InfoHesive EP
KeepNote 0.7.6
KeyNote 1.6.9
KeyNote NF 1.7.8
MemPad 3.42
Noteliner 3.3 build 2b
Redhaven Outline
SEO Note
Techno Notes Manager
The Guide
TreePad Lite 4.3
ZuluPad 0.42


by Anupam on 2. December 2011 - 9:09  (84272)

Commercial software have been edited out of the list. Ours is a freeware site. Please respect that, and post about freeware only. Also, if you are posting a list like this, or suggesting software, please post links to the software too, so that editors, moderators, and other users do not have to search for every software.

This time we have allowed it, after trimming the list ourselves, but any such comments will be deleted next time.

by Rebeccah (not verified) on 5. December 2011 - 20:24  (84447)

No problem, I was just answering a question. I've tried over 37 different products. My final selection was not a free product, either, though I certainly wish I had been able to find a free one that met my needs.