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.


Rated Products

KeyNote NF  

A powerful tree-type notebook with richtext editor and strong encryption

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Open source)
User friendly, multi-level notes, tabbed interface, richtext editor, strong encryption, per-file configurations, hidden nodes, alarms on nodes, multiple backups and more.
Single platform, inserting images in bmp and gif formats but jpg format surprisingly excluded.
Read full review...

TreeDBNotes Free  

A tree-like note manager with full text formatting and customizable images

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Limited features)
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.
Read full review...


A note taking software suppports rich text formatting, images and works across platforms

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Open source)
Rich text formatting, take screenshots and store images.
Searching by tags not supported, no print option, lack of online syncing.
Read full review...


An open-source mind mapper and outliner written in Java

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Open source)
Open source, functionally closer to KeyNote, powerful for mapping complex relationships.
Slower than KeyNote.
Read full review...


A general purpose multi-level note taking program

Our Rating: 
License: Free
General purpose note taking program, allows to organize, store, hyperlink and search information.
Not really a dedicated outliner.
Read full review...


A wiki-style note taking program supporting annotated bookmarks and links

Our Rating: 
License: Free (Open source)
Create a set of linked and cross linked documents, high level of usability.
Rich text formatting and more features only available in the Pro version.
Read full review...

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.


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Update: This article has now replaced KeyNote with its enhanced version KeyNote NF (New Features), with some other copy-editing. 

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.