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Your personal Wikipedia: 9 free apps and services that help you remember

Erez Zukerman | June 27, 2012
Computers and smartphones can store and sift through reams of data.

Desktop-Based Wiki Applications

Wikis aren't limited to the Web, either. Desktop wikis are full-fledged applications that offer easy-to-use text formatting and quick linking, but can be fast and nimble, not to mention private.

One well-known personal wiki is Tomboy, from the open-source GNOME project. Tomboy does everything it can to stay out of your way and just let you write: It automatically saves notes, and it makes links to existing topics magically appear. If only its installation routine were as magical--on Windows, Tomboy requires you to install the GTK# runtime before you can use it. On the plus side, it works on Linux (the OS it was meant for), as well as on Mac OS X. And Tomboy is unique in that each note resides in its own window.

A more conventional-looking wiki, Zim is also cross-platform (Windows and Linux), but it uses a single-document interface with a topic tree on the side. Although it is easier to install than Tomboy, it doesn't always offer instant results: Sometimes you need to reload the page before links start working.

Like Zim, WikidPad uses a single-document interface with a topic tree, but it has a native Windows look and feel, and it can serve as a portable app.

Tomboy, Zim, and WikidPad are all free and open-source.

If you are looking for a commercial desktop wiki, ConnectedText is a good choice. This powerful personal wiki starts at $40, but is a mature product with support for revisions, outlines, tables, and more.

Roll Your Own Wiki

Last, but certainly not least, is the geekiest option. MoinMoin is a Python-based open-source wiki for those intrepid users who enjoy installing server-grade software, fiddling with text config files, and watching log lines fly past in a console window.

Employed in large collaborative wikis such as the official Python wiki and the Debian wiki, MoinMoin is surprisingly easy to install as a single-user desktop wiki. If you already have Python, basically you just have to extract it and run a single Python script to start saving pages. Configuring MoinMoin is a different matter, though.

Deciding which knowledge management system to use is all about personal preference. You may find one you love at first sight, or you might encounter a system that gradually grows on you until you wonder how you ever lived without it. Regardless, having a solid personal database can save you tons of time and frustration.


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