Saturday, December 16, 2006

Application Spotlight - Desktop Wikis: Wikidpad and Notebook

I am a bit of an information whore. If I find something interesting, useful, or even potentially helpful online, I save it to my computer in case I ever need it again. I have developed a fairly sophisticated directory structure to organize this massive amount of info (and with programs like Copernic, it is almost never too difficult to find). But lately, especially paralleling my ever increasing appreciation of Wikipedia, I have thought it would be really nice to start linking together all of the information I have in a wiki style format. With this as a goal, I went looking to see what was out there. Basically, I wanted a free (preferably open-source) self-contained wiki style program that would make it easy to format and link together various documents without having to set anything up on an online server. I found three programs, and I've tested two. The programs I've tested are Wikidpad and Notepad (the third program I found is Zim, but it appears to be early in development and requires a bit of work in order to install it from the source code).

WikidPad

This is the most complete program of the two. Also, it appears to be under continual development, which means it going to get better. That said, the program still feels like it is in a beta stage. The Preview Mode does not always match the Export to HTML output. Also, certain meta-characters are not hidden in the preview mode (like << and >>). Second, it seems to lack a number of features it should have. For example, it would be nice to be able to embed images. Additional formating options would be nice. In particular, I wish there was a way to generate mono style characters that span just a few words in a sentence. Finally, it currently only works on Windows, but given the fact that it's written in Python, it seems possible that there could be multiple versions for different platforms.

A final note: A number of features are easily missed due to the fact that they are not made transparent:
(1) The program initially seems to lack an undo feature (which would be bad), but it is available when you right-click the edit screen.
(2) The main search feature only takes you to page, but it doesn't say where the string you were searching for is in the page. In order to find the precise location, you need to press: Ctr-F or F3 (press F3 again to find next match).
(3) Finally, the documentation needs to be worked up (How, for example, do I make table headers? I have yet to figure this one out).

Notepad

This program is the most straightforward and lest buggy of the two, but it has two main things going against it. First, it lacks certain features with it should have, and second, the development pace of that application makes it uncertain when such features will be included (it doesn't appear to be developed since early 2005). With regard to the features it is missing, it does not support support tables (!) or numbered lists (!!). There are some user-contributed scripts that have been made available on the website to support these features, but I had difficulty getting them to work.

1 comment:

Irian said...

Wikidpad does work in Linux, and some people have reported running it successfully in Mac OS. Information is stored in either text files or an SQLite database, so you're not really locked into the application or operating system.

The best feature of Wikidpad in my point of view is the ease for adding attributes to pages, allowing very simple tagging and categorization of nodes). Dynamic views based on these attributes make retrieval of possibly long lost information much easier. In the middle of a note, you can drop a todo item and all of your todos are grouped dynamically in the view panel. Very neat design. Attributes are quite addictive. You can even set global preferences so that items with a certain attribute display with a particular icon or color in the notes tree. Very cool stuff.

I do agree that the look could be more polished. Nice looking tables are not as easy to create (a limitation of the markup language, rather). I would appreciate more integration with web based information (snipping information from a web browser, and ability to post information to a blog), but one can only dream. The other big drawback - not only with this, but with other Wikis - is that information is only displayed in the tree depending on how it's linked from other pages or depending on the assigned attributes. A quick snippet without any attributes assigned might end up in the note limbo, long lost unless you're willing to dig into the endless sea of notes. True, search is very fast and easy to use, but search only works if you know what you're looking for. If you want to browse your information it's not that easy.

If only there was something with the powerful attribute based organization of wikidpad and the pretty interface of OneNote.