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Zim Desktop Brings Wiki Wizardry to Note Taking

By Jack M. Germain
Sep 22, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Typically, we use computers to help us track our information and organize our data. Most everything else involves the computer functions related to accessing and processing all that information.

Zim Desktop Brings Wiki Wizardry to Note Taking

Zim Desktop Wiki
Zim Desktop Wiki

Often, we use software apps to handle our journals, wikis and to-do lists. Putting all three of those functions into one app can greatly enhance our productivity. That is what Zim Desktop Wiki does.

When I first stumbled upon Zim, I thought it was more focused on Web site publishing than note-taking management. The wiki terminology in this app's name can be a bit deceiving. After all, a wiki involves the easy creation and editing of interlinked Web pages via a Web browser.

After working with Zim for a while, I realized that the app takes that approach in acquiring, storing and displaying text and graphical content. It handles text entry much like a text editor or word processor.

But Zim is not limited to text-only content. That is a big plus in keeping track of a variety of content types.

What It Does

Zim goes beyond limited functionality of text editors and word processors. Its content display is built around a tree structure so parent and children pages show up in the left index panel the way a file manager looks.

This trait adds the ability to link content both within a page and to other pages much better than mere bookmarking offers. And Zim consumes a lot less space than files created with text editors and word processors.

Much like a well-designed note-taking app does, Zim provides good formatting tools. Using it is far better than creating long text documents to track ideas, thoughts and other information. Zim is light, quick and easy to use.

The Way of the Wiki

Zim is a personal wiki. You navigate to your content on different pages the way you ply around a Web site. For example, you use the buttons and keybindings to move back, forward or return home.

Zim has auto-formatting and auto-save options. These let you concentrate on writing down your ideas without worrying about how to format and save them.

You can look at your files using a standard file browser or document editor to open the notebook directory. Or you can right click on the file name to open it with another application.

This ability adds more flexibility. A simple text file corresponds to each Wiki page. Each of these text files uses wiki format to preserve markup.

Why Use It?

Zim has many potential uses. You can start out making different to-do lists and branch out to adding more detailed project descriptions and projected deadlines.

Sooner or later you will get to the point where you need to work with tasks needing multiple steps. With Zim you can break your project into sections and give each one its own page. It will not take long to see the productivity associated with linking content from one page to another.

The fun does not stop there. You can also make direct links to documents and websites pertaining to the project. This lets you work from one central place that you can edit at will.

Grow With It

I have used a few different note-taking apps. I tend to use them the same way. I rely on lists, due dates, quick-reference info and such. The linking and import capabilities built into Zim allow me to break out of that expected work routing.

For example, having links to graphic images embedded in a page cuts down tremendously on having to find a file and load it. Instead of seeing a reminder to check such-and-such, I just click on the link or actually see the info embedded on the page.

Doing this could not be any easier. I insert images and links to files by dragging them into the page. Images are automatically embedded. Other file types generate a link. Similarly, I can drag a URL directly to the wiki page to make a link.

Using It

Starting Zim on its first use opens a prompt to name the Wiki and folder location. This is akin to creating a repository or directory in your computer's file system. You can also pick a custom icon and tell Zim the folder in which you store most of your documents.

Once you are done with this brief setup, the home page of your wiki automatically opens. The rest is up to you to fill in your content.

Drop-down menus and standard keyboard shortcuts provide text editing tools. This process resembles what you do with text editors and word processors. You can highlight, bold, italicize and underline text. You also can pick from six different fonts.

Stay Focused

Do not get hung up on this text formatting stuff. The goal in using Zim is to organize your information, not prepare a page for formal printing or display.

With higher productivity in mind, you can add to Zim's functionality by activating various plug-ins through the preferences menu. For example, you can turn on a plug-in that closes Zim to to the system tray.

Other plug-ins activate a calendar, lets you print to the browser, add spell checking, make a task list and insert various types of content.

Better Than ...?

As note organizers and to-do list apps go, Zim is similar to several popular apps. I've used and liked applications like Tomboy, TiddlyWiki, gjots2 and Basket Note Pad.

Zim is not the only wiki-based note-taking app available. But I find its level of sophistication better than the other apps that try to do the same thing. For example, I can zoom in and out of page content in Zim by rotating the mouse wheel. Try doing that in other apps -- not!

Zim's design around a wiki system could give users an edge. I found a handy way to convert my extensive note collection stored in Tomboy. I found a user-contributed script here.

Serve Up Zim

Perhaps one of the more useful features is the built-in Web server that Zim has. It is easy to start. Just go to the Tools menu and select the Start Web Server option.

This can be a handy way to share project notes and other documents with coworkers. It is a nice way to enhance collaboration.

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