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Five outliners for Linux

By Bruce Byfield on October 07, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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The first essays of the school year are coming due, and with the essays comes the need to outline and plan. GNU/Linux users are fortunate to have a number of outlining applications from which to choose. True, some outliners have become obsolete, and you will be lucky to get programs like GNOME-Think or the once-popular KnowIt to run on a modern distribution. But you can still choose among OpenOffice.org, TuxCards, NoteCase, Emacs, and VimOutliner for doing your planning.

OpenOffice.org Writer and Impress

OpenOffice.org offers two tools for outlining. In Writer, you can outline by using the Heading styles. To edit an outline, press the F5 key to open the floating window called the Navigator. Under Headings you will find a tree view of all the headings you've used in your document. You can expand or collapse the tree view as needed, and, using the tools in the icon bar, promote or demote headings. You can also reposition them on the tree, which also repositions subordinate sections -- in other words, when you move a paragraph that uses the Heading 1 style, all Heading 2 or 3 styles until the next Heading 1 style move with it.

The one drawback to outlining in Writer is that you see only headings, not any paragraphs of content. However, you can change that by going to Tools -> Outline Numbering and changing one of the defined styles to Text Body -- I suggest Level 4, since you rarely need more than three levels of headings. If you use the Text Body style for your content, then its paragraphs will also appear under Headings in the Navigator.

Alternatively, you can open an Impress document and go to View -> Outline, and close the Slides pane on the left side of the editing window, since you don't care what your outline looks like in a slide show. All headings are at the same level when you edit them, but you can use the four arrow buttons to change each heading's level, or to change its position. Note, though, that the Move Up and Move Down arrows completely ignore the hierarchy, and move an entry exactly one step up, regardless of what level that places it at. You have to keep pressing the arrow keys, and not lose track of the level on which you want to place the item. For anything but simple outlining, you probably want to use something other than Impress.

Tuxcards

Although primarily designed for taking notes, Tuxcards is one of the most popular Linux outlining tools.

Tuxcards has the virtue of simplicity. On the left is a pane for adding and manipulating headings, and, on the right, a pane for content for the currently selected heading. YOu can use basic text formatting, such as font selection and size and bold or italic weights. You can also get a word count.

This arrangement means that you can easily plan then write. When you are finished, you can export the result to HTML, then open it in a word processor like Abiword for final formatting and the addition of any footnotes.

NoteCase

NoteCase is similar to Tuxcards in basic functionality and layout. However, it includes a few extras, such as the ability to tag entries -- or "nodes," as it calls them -- in the tree, or to mark them as complete or add icons to help identify them. You can also add links or pictures, or display just the tree or the content pane so you can focus on the task at hand. Other useful features include the ability to sort child nodes and to print only selected branches of the tree. Despite these extra features, NoteCase requires minimal learning before you can start using it with some expertise.

VimOutliner and Emacs

If you don't want to use a separate application for outlines, you can also use either of GNU/Linux's basic text editors, using key commands to show, hide, or move headings, enter content, or do any of the other things you can do with other outlining applications. However, learning to use each of these applications for outlining can take a while if you do not already use it.

Emacs has an existing Outline mode that you can start with the command M-x outline-mode. From there, you can work with the detailed documentation to learn the basic keyboard shortcuts as well as how to do more advanced operations, such as using Roman numerals in the outline.

By contrast,VimOutliner is much harder to learn. A plugin for the Vim editor, it remains so poorly documented that most people I know who use it have apparently learned it from someone else, rather than from information on the Internet. If you want to give it a try, you can learn the basics from the VimOutliner HowTo and "Vim 6: A Great Linux Outliner," as well as "VimOutliner for Beginners."

VimOutliner takes a while to learn, but those who take the trouble are often pleased that they did. Besides the usual features of outliners, it features unique colors for each level, and, once you master the keystrokes, perhaps the fastest input of any of the tools mentioned here. By comparison, Emacs' outlines are rather basic, although, to be fair, both Emacs and VimOutliner can be tweaked or supplemented by other plugins in a number of ways.

Choosing an outliner

Which outliner you choose depends heavily on your computing habits. For those who want a dedicated program that requires next to no learning, TuxCards and NoteCase are both efficient tools. NoteCase has a slight edge in features, and is definitely still in development. Both, however, have the disadvantage of requiring export into a word processor if you need formatting.

OpenOffice.org's tools are more basic, but have the advantage of familiarity, as well as being in the same application as you will be formatting your finished document. Assuming you have basic office application experience, you should find them almost as easy to learn as TuxCards and NoteCase, except for the fact that their controls are not quite so straightforward.

By contrast, Emacs and VimOutliner are for those comfortable at the command line. If you already use Emacs and Vim, you will find both relatively easy to use for outlining, although you will still have to learn some new keystrokes. However, if you are new to these editors, you may not want to learn all that is necessary just to do an outline.

Try one of these tools for a while, and, if it doesn't suit you, move on to another. Considering how many choices you have, you should eventually find at least one to your liking.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Linux.com.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.217.148.209] on October 07, 2008 07:49 PM
TVO, an alternative vim outliner, which works better with GVim than the outliner in the article, works for me.

http://bike-nomad.com/vim/vimoutliner.html

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Re: Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 59.95.204.228] on October 10, 2008 06:18 PM
otherwise typing
:help folding
inside of vim gets you pretty much all the info you need

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 147.140.233.16] on October 07, 2008 08:13 PM
HNB, the Hierarchical notebook, is a cli app which works very well also. Check it out.

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Five outliners for Linux - and none of them can do OPML

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: unknown] on October 07, 2008 08:22 PM
if it doesn't use the OPML format I won't work with it as an outlimer - OML would be nice too, but is even less supported.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.242.45.220] on October 07, 2008 08:57 PM
I used Org-mode for Emacs for my 5000 word essay.

I found it very effective and would recommend it.

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Political Outliners?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 198.209.197.227] on October 07, 2008 09:12 PM
Honestly, Do we need to comment over the politcal candidates enegy policy on a forum about the diffrence of Linux Outlining Applications.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 198.207.0.5] on October 07, 2008 09:36 PM
Interesting. I generally just use OpenOffice Writer and make my own outline system, but then I never write anything over a few thousand words anyway. I do my programming in gVim though so I'm checking out TVO and vimoutliner right now. Unfortunately neither has been updated in the past 2 years, but I'll give one of them a shot.

OT: Dear Spammer:
Surely you can find something better to do at the San Joaquin Valley Library, such as, oh I don't know, check out some books on spelling? Honestly, I can forgive some spelling errors but what the hell does, "exhonerated from any keting 5 democrate muck" mean? I know your Republican vote doesn't mean squat in California, but you aren't going to convince any of us in the swing states if we can't even understand what you're saying.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.64.126.165] on October 07, 2008 10:06 PM
For Emacs there is a very comprehensive Outliner-Package called org-mode, which comes with the latest Emacs snapshot -- it is completely plain text based and allows export to html and latex. And there is Basket, which is a mindmapper/outliner (using KDE libraries), allowing you to assemble and modify outlines including pictures, links, multimedia files by drag-n-drop. This one is very convenient, good-looking and aimed at the general audience.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.117.111.61] on October 07, 2008 10:38 PM
After moving from Knowit to everything mentioned here, plus some others such as Basket, I have finally settled down on Zim: http://zim-wiki.org/

Although it is a GTK app and I am a KDE user, Zim is by far the best program for organizing one's notes in a hierarchical format. The keyboard shortcuts are terrific, and it has features such as latex support, versioning, internal links, and decent search options. It is very lightweight and responsive. Zim is in active development and the main developer is very responsive to bugs and feature requests.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.44.206.119] on October 08, 2008 12:11 AM
I have used Treepad on Windows for years. There is a non-free port for Linux that is worth checking out if free-as-beer and cross-platform compatibility are your most important criteria.

hnb is good too.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.53.71.84] on October 08, 2008 01:44 AM
+1 for zim. and +1 for saying that the developer is responsive :D I e-mailed him like 2 or 3 times and got nice and detailed responses every time.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.69.55.221] on October 08, 2008 06:49 AM
Leo is nice cross-platform outliner which also supports reStructuredText. One of the most impressive feature in Leo is the shadow node where you can have multiple copies of the same node, edit any of them and even delete one of them without impacting the others.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 130.64.130.121] on October 08, 2008 07:31 AM
KnowIt works fine for me on Ubuntu 8.04.

I think NoteCase may be the best, but unfortunately buying the paid version is required for certain essential features such as bulleted lists.

I have recently taken to using TakeNote (http://rasm.ods.org/takenote/), a simple new note-taking application. I realize that it's not technically an outliner, but all these note-taking applications serve pretty much the same function of taking notes in a hierarchy. I think I will have to retry Zim, though (the Nautilus-like top-bar navigation turned me off at first).

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Re: Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 192.117.111.61] on October 08, 2008 08:55 AM
> I think I will have to retry Zim, though (the Nautilus-like
> top-bar navigation turned me off at first).

As of the current version (0.26) that can be turned off.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 88.111.183.216] on October 08, 2008 07:42 AM
treeline is the real thing. Agreed that Leo is also excellent. There is a reasonable outliner in Lyx, which has other advantages as a writing tool. For notes and archiving I like either kjots or gjots, but true, they do not have real outliner functionality. Alas, there is still nothing to equal the old OS9 More package. If only they would open source it, that's what I would be using today.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.113.106.16] on October 08, 2008 07:49 AM
LyX's outliner is also good (even better in the coming 1.6 version), and you have outliner and document processor in one app.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.236.175.154] on October 08, 2008 09:47 AM
I prefer to use FreeMind for outlining and idea gathering.

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Notepad, Compendium

Posted by: PerlCoder on October 08, 2008 10:31 AM
One nice thing about notepad is that the data file structure is quite simple and human readable. Actually, its pretty much just HTML. Would be pretty easy to convert or process with a script, I would think.

Another tool, though really more of a mind-mapping tool than an outliner, is Compendium, a Java app. Cool, easy to use node icons represent ideas, questions, etc. The downside of Compendium, though, is that it doesn't seem to be in any of the repositories. (And I haven't been able to get it working in some distros.)

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Umbrello

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.105.217.34] on October 08, 2008 03:16 PM
Try Umbrello, a mind mapping tool with the slant toward outlining. I like it.

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Jedit + Explicit Folding + Outline Plug-in

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.98.32.58] on October 09, 2008 07:27 PM
I got a bunch of plain text files on a directory searchable using Jedit's hypersearch feature. The outline parser plug-in offers a dockable tree view of the explicit or indent folding structured text.
Other useful plug-ins are SuperAbrevs (folding header templates), CandyFolds (folding visualization) and more. Easy data syncronization with rsync (its just plain text files).
www.jedit.org
http://plugins.jedit.org/plugins/?Outline

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 205.175.225.5] on October 09, 2008 07:52 PM
Jreepad uses treepad hjt format, is a java app and runs on Mac, linux or that other one. I use it for going between platforms.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 63.81.161.120] on October 10, 2008 09:44 PM
I like Notecase and have used it for a long time. It's cross-platform, so I can use it on my Linux desktop and notebook, plus my Openmoko handheld and the Windows machine at work. Plus it handles encrypted files, which is nice.

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Five outliners for Linux

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 96.248.128.134] on October 31, 2008 04:16 AM
This is an incredibly irresponsible article -- please do your homework before writing this uninformative and generic pablum.

"By comparison, Emacs' outlines are rather basic, although, to be fair, both Emacs and VimOutliner can be tweaked or supplemented by other plugins in a number of ways."

Org-mode is the emacs outliner and one of the most powerful outliners on the planet, and yet it doesn't get a mention in this article. It is incredibly versatile and powerful, supporting tags, hyperlinks, unlimited text under each heading, deadlines, timestamps, properties, powerful searches, export to a variety of formats (html, LaTeX, plain text), easy web publishing, GTD context views, and much, much more.

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