Organize notes and information with TreeDBNotes


TreeDBNotes Free Edition is a hierarchical notes outliner program with a wide range of features, including organizing information in both tabs and tree structures, rich text editing, support for tables, images, and links, global search, and more.

I used this program as my primary hierarchical notes outliner more than a year ago but eventually abandoned it because it lacked some key features and languished without development for a long time.

Needless to say I was intrigued to find that the developer recently released an update, and very pleasantly surprised with how mature this program has become.

The new release is worth the wait; to get straight to the point: if you are looking for a full-featured, sleek, well designed freeware hierarchical not-taking program, TreeDBNotes Free Edition is one of the best options around.

More info below:

  • Organization: notes are organized two dimensionally in tabs and hierarchical folder trees. This is extremely important, as some notes programs only provide a single hierarchical folder option which can get very cumbersome to manage. Trees/folders can be easily managed from the right click menu (moved around the tree or into another tree, copied/pasted, sorted alphabetically, etc).
  • Rich text editing: the editing capability provided rivals that of any major word processor.(e.g. text styles, justification, bullets, sub-bullets, numbering, text and background colors, paragraph formatting etc). One feature I really like is the shrink/grow font by one point function, familiar to MS Word users. Includes a nifty text manipulation tool that can change the case of selected text: uppercase/lowercase/first letter/first word.
  • Links creation: this is one of the coolest features which is surprisingly absent in many freeware notes programs; the ability to link to a URL (online or locally), link to another note or bookmark within TreeDBNotes, or link to a local file. I am using this feature to link to web pages that I save locally using the free version of Local Website Archiver, and it works really well. It also enables you to use TreeDBNotes as a versatile bookmark manager of sorts.
  • Tables support: for HTML and Word tables. Tables are easily created and manipulated through the right click menu in a very intuitive manner. You can copy tables from a web page and paste straight into TreeDBNotes.
  • Image support: images can be inserted into any page, or pasted from the clipboard. For some reason, though, when copying/pasting paragraphs from the internet that include images those images are not transferred (unless copied/pasted individually).
  • Favorites and bookmarks: both can be accessed from the left hand pane (these are 2 different things). You can create a favorite out of any note (folder or node in the tree structure) in order to jump to it from anywhere. Bookmarks, however, are anchors that can be used to jump to a specific location within the text, and are visible only within the tree/tab you are working with. (To bookmark: right click > insert > bookmark).
  • Styles and icons: if you want to distinguish specific tabs or notes in the hierarchy TreeDBNotes comes with one of the largest (and nicest) icon collections that I have come across in a notes program, or you can actually use any image you like that you might browse to. It also has built-in styles that can be instantly applied (see ’Queue’, ’list of games’ and ’convert to PDF’ in the screenshot), as well as a styles editor that you can use to create and/or edit your own styles.
  • Portable: uses no DLLs; can create a portable version of itself on a USB (go to Tools > copy TreeDBNotes on a flash drive).
  • Treedb search functionSearching: you can search within an individual note or across all tabs/trees. (See 2nd screenshot for search dialog and example results)
  • Importing/exporting: imports notes from Keynote and Treepad. Also imports text files, CSV, HTML, RTF, RVF, DOC, and in fact the text from any file you point it at.
  • Common phrases: allows you to create frequently used word and phrases and quickly insert them into your text (right click on the toolbar > Notes > Notes Phrases).
  • Customizable layout: toolbars, shortcuts, and commands can be added or removed from the layout, with the option to create, save, and use multiple layouts. Mousing over any button in the toolbar displays tooltips that tell you what they do, which is cool. The program comes with a good number of excellent skins.
  • The back end: no limits to note size or number of notes in notebook, creates automatic backups that you can browse through (Files > database tool > autobackup explorer).
  • Other options: automatically default to the last opened database upon program launch, minimize to tray, print and print preview, etc.

Differences between the free and paid versions: there are two paid versions alongside the free one; however, in all honesty there are only a handful of features that I would have liked to have included in the free version, as follows:

  • Features in the paid version(s) I would have liked to have: encryption/password protection, alarms, and spellcheck/thesaurus (just use a freeware global spellchecker such as Enso Wordsinstead). I also would have been curious about the ability to associate and browse attachments, which exists in the paid version, although simply linking to files from within the free version might actually be a better option.
  • Other than the above, there are many features in the paid versions that in all honesty I do not care to have and only contribue to making the software bloatware IMHO (e.g. contacts manager, scratch pad, screen capture, font browser, ebook reader/creator, syntax highlighting for various coding languages, and others). As it is, I think the freeware version is excellent. For a feature comparison table between the free and paid versions go here.

The verdict: this is an excellent mature program and as far as freeware notes outliner programs go is right up there with Keynote and SEO Note (personally it is my favorite amongst the three). Its powerful, free, looks good and gets the job done beautifully.

Version Tested: 3.3. build 011

Compatibility: WinAll.

Go to the program page to download the latest version (approx 42K).

  • are you sure the free version imports from Keynote? I can’t see the option anywhere.

  • Me

    Evernote > all of them

  • meohme

    @Me: evernote is not free, so you cannot compare it to a free notes-tool.

  • Me2

    Evernote *is* free as regards the discussion – the advanced character recognition features are another story

  • realme

    i’m using help’n doc: it is feature rich and free for personal use. take a look here:

    do the free versions of evernote and treedbnotes allow export to html?

  • GuesttWatt

    Try The Guide – no export function, but a fine, free little app, here:

  • Samer

    @ Alessandre
    To import from Keynote, goto: Edit > Import Notes > Import from Keynote

    As regards the other notes programs I would personally not use any of them because they do not support tabs revolve around a single tree structure (or so it seems).

    I used to use Evernote before they introduced the nag screen. I have since been using Local Website Archive (mentioned above) for the website-grabbing functionality and prefer it to Evernote in many respects.

    PS. Meohme I edited your comment to remove the needless flamy remark.

  • Mrthermister

    @Samer: There is no nag screen in Evernote 2.2 (been using it for over a week now)

    @Me: Agree! Evernote > them all

    Notepad is the best text editor (Evernote isn’t really suited for that)

    @realme: Evernote can produce links for any note. Why do you want to export your notes database into html?

  • Samer

    @Mrthermister: I’m glad to know that the nag screen is not there.
    Having said that, I don’t think I would care to go back to it at this point. I reviewed Evernote in Jan 2007 and was very impressed with it, but after using it for about a year I found myself increasingly frustrated with its overly complicated interface. Evernote is good for saving webpages, but I did not like the fact that it does not save them in regular HTML. As far as I recall it wasn’t the best app for managing user-generated notes; TreeDBNotes is much better at that IMHO.

  • Letha

    It has been a long time since I’ve last tried TreeDBNotes. My main reason being this remark in their forum upon an user’s request for assistance – “We have no time for free version. Try to use Pro version.” by Admin
    Would there be support somewhere else?

  • Is the search function as fast as Evernote?

    I also can’t stand Evernote interface, so I usually just use the search form to find my data.

    I use Keynote a long time ago, but I abandon it because of the “lame” search functionality.

  • Alex

    Very nice software (TreeDBNotes). Now we can use custom icons for each folders and styles.

  • Rarst

    I generated portable version and tried puting some of my info in TreeDBNotes.

    Impressions – this software is just plain broken. 🙁 I get numerous errors – sql errors on creating notes, memory errors on changing visual styles, non-default visual styles I tried appear broken (some parts of interface become black and unreadable), few times part of notes just dissapeared into nowhere and reappeared only after restarting program.

    Interface is rather bloated – took me a while to figure out that pasting some formatted HTML requires long way of “Edit – Import notes… – Import notes” and chosing html file. Maybe there is easier way but I couldn’t figure it.

    PS Evernote portable is not freeware as I understood from their site.

  • ray

    I have been using TreeDBNotes in Linux using WINE for about 2 years now. Overall, the program runs well in WINE, though there are some small problems.

    I use the program for organizing my research notes, and for organizing a huge amount of information that I cut and paste from the Internet. TreeDBNote’s search function is very good- It lets me search for keywords that appear in any document stored in the TreeDB file.

    Its a powerful, useful note-taking software that I run in Linux (through WINE) , in Windows at school, and from a USB key too.

  • Steve

    I just started using this app (free version) and really like it. As Samer points out, one of the best features of this app is that you can have multiple ‘trees’ or tabs per database, which allows much better organization and navigation of larger databases. I guess you could conceivably duplicate this in a traditional outliner that has tabs to open multiple files (and allows you to save a ‘workspace’), but it would be a hassle.

    Microsoft OneNote has similar multi-level organization, but the large app size sort of scares me off. I have yet to try it.

    The only feature I would like from the pay version is encryption. I may very well end up getting it too.

  • Ronnie

    It is great if it does what they say it does but I have some problems with it:
    1. Can’t get the back links to link back to where the link was from.
    2. the help file isn’t really that helpful – not enough hard facts in easy language which really good programs sometimes have.
    3. The free version doesn’t have any way to add notes. LyX is actually best for adding notes and even inserting whole files – but LyX does table coloring poorly. LyX has bunches of other good features too, but let’s stay on topic.

    Yes, TreeDBNotes is a good program, but it would be ever so much better if they polished what they have before moving into other features. Nothing like trying things which don’t work properly to convince one not to spend the money on the pro version.

  • pee


    An interesting opensource software with the same capabilities is keepnote:
    it is very feature rich, with even an experimental http server.
    you can also include attachments.
    Maybe worth a review?