Tuesday, November 11, 2008

4 Free Tools for Taking Wikipedia Offline

Wikipedia, for most of us, needs no introduction. We use it perhaps almost as frequently as we use Google for our information needs. All of us might then wonder about the need to download and use a free information resource which is available only a click away online.

But imagine that you are marooned on an island with just your rusty laptop….OK, strike out the ‘Gilligan’s Island’ scenario and look at a more realistic setting of being away from a net connection. Get the picture? Here’s where some of the offline tools for Wikipedia browsing come in handy.

The Wikimedia Foundation has set up an offline Wikipedia version themselves understanding this need. The English version with a collection of about 2000 pages can be had in the form of a CD (an ISO file). But it comes at a cost of $13.99.

The penny pinchers among us have to put in a bit more effort and megabytes. But despair not. Here are four free tools for taking the Wikipedia knowledge off the net and into an anytime, anywhere experience.

I. WikiTaxi (OS: Windows)

All downloaded pages are stored in a WikiTaxi database. WikiTaxi uses compression to make sure that the database remains compact enough. For instance, the huge English Wikipedia easily fits on an 8 GB memory stick. WikiTaxi itself does not require an installation as it runs from an executable. The process to download the information is a bit long drawn out as you have to essentially download a XML database dump from the Wikipedia site containing the wiki content (The largest English Wiki is 3.5 GB). An included WinTaxi importer contains this database into a WinTaxi database for you to browse offline. The database dumps are updated every few weeks. So you need to go online to get the most recent version of the information.

II. Zipedia (OS:Windows)

Zipedia is a Mozilla Add-on for Firefox enabling offline browsing. The Zipedia page describes it as the ‘poor man’s choice’. But when we don’t have access to the real thing, then it’s a worthy choice isn’t it? You will still need to download the Wikipedia database dump. Zipedia does not need any external database as this is done by the browser itself. The add-on works with Firefox v2.0-3.0+. To access the offline resource you need to just type in - wikipedia://wiki/

III. Wikislice (OS: Windows)

Wikislice is an application that allows the user to collate Wikipedia entries based on a particular topic or subtopic. Wikislice as the name suggests gives you a ’slice’ of the information in a downloadable format for easy reading offline.Wikislice comes as a web based tool as well as a desktop interface. To use Wikislice, just type the topic of your interest in the search bar provided and Wikislice will display all the applicable information for you to browse or download.

Here’s how it works -

  1. Type in your topic and click ‘Go’.
  2. You get the information and related subtopics (for more narrow searches).
  3. The Top 50 topics are displayed over 5 pages.
  4. Download the Wikislice offline if the number of pages is less than 2000.
  5. The downloaded pages can be used with the Webaroo software. The app will check if you have the software installed on first use. In case you don’t, it will prompt you for the download.

Here’s a simple slideshow from the main site.

IV. Pocket Wikipedia (OS:Windows/ Linux and PocketPC)

Pocket Wikipedia is a carefully compiled handpicked selection of Wikipedia information and comprises of nearly 24,000 images and 14 million words. That’s a stack of fifteen volume encyclopedias (Encyclopedia Britannica has 40 million words and 24,000 images!). All within a 180MB free download in a single zip archive. This software differs from the others in one aspect - you get pictures within the text as in the original version. But remember that it does not contain the entire gamut of Wikipedia; just the more important ones for ready reference.

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