Wikipedia is an excellent resource, and, let’s be honest, it can be quite fun to get lost in it for hours at a time. However, to read Wikipedia, you need to be connected to the Internet, and not everyone has access to the World Wide Web 24 hours a day. Have you ever been stuck away from home and desperately needed to look something up, only to see no available wireless networks on your netbook, tablet, or laptop? It’s a problem that has frustrated many since the birth of Wikipedia, and finally, an offline reader for Wikipedia has become available.
Kiwix is a neat little program that allows users to read content from Wikipedia offline. Using ZIM files, Kiwix displays articles exactly as they would appear on Wikipedia (pictures and all!), and also provides some functions that are used in web browsers (such as the ability to use tabs and bookmarks). Combine this with links to other articles, options, like selecting a random article to view, and it’s easy to forget that this is only an offline version of Wikipedia!
In order to use Kiwix on Ubuntu or Linux Mint, you simply install it after adding its Personal Package Archive (PPA) via the Ubuntu Software Center or Linux Mint’s Software Manager. Once it’s installed, you just need to download content using the ZIM file format, and then open it in the Kiwix library. The easiest way to get a large collection of articles quickly is to download the Wikipedia ZIM file directly from the Kiwix main page. While this package only contains about 48,000 articles, all of which were archived near the end of 2010, it does provide an excellent starting library with a wide variety of content, and, at only four-gigabytes (4 GiB) in size, it shouldn’t leave you hurting for space, even on netbooks or tablets.
As an alternative (or supplementation) to the main ZIM file that Kiwix provides, you can also custom select the articles you wish to view offline, which is easy to do as well. To start, simply hop on Wikipedia and click on Create a Book (which can be found in the left sidebar under Print/Export). Once there, click Start Book Creator. This will add a bar above every article you click on in Wikipedia, allowing you to add any articles you wish to your book. You can even have Wikipedia suggest articles to you, based on the ones you have already added.
Once you have added all the articles you wish to save for offline viewing, click on Show Book in the book creator bar. This will allow you to title your book, review the articles added, and then allow you to download the content. Simply click on the OpenZIM format from the drop-down, then hit Download.
Hopefully, in the near future, Kiwix will make a full OpenZIM file of all Wikipedia articles available (3.7 million for the English language version alone!), for those who wish to spend the hard drive space on it. For the time being though, I suggest both downloading the library they provide, as well as supplementing with any additional articles you may want available offline from Wikipedia.
Once you have the ZIM file, you’ll need to add it to the Kiwix library. To do this, click on File in the menu bar, then Open File. Select the ZIM file you wish to add, and that’s it! When you open or load a library, Kiwix will ask if you wish to create a search index. If you want that feature, click add, otherwise, click cancel. This can take quite a long time to do, but if you plan to do a lot of searches, it should optimize and speed them up. You should now be able to browse your articles, and if one of your articles contains a link to another article that is in your library, you will be able to access it the same as you would online: just by clicking on the link!
While Kiwix is no replacement for Wikipedia, it is a great resource for situations where there is no Internet connection, or when the connection is unreliable or spotty.
Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions or comments, let me know in the comments section below, or email me!