Zotero Reviews

Great user interface, built on open source technologies

Review by markd
about Zotero Jul 2011

I have been using Zotero for over three years now. When I first learnt about it, it was because I was getting tired of EndNote, which despite the huge licensing costs to my academic institution failed to deliver a compelling interface that was easy to use. Zotero is still easily the best reference manager available, blowing all alternatives out of the water with an intuitive interface and dead-easy capturing of references from pretty much every bibliographic repository available online. Some of the commercial alternatives have been catching up recently but none of them is quite there yet, in part because Zotero keeps adding killer features like synchronisation, collaboration features, thousands of bibliographic styles, etc.

Besides the great user interface and the way it fits into my workflow, an important reason to go with Zotero is that it is not just free, but open source. If you are not sure what the difference is, the most important thing to remember is that Zotero is based on open source technologies which, by their very nature, will continue to be freely available in the future (unlike proprietary software, the development and maintenance of which is driven by monetary interests). Currently, the most important Zotero alternatives are commercial, even though some of these (e.g. Mendeley) are made available for free. The interests of commercial companies are not necessarily aligned with those of the users, as seen for instance when EndNote sued Zotero for their efforts to improve interoperability by making EndNote styles work in Zotero (on the other hand, styles made for Zotero can be freely used in other programs, and are indeed used in, for instance, Mendeley).

Zotero is not perfect. Quite unbelievably, it still does not have duplicate detection (though there is an open source fork, multilingual Zotero, that does offer this), and some have deplored the fact that it relies on Firefox (though a standalone version will soon be released, and it's already possible to use Chrome and Safari connectors). Despite these matters, it is hard to overestimate the positive contribution of Zotero to my academic workflow. The fact that Zotero is made by scholars for scholars makes that it does exactly what it should do; and the fact that it is distributed under an open source license means that my research library will never be locked within some commercial system. That's a great feeling.

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