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Looking for Mac versioning/document management software for nonprogrammer use.
March 5, 2010 5:24 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a Mac-based document management system that is not source-code oriented. Google-fu fails.

I currently use Interwoven Desksite for Windows at work. This is a server-based document management system that permits the following:

1. Organizing documents by project
2. Creating new files within the program; checkin/checkout on a per-file basis.
3. Creating a new version of an existing document and retaining previous iterations of the document (for example, save a document forwarded by opposing counsel as version 1, then make my edits to version 2, save opposing counsel's response to my edits as version 3, etc.)
4. Very simple drag and drop import, version control, etc.
5. Comprehensive metadata

Desksite is exceptionally powerful, sufficient for a document count well into 8 figures. I don't need anything remotely that powerful, and will be more than satisfied with single user or small workgroup software. I also need something that provides features 1-5 above.

Devonthink and similar apps don't seem to have the workflow I'm looking for, especially regarding versioning. Versions is an excellent SVN client, but the workflow is targeted almost entirely at software developers (in particular, Versions doesn't support per-file checkout and only permits checking out a complete folder, which may not be necessary; Versions' import workflow is also weird and doesn't accept drag and drop). I also don't know whether SVN plays nice with Word documents and other binary files.

So ... are there any Mac-based lawyers or other non-programmer professionals out there who are using a satisfactory versioning document management system in their work?
posted by socratic to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have used SVN for per-file checkout and checkin. If Versions doesn't support it, that would be a bug with Versions, not SVN. SVN handles binary files, too.

That said, you might take a look at iDocument for something a bit more iTunes-like.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:38 PM on March 5, 2010

I've been very impressed with Dropbox as a multiple-computer sync of documents program. One of the aspects of Dropbox is that with every save, Dropbox retains a copy of that version.

1. Organize by project -- each folder is one project
2. Create new files within the program -- Dropbox allows you to create files using your existing filesystem. Now, explicit checkin/checkout is something that I think Dropbox lacks.
3. Versioning is where Dropbox shines for your use. The one drawback is that you don't have the capacity to annotate (at least not that I can tell) what a version is. I suppose you can somewhat tell from the date.
4. Drag and drop is just the filesystem. You also have a web view.
5. I wonder if there's a tool like iScrub for the Mac. Or if you can use native file metadata for this.
posted by artlung at 5:53 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hrm, I can double-click a file in Versions and it will open correctly, but the Checkout option is inactive unless a parent folder is selected. If I open a single document within Versions, make changes, and save, it does not seem to commit those changes back into a new revision. I'm not opposed to using SVN, but I wouldn't mind a nicer interface to it.

iDocument looks a bit like Devonthink or Yojimbo and doesn't seem to do versioning.
posted by socratic at 5:56 PM on March 5, 2010

(Dropbox note: They only retain previous versions for 30 days, unless you pay extra for the feature.)
posted by The Lurkers Support Me in Email at 7:09 PM on March 5, 2010

TLSMiE, thanks for that clarification. I've haven't been using Dropbox long enough to know that, but I've been impressed with its usefulness so far.
posted by artlung at 7:45 PM on March 5, 2010

I'm not opposed to using SVN, but I wouldn't mind a nicer interface to it.

svnX, Cornerstone or SCPlugIn might fit the bill.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:08 PM on March 5, 2010

I've been playing with Alfresco Share and some people have had success installing in on Macs. It's server software written in Java and delivered through Tomcat, but you should be able to run it locally.

It meets all of your versioning requirements and even has some cool added features if you use it with Microsoft Office using SharePoint services.
posted by advicepig at 8:20 PM on March 5, 2010

Quark Publishing System does all of this, for a wide range of document formats, but a) you'd best be rich and b) you need an IT dept to run it.

Adobe offers VersionCue, but I've never gone near it, so don't know if it only supports Adobe apps.

(I think you probably want to stay away from SVN: it really is built for text, coder's text specifically, and last I checked mungs the sort of Mac-specific metadata that a more document-oriented apps use)
posted by bonaldi at 4:51 AM on March 6, 2010

I have been looking at OpenDocMan for a while, although personally I use SVN. ODM is a client/server system, and you'd either need to set aside a server (which could be a virtual machine on your Mac) for it, or get a hosted plan. I would probably go the hosted route; it's only $11/mo and unburdens you from the server administration stuff. (I discovered ODM when looking at hosted SVN, actually.)

That said, SVN isn't bad for documents. It has a few limitations, but none of them deal-breakers, even for a Mac.

Although you can get a good argument started over whether this is a good or bad thing, today's Mac OS and applications don't make very extensive use of metadata. The traditional Type/Creator codes used in OS9 to specify which application to open a particular document with, have been deprecated in favor of just using file extensions.

The only thing you need to do if you want to use SVN for document management is use the "use-commit-times" option. You have to set this in the SVN configuration file on each client machine. If you don't use this, SVN will set the modification time on each file to when it was grabbed from the server — not when it was actually last edited. (Apparently some software developers regard this as a feature; if you use SVN for documents it's a bug.)

By using "use-commit-times", SVN will set the last-modified datestamp to whenever the file was committed to the SVN repo. (This is still, IMO, not what it should actually be doing, which is preserving the actual modification dates from the filesystem, but it at least sucks less.) This is still very obnoxious if you import a large number of documents organized according to modification date from a local filesystem into SVN, because their pre-SVN last modified dates won't be preserved, but if you're just using SVN as a day-forward system it's fine.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:33 AM on March 6, 2010

SVN expects to get a lot of plain text files, and demands discipline. Suggesting ordinary users use it to track and version their office documents is like suggesting they use Bugzilla to track todos.

That said, SVN isn't bad for documents. It has a few limitations, but none of them deal-breakers, even for a Mac.

Not to be fighty, but I'd be amazed if anyone who has used a proper document management system (even DeskSite) says this. SVN (and git, and hg, and the rest of them) are built for programmers, and it shows. Some of the GUIs (like Versions) make it more pleasant to use, but the understanding required of what the hell it's doing is still programmer-level.

There's really not the tolerance that a proper document management system requires, the forgiveablility of users not behaving as SVN wants and merrily emailing things back and forth, moving them around, etc.

(The problem is that actually creating one is difficult, and unlike Windows on the Mac the major customers for these sorts of things are newspapers and publishing houses, so the companies who make DMSs charge enterprise-level sums for them.)
posted by bonaldi at 9:57 AM on March 6, 2010

Good thread, and I'm interested in hearing everyone's thoughts. I am a lawyer at a big firm who has tried several times to get away from the mandated xp. The best do-it-yourself alternative I've found is windows 7, actually.

With Mac you always have the sorts of issues discussed here - version control, and similarly redlining. Some people will suggest that native redlining in Word as a possibility - but for a transactional lawyer at least it's hard to imagine that being an acceptable alternative to workshare.

The best thing i found in Mac (other than running windows software on parallels) was Neo Office (You have some versioning control and the ability to make redlines of one version against the next). the problem however is that this really only works properly with ODP format - which tends to annoy other rest of the people in your firm who count on .doc fairly quickly.
posted by jaybirdfive at 9:54 AM on April 18, 2010

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