Non-Sharepoint Version Control for Word?
June 6, 2008 10:21 AM   Subscribe

Alternatives to SharePoint for multi-user collaboration and version control on Word documents (Word 2004 Mac, 2008 Mac)?

I'm a grad student. The last paper I worked on had three actively contributing authors, and in the last day before the deadline, I spent almost all day integrating changes submitted via email from the other two authors into a single up-to-date version (we were all working in one office, on separate machines). I know about "track changes" in Word, but that only works effectively when a single document is edited by many people in a serial manner, which isn't terribly efficient.

I don't feel like this is good use of anyone's time. We use subversion and git to version-control software source code, and subethaedit or Google Docs/wikis from time to time to pair-program or work on writing text collaboratively. Subethaedit has no formatting capabilities, as it's meant as a programmer's editor, and neither Google Docs' nor wikis' formatting capabilities are up to par with the complex formatting requirements of some of the venues we publish in. In theory, we could compose the text in google docs/wikis/a version-controlled plaintext document and format it for Word as a last step, but my coauthors often want to see/manipulate the document in Word early on in the drafting process to check length and layout figures/etc.

Since the new xml-based Word documents are in theory plaintext files, I suppose Git could handle them if I handled conflict resolution in a text editor, but many of my collaborators still use older versions of Word that can't export the xml-based files.

I know I could write the text with LaTeX markup, version control that with our plaintext version control system, and render the output the final PDF through LaTeX, but I don't think I could convince the rest of my collaborators to learn TeX syntax, and some of the venues I publish in only provide Word templates.

I personally use NeoOffice and OpenOffice when possible, but I own Word 2008 in order to more easily collaborate with Word users, and I don't think I could convince the people I work with to switch to OpenOffice, so any version tracking system I used would need to accomodate .doc/.docx files anyway.

Sharepoint seems to be the Microsoft-blessed solution, but we're a Mac shop (nowhere to run the server) and I don't think I could convince anyone to spend the money to license SharePoint when there are RAs available to do the grunt work for the cost of their time.

All the same, I'd like to get some kind of collaborative, version-tracking workflow in place for our Word documents. Am I missing any options here? I'm primarily interested in low-cost solutions (no FileNet or Documentum here, sorry) but I'm willing to do some setup grunt work if necessary.
posted by Alterscape to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Could you separate out the writing and the formatting. Write a usable form of latex, and when done with the majority of the writing, import into word, and finish up there?

Alternatively, you could setup cvs or svn to do locking, and also split the word doc into an individual doc per section (a few pages...). Then a macro at the end to combine. That way you have only one editor per file, but lock contention is fairly low.
posted by cschneid at 11:06 AM on June 6, 2008

BSCW is a German, free, system which has been around for a while and ought to be able to do what you are after.
posted by rongorongo at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2008

Check out what the folks at 37 Signals have. Looks like they may have what you are looking for.
posted by doorsfan at 12:42 PM on June 6, 2008

I'd give Knowledge Tree a look.
posted by bxg at 12:47 PM on June 6, 2008

doorsfan's suggestion, 37 Signals' Writeboard product, has even fewer formatting options than Google Docs does.
posted by misterbrandt at 12:49 PM on June 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the links! One thing I'm noticing is that none of these tools support conflict detection/conflict resolution except via a locking mechanism. I'm particularly interested in a tool that provides something akin to svn/git's conflict-resolution mechanism, where the software can merge two users' versions of a file, assuming that each user has edited a different part of the file, or can detect overlapping/conflicting edits and allow the users to reconcile them. Does such a thing exist for Word docs outside of SharePoint?
posted by Alterscape at 3:13 PM on June 6, 2008

Response by poster: [edit: it looks like not even Sharepoint supports svn-style conflict resolution except with another expensive add-on plugin. I may be chasing a product that doesn't exist. ]
posted by Alterscape at 3:16 PM on June 6, 2008

I've heard Alfresco refered to as the open-source Sharepoint. Keep in mind that I've never used Alfresco or Sharepoint.

I was going to suggest installing Sun's ODF Plugin for Microsoft Office, saving the document as odt (which is basically a jar file full of xml) and creating scripts that unzip/zip the odt when checking it in/out of version control. However, it looks like that plugin is Windows-only.
posted by PueExMachina at 3:18 PM on June 6, 2008

Just to backup what Alterscape is saying, Sharepoint doesn't do what you're asking for either. It's version control options are fairly primitive.
posted by Eddie Mars at 4:35 PM on June 6, 2008

Wow, first time I ever posted to an AskMe that's almost a year old.

While googling for a similar problem, I stumbled across this thread and a few other posts on the Web. Although this isn't directly useful to the original Poster (all solutions are Windows only), I found a few tools that might be useful to anyone having this problem:

1. TortoiseSVN - With this, you can get Subversion-based control as well as Diffs on Word Docs.

2. xdocdiff - This is a plugin to TortoiseSVN, which extends the diff capability to xls and ppt files as well.

3. SourceTools - if you work extensively with Excel macros and VBA, you want this. Again, a TortoiseSVN plugin
posted by your mildly obsessive average geek at 3:19 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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