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Version Control for Documentation?

Cliff posted more than 13 years ago | from the CVS-for-.DOC-.XLS-and-it's-ilk dept.

News 296

CodeNation asks: "I'm a coder in smallish (~50 staff) company with a ~20 strong development team. We, the development team, have been using CVS, and CVSWeb to manage our source base for a couple of years. In the meantime, our corporate documentation has become a complete mess. By 'corporate documentation' I mean content such as Word documents, Powerpoint presenations, and Excel spreadsheets. Anyway, I was recently asked by the one of the bosses to put a document version control system in place for this corporate documentation. All this, and the system has to be usable by the non-technical." Ask Slashdot has touched on a similar topic but it's been about 2 years since that article. Has there been any headway in this area?

"Now, this would be a trivial task if:

  • The documents were text-based (i.e. the file formats weren't binary)
  • The entire company understood how to use CVS

However, neither of the above are true.

I took a look at CVSWebEdit, but unfortunately it's not quite there yet in terms of stability and usability.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a possible solution? What are you currently using for document control (remember these are Microsoft Office documents). Also note that although the developement team works on Linux boxen, the non-technical staff works in a Windows environment.

Thanks for your help."

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Re:"Good Developers" can just slap on a front-end. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#229152)

I don't think "computer illiterate" users is the issue here! MS Word docs are binary, so you can't just do a diff on successive versions. Also, DOC files use structured storage, so there is always the possibility that the contents will get rearranged within the file itself. Most CM tools treat binary files as blobs, not bothering to diff them at all. THis causes bloat in the repository (unless the files are compressed.) To successfully diff 2 Word docs, or Excel spreadsheets, or BMP or GIF files, etc, you need a diff tool that knows that particular file format.

From an old beard (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#229153)

I used to work in a big defence / aerospace company where I got in touch with Unix (SunOS). There was a wonderful text processing software : Interleaf (with Lisp Macros !), where you could get two equivalent versions of your text files : either in a binary (.doc-like) file or in a ASCII-based marked-up file (this was processable with sed or Emacs macros). an ASCII-based text file is "naturally" manageable with VCS or RCS (while a binary-file, like Word produces, is impossible to process) does anyone know what happened with InterLeaf source code ? (the beast should be portable to many open-source Unices)

Look at "Doors" (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#229154)

Search for "Doors", a software package that is aimed at Requirements Management. (I think the company name is QSS, but I'm not sure.) Doors features a differ for Word Docs, and it either acts as a repository in its own right or a front end to a repository. Not sure what the pricing is like, but it might be worth it, just for the Doc management stuff.

Re:CVSGui (WinCVS) (1)

Tim Macinta (1052) | more than 13 years ago | (#229158)

There are GUIs for CVS for many operating systems (including Windows and MacOS) at

jCVS [] is also a decent graphical CVS front end and based on a cursory look at CVSGui/WinCVS, it runs on far more platforms and provides a consistent interface across them (it's written in Java, so it should work on pretty much anything with a good VM and set of class libraries). I used to use it all the time on Windows and now I use it all the time on Linux, so I know it works well on at least those two platforms. I think you can also set it up as a servlet so that users can access it from a web browser.

This isn't to say that CVSGui isn't a good program, I'm just pointing out another UI option.

Re:MS SourceSafe vs. ClearCase by Rational (1)

On Lawn (1073) | more than 13 years ago | (#229159)

Used both also, but SourceSafe's only key is MS integration. Otherwise its not as featured or easy to use as CVS has been for me (speaking as a user not an admin.)

I miss the old days of not having to lock things when I check them out. Maybe our admin has it set up wrong.


Backup-Storage (1)

On Lawn (1073) | more than 13 years ago | (#229160)

I've tried to pitch CVS systems in the past, to no avail. They listened patiently and earnestly as I mentioned the same things. Then they respond "We already have that system in place, we back up daily changes on the hour and then write to DAT at night."

Without the ability to take apart and regenerate a Word or Excel document from revisioned parts, thats really all you are doing is just saving every copy you ever made of a document.

Maybe its best just writing each version with a time stamp, and symlink to the current copy. Perhaps this could be done in Samba, and the time stamped files are all .hidden files.

BTW, if you wait a couple of months SubVersion will be out and its integration with webDav would be useful.


Re:Binary File Version Control - problems with it (2)

jafac (1449) | more than 13 years ago | (#229163)

Why not use a simple backup system that maintains a searchable database of backed-up file versions? There are some nice ones out there that do this, even one that uses an Explorer plug in to give you a view of backed up data and the ability to restore it.

Re:HTML is your friend. (1)

Woodlark (3628) | more than 13 years ago | (#229170)

Why not use HTML?

Except for the fact that the HTML MS Office tools generate is huge and bloated, that's a semi-okay idea (a more okay idea would be some sort of SGML or, if you must, XML). For Word documents, you get 2-4 pages of stylesheets. And if you have a few Word line drawings in there, they won't look right at all in HTML.

If you have objects in your documents (pictures, graphs, etc.), then when Office churns them into HTML, it makes a subdirectory for all the files. If you have several sheets in an Excell spreadsheet, it also slaps the whole thing inside Javascript.

In my opinion, it's unneccessary bloat to ask everyone to do their MS Office work in HTML format.
Droit devant soi on ne peut pas aller bien loin...

XML (2)

booch (4157) | more than 13 years ago | (#229171)

Since XML is a text-based meta-format, any XML document will work fairly well with CVS. Unfortunately, there aren't too many easy-to-use office apps that generate XML. (The next version of Excel is rumored to, but it doesn't look like Word will.) So you're probably better off using something like Visual Source Safe or Documentum.

Re:As much as I hate to say it... (2)

johnnyb (4816) | more than 13 years ago | (#229172)

Actual MSs product is crap. There is an add-on, though, called SourceOffsite, which is much, much better see

I think you're missing the point (5)

johnnyb (4816) | more than 13 years ago | (#229173)

Corporate documents have much different needs than programs. Documents need to be searchable, categorized, approved, etc. You need something that will tag a document with

* Current Version
* Related Categories
* Awaiting Approvals
* Approvals Received
* Place in the system
* What time to re-review
* Notes for a document

This way, anyone can easily find a document, and find any past versions. New documents will have to go through a formal approval process, and people will be automatically notified when documents need to be re-reviewed. Notes can be attached for clarification and questions.

CVS can do versioning, but not the rest. And, CVS's versioning is MUCH too complex for what you need. You don't need branches/tags/everything else with corporate documents. You are never going to merge between branches. You just have the document and its version.

Re:PVCS (1)

Zagadka (6641) | more than 13 years ago | (#229177)

Actually, the PVCS web interface is all but unusable on Linux. But I've heard the Windows interface is reasonably nice.

Re:uphill battle [slightly OT] (1)

Zagadka (6641) | more than 13 years ago | (#229178)

While I agree with your main points, I'm a bit puzzled by this comment:

this is expressly why Windows 95 defaulted to hiding file extensions and the subdirectory trees.

I don't recall Windows 95 hiding subdirectory trees.

Re:As much as I hate to say it... (1)

Archfeld (6757) | more than 13 years ago | (#229179)

agreed tried the 'NEW' Visio...Lord that is terrible, they took a rgeat product and..and KILLED it :(

Visual SourceSafe (2)

Y2K is bogus (7647) | more than 13 years ago | (#229182)

As much as I dislike MS, they have a product that would probably work for you. Specifically Visual Source Safe.

Since you've stated that the droids and the techophiles don't use the same OSes, it almost makes sense for the droids to be using a MS centric VC application. It probably handles Office files natively and has a pretty interface.

On the downside, you'll pay mucho diniro for it and you'll need an NT server for it to run on (speculation on my part).

On the other hand, CVS handles binary items just fine, you just can't include RCS tags in them. If you have a nice web based wrapper, then CVS would work fine, cause you can show log items independently through the interface. Browser upload and DL would solve the checkin/out problems.

May the force be with you.

Re:CVS and binary (.doc) files... (1)

Arrowhead (7765) | more than 13 years ago | (#229183)

by using those options when putting them in.

All you problems can be fixed with a CVS system! (1)

mattkime (8466) | more than 13 years ago | (#229190)

Thats right!

All your problems can be fixed with a CVS system! You'll meet people and make friends! No useful information will ever be overwritten! Ever! Coomunications problems are a thing of the past!

Remember! If it works for coders, it can work for everyone! (Yes, that means everyone you know should be running linux as well.)

Re:As much as I hate to say it... (2)

mattkime (8466) | more than 13 years ago | (#229191)

Too bad Visual Safe Source has eaten a few of my projects in the past. I wouldn't recommend using it if it can at all be avoided. And if it can't, make frequent backups.

Re:Commercial DM Products (1)

T-Ranger (10520) | more than 13 years ago | (#229194)

This is the kind of thing where you are going to have to spend some money. Probabaly lots of money.

I feel compeled to point out Novell Groupwise.. It has docoment management capabilities... Since it inegrates with a pretty decent email/calandering/colloberation system as well. The things youve mentioned are almost definitly better for pure document management, but GW has other desirble features as well.

some nifty scripts to disguise cvs as file sharing (2)

mr_burns (13129) | more than 13 years ago | (#229203)

Friend of mine and I thought this one up to get around this problem. What you do is have them save to a specific volume on the network. However, Every time you do things to the directories, it triggers scripts. This is almost a no-brainer on macos with folder actions in applescript, and I suppose you could to the same with VBS as well.

So when they Mount the networked volume, what really happens is a script does a cvs checkout for them, then they see the mounted drive locally. Then they save, folder action converts .doc to RTF, .XLS to tab seperated...this way the eloi can use .doc...but you're still using text formats you can use with cvs.

You can do a commit after that, or when they unmount the volume...a script does a checkin/commit. Season to taste.

So that's it....basically, you use scripts to abstract the user from CVS. The happy beneifit is by using text clean all the macro virii out of your data.

Re:MS SourceSafe vs. ClearCase by Rational (1)

dreamt (14798) | more than 13 years ago | (#229207)

We use ClearCase (a great source code control system, in my mind) at my company, but for your purposes, ClearCase would be too much. Running ClearCase and general source code control is pretty much a full time job. Would be way too much for your needs (given company size)

Re:"Good Developers" can just slap on a front-end. (1)

kaisyain (15013) | more than 13 years ago | (#229208)

What exactly would this solve? You can store binary files in CVS just fine. And deltas between uuencoded binary files would be completely useless.

All they have to do is continue to use CVS and educate the new users.

Several Solutions (3)

Osty (16825) | more than 13 years ago | (#229209)

There are several possible solutions to this problem, as I see it. If you want to go the commercial route, Visual Source Safe is the normal standby, or any other commercial source code repository systems would work. VSS has poor merging capabilities, but when you're dealing with Word files or PowerPoint slides, that's not so much a problem (as Office can "version" the files for you -- though make sure to strip the file before releasing it to customers). Also, the upcoming Office XP has Sharepoint capabilities, and is very easy to use (easy enough for your pointy-haired boss to figure out, even).

On the other hand, you could setup CVS anyway, even though you said you'd rather not. There are a few nice win32 GUIs for CVS, so the end-user experience shouldn't be too bad. On top of that, if you use CVS for your documentation, you can keep that in your source tree. One less tree to manage, and you'll always know where the documentation is. And CVS can handle binary files just fine. Just don't expect to be able to merge changes.

Of course, another (less likely) option would be to move all your documents to HTML, or XML with a set of defined XSLs to transform them. That way, you could do merging just fine. However, that's most likely not a workable solution if you deal with anything but Word documents (since word can save to HTML instead of .doc).

Binary File Version Control - problems with it (5)

ShannonClark (18497) | more than 13 years ago | (#229213)

There are a number of good tools out there for version control - however there are very few that can handle binary files in a "good" manner.

Some issues:

One - Binary file formats - such as MS Word - cannot have diffs run on them that are meaningful - a binary diff will result in a file larger than the two original files. So most version control programs will store binary files as seperate versions - but will NOT show the differences between the versions.

Two - Microsoft HAS some built in support for versions within Word - however this will quickly result in VERY large files - which get increasingly less useable. Also note, that this will be ONE file containing all versions - if you "version" this file, you will have TWO files with different sets of the underlying versions.. sounds confusing? It would be.

Three - There ARE version control programs that have worked with Microsoft to learn how to understand the underlying MS file formats (I believe Clearcase may, possibly MS's own Sourcesafe (which is otherwise a dangerous version control software to use since it can have data integrity problems) and possibly a few others.

So - what would I recommend or suggest?

First - Look carefully at WHAT you are intending to version. Is it a collection of documents (i.e. a full manual)? Individual documents that change over time? A whole project structure (say a website for online help?) Or something else?

Can you seperate out the FORMATING (which might be in MS Word) from the content? For example by using a Master document format - importing TEXT documents into MS Word? This would allow great flexibility in versioning the underlying text documents, keep a smaller MS Word file, and that file could be "versioned" storing copies of each successive version?

Second - For simple document management systems, (which run on Linux but can be accessed by any browser) look at a system like InfoPlace - simple, open source (I think) and easy to use. It is however not a rigorous version control system, but a partial version control system.

Hope this is helpful - I spent 2+ years teaching and managing version control for a very large development operation (1000+ developers worldwide).


CVSGui (WinCVS) (2)

Balazs (18529) | more than 13 years ago | (#229214)

There are GUIs for CVS for many operating systems (including Windows and MacOS) at [] .
Non-technical people can be teached how to use 'add', 'update' and 'commit' in 15 minutes, at least it has worked in my company. (They use WinCVS for exchanging Excel documents with external clients and are happy with it.)

Sigh... groupware (2)

JohnZed (20191) | more than 13 years ago | (#229217)

Yeah, you're definitely in the groupware world now, man. Source code control systems are just not designed to support complex, rich document sharing by non-technical users. Suites like Lotus Notes/Domino and Exchange, however, are designed for very little else.

Check out Domino.doc [] , which is a super-enterprise-grade document collaboration platform that does versioning, archiving, searching, approval and workflow, etc. Not sure if it runs on Linux, but the core of Domino certainly does.

And, yes, I know that nobody wants to admit it, but this is really the area where the MS Exchange + Office platform excels (ooh, accidental pun). Where Lotus needs an add-on (.DOC), much of this searching/versioning is built into the core MS software. Of course, then you have to start administering an NT server... --JRZ

Re:As much as I hate to say it... (1)

ovidus naso (20325) | more than 13 years ago | (#229218)

sourceoffsite is just another client for MS SourceSafe that works over IP. It`s for offsite access to your sourcesafe databases using tcp/ip and encryption. You still need a SourceSafe server as the engine. So it`s not "much, much better", it`s the same.

Re:PVCS (2)

seanmceligot (21501) | more than 13 years ago | (#229219)

There are plenty of web interfaces for CVS. We switched from PVCS to CVS where I work a year and a half ago, and people still thank me for getting rid of PVCS. The big problem with documentation is binary files don't version control very well with any software. A good solution would be an easy to use word processor that save's in xml and can be converted to HTML, Word, etc... I don't know anything like that that's easy to use. Lyx [] is the closest thing I've found, but it's a long way away. I once started to look into Adobe Framemaker for this purpose, but didn't bother because it's way too expensive.

Chaos to the rescue (5)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | more than 13 years ago | (#229220)

You guys should use the document management system that my last company used- total chaos. Every user creates a directory called "Bob's stuff" or "BSR" or something similar. Then all of the files they work on, no matter who else will need them, should go in the "Bob's Stuff" directory. Each file should be given completely incomprehesible names like "ClientData.xls", "JimQuote.doc", or "CSIQ12001rpg.ppt". That way when you need something, all you need to do is find the person who worked on it first and have them remember what they called the file. The set up and maintnence costs of this system are nearly nill. All you need for it to work are employees with photographic memories who never quit or die.


Re:MS SourceSafe vs. ClearCase by Rational (1)

djinn87 (24245) | more than 13 years ago | (#229222)

what does sourcesafe buy you that cvs doesn't? last i checked (which could have been a version ago at this point), sourcesafe did the exact same thing with binaries (word documents) that cvs did.

Shameless plug (3)

Ctrl-Z (28806) | more than 13 years ago | (#229226)

Sorry for the shameless plug (I work for Open Text Corporation [] ), but Livelink [] is a great document management system product. It may be out of your price range, but it does allow you to have versioning on your documents, and it has a whole whack of other features that many enterprises demand.

It seems that they're marketing it now as "a highly scalable and comprehensive collaborative environment for the development of Web-based intranets, extranets and e-business applications." Oh dear.

Re:As much as I hate to say it... (1)

gbr (31010) | more than 13 years ago | (#229229)

SourceSafe ate a few binary documents at my old place of business.

I helped them institute CVS using WinCVS as a front end GUI. When dealing with Word docs, etc, it was impossible to view diffs between different versions, but thats the way it was with SourceSafe as well.

I wrote a small document and some tcl scripts to help people. You can find them at my site [] .

CVSweb and one submitter (1)

lelitsch (31136) | more than 13 years ago | (#229230)

Something that I have seen work reasonably well is using CVSweb and designating only one or a few people who are allowed to submit files to CVS.

This allows everyone to download the versioned documents with a minimum of fuss while making it very hard to screw up CVS. The basic mode of operation is that writers who want to change an existing piece download it from CVSweb, edit it and them send it to the CVS person to commit it.

You can run into a bit of trouble if multiple people check out documents for editing simultainously, but in a shop with 50 people that shouldn't happen too often and you require them to submit changes quickly.

Look into StarTeam (3)

mughi (32874) | more than 13 years ago | (#229233)

I'd recommend looking into StarTeam [] from StarBase [] . And this is even despite having been a developer there a while back :-)

As a developer, I usually prefer CVS, but StarTeam works quite well for a whole office, Word docs and all. For the Windows-based world you mention, it seems quite appropriate. They have many different clients, and I've seen it used in mixed Windows & Solaris & Linux environments.

In general, if a shop can't use CVS, and especially if they're using SourceSafe, I can in good conscience recommend it. And remember, friends don't let friends use SourceSafe :-)

IANAL, YMMV, etc. I'm not sure if it will work for you, but it's definitely worth investigating

Re:MS SourceSafe vs. ClearCase by Rational (1)

Dialithis (33532) | more than 13 years ago | (#229236)

It works fine to not lock files if you can merge the (usually minor) overlap later, but in the case of say word documents, being binary, you can't really merge changes (easily) and thus locking is neccesary.

Re:"Good Developers" can just slap on a front-end. (3)

Kymermosst (33885) | more than 13 years ago | (#229238)

True... and the problem with the files being binary can be solved by UUencoding them, first.

Ideas on a Front End (1)

Shelrem (34273) | more than 13 years ago | (#229239)

Well, I'm not a Microsoft coder, nor do I know how much work you're willing to put into the solution versus cost of an out-of-the-box solution, but, here's what i'd do.

Whip up a nice limited frontend in Visual Basic that makes commits and checkouts easy. When any .doc or powerpoint presentation file is uploaded, extract the text into an ascii file, and "secretly" upload a related file with the plaintext. Then, make diffs actually diff between the two ascii files, not the docs. Maybe even add support for an "advanced doc diff" where you load both docs into Word and compare them (i'm pretty sure MS Word still has support for this).

Excel or whatever other files could have summery information written into their text file, as it'd be hard to make something meaningful out of the diff from a spreadsheet otherwise.

Maybe that's a bit more than you're looking to do, but that's what would seem the best long-term solution to me.


Seems to me... (1)

Trumpet (42631) | more than 13 years ago | (#229243)

That I recall Office 2000 having some kind of a version control system in place. I remember at least one case (wasn't it Excite@Home?) got themselves in trouble because they left a .doc up on the web that had all the previous changes in it, so you could read all the internal snide remarks about the consumers. Oops. ;)

[Slightly OT] Re:Seems to me... (1)

Trumpet (42631) | more than 13 years ago | (#229244)

I was wrong - after two seconds of searching, it wasn't Excite, it was Alcatel and their handing of the default DSL modem password issue (Slashdot story [] ). While I can't find a link to the document (CPE_statement.doc) online, I'm looking at it right now with all the highlights and strike-throughs. Very funny stuff.

Document Management for free (1)

alexz (45202) | more than 13 years ago | (#229246)

You might want to take a look at OpenCMS. []

Subversion (3)

Hard_Code (49548) | more than 13 years ago | (#229249)

CVS done right. []

Re:uphill battle (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 13 years ago | (#229250)

so is there a cvsfs project?

What features should it have? (1)

mike_the_kid (58164) | more than 13 years ago | (#229254)

The main difference I see in a document versioning system as opposed to a code centric-versioning system is in tracking changes / merging. Much harder to merge doc's of different versions than code, I would think.
MSOffice has some features like that, but I do not think they are primetime. Different contributions / changes get colored differently, until you have what looks like a technicolor taco platter on your screen where once there was a document.
I think you just want a tree that does source control / check out / check in stuff. Sort of like clearcase with out merges. That would be really useful, I am sure it has to be written out there somewhere.
This much I know: Tracking documents is time consuming. Tracking changes is difficult as well, though if there is a skilled staff, hopefully this is less important. I have used the MSOffice functions that do this, they are a kludge.

Commercial DM Products (5)

TheCrayfish (73892) | more than 13 years ago | (#229263)

Check out the products available from Hummingbird [] , Documentum [] , and Eastman [] . A long list of document management vendors lives here [] .

CVS should do you good. (1)

ZeroZenith (83919) | more than 13 years ago | (#229271)

CVS should give you most of what you want.
The only thing that CVS will not do for you
is diffs but I'm sure there are other programs
that will do diffs for Word, Excel, etc.
CVS doesn't mind binary files if you add them
with the -kb flag. The only thing to remember is
that CVS will store a copy of each version in
the ,v file so they might get big with lots of

We use WinCvs wincvs.[com|org] for our
non-technical users and they seem like it.
I also think there is an explorer plugin
that lets you perform CVS operation from the
explorer popup menu.

CVS Rules

uphill battle (5)

Speare (84249) | more than 13 years ago | (#229273)

Maybe I'm cynical but your stated goals of

implementing version control and

making it usable by nontechnical people

You face one major uphill battle.

Many nontechnical people have a hard time understanding a hierarchy, or of file types; this is expressly why Windows 95 defaulted to hiding file extensions and the subdirectory trees.

Add to that the complexity of "where in the hierarchy does this file permanently belong," and the question "at what point in time was the file in a condition you liked?," you get into a major learning curve. Describing a sandbox is a task unto itself. Undisciplined developers often grok CVS but still don't use the delta comments in any meaningful way.

That said, VMS is probably your ideal here for simplifying version management. Too bad it was an integration into the filesystem itself, and didn't expressly deal with multiple writers or delta comments.

For those who haven't used VMS, the filename included a version number: name.extension;version . If you neglected to mention the version number in a system call, it assumed the newest. Every file opened for writing got the next version number and left the old versions untouched; every file opened for read-write cloned the newest old version first and bumped its version number. This builds into a large list of ;1 ;2 ;3 ;4 ;5 ... ;632 version for each file. You could easily back them all up, or prune to the newest version.

SharePoint (2)

duplicate-nickname (87112) | more than 13 years ago | (#229278)

Since you are in a Windows environment with MS Office documents, Microsoft's SharePoint Portal Server [] is exactly what you're looking for.

Basic features are:

Search Engine



Document Versioning


IFilter support (to support more that Office docs)

There's a trial version available to test it out.


Re:As much as I hate to say it... (3)

iguy (89163) | more than 13 years ago | (#229279)

Microsoft doesn't even use Visual SourceSafe internally. It can't handle large projects. They actually use Rational ClearCase for the majority of their Source Control.

Doesn't say alot for the product.

The other thing is SourceSafe has problems with more than 200 projects in its repository. It starts Corrupting the data. Not what you want to see from a source Control system.

Just remove the spaces and do the intelligent thing to email me.

Re:Seems to me... (1)

RussGarrett (90459) | more than 13 years ago | (#229282)

Word has always (for a long time) had a changes tracking system in it. It was Alcatel (the lot who make Excite's ADSL modems) who made that little mistake...

Re:I think you're missing the point (1)

fantail (90626) | more than 13 years ago | (#229283)

In that case maybe your better off with something like webDAV -- especially if MS word can do the versioning.

Domino.doc (1)

Tayknight (93940) | more than 13 years ago | (#229285)

Domino.doc [] from Lotus [] does everything you want and more.

Document Mangement (1)

Phloyd (95759) | more than 13 years ago | (#229286)

Documentum is a product that you hear a lot about. We use a product called Worldview from a company called Interleaf. It runs on Unix and we use Oracle as our backend repository. Users can check documents in using a word processor and an application called RDM. (RDM is the loading component, Worldview is the document viewer.)

DAV/Delta-V (1)

kzuberi (112021) | more than 13 years ago | (#229294)

Every place I've worked has been in need of something like this. I don't think they've wanted to invest in a fancy/expensive/proprietary system, something open-source would fit great here. CVS can be too complicated for the non-techies. mod_dav on apache already makes a nice way to publish documents from a windows box (just use the MS web-folders icon). Hopefully, the versioning extensions to DAV will be sufficient for managing the versions, but I don't think that part's ready for prime time yet. By the way, subversion (CVS replacement) is closely related, its network protocol is DAV based I believe.

What's wrong with CVS? (1)

wcspxyx (120207) | more than 13 years ago | (#229298)

In my experience, most non-techies are just fine with cvsweb and cvs, even the command-line version. Teach some classes. The real problem is word/excel/powerpoint/etc. The binary file formats stink for any doc control system. Diff's are nearly impossible to do, so things become really bloated really fast.

If your boss is serious, then use a different system for your docs, something that uses and xml or other tag-based file format for the on-disk storage. HTML is a really nice format for documentation, as is LaTeX (via one of the LaTeX based word processors). Even Word with the Word to HTML converter would be better than native Word.

Re:"Good Developers" can just slap on a front-end. (3)

turbodog42 (122173) | more than 13 years ago | (#229299)

Great idea, except that good developers know not to leap into re-inventing a wheel that might already exist, especially at the cost of "a week or two". Don't you think they already have something to occupy their time?

Re:All you problems can be fixed with a CVS system (1)

Triscuit (122259) | more than 13 years ago | (#229300)

This one should be rated up to +5 Funny. It's more sarcastic than most of you seem to realize. Adding version control for "the rest of the company figures" to use is a BAD idea if you plan on using version control systems that were designed for source code. Just because you have a verion control system that your company uses doesn't mean that the people will use it properly. Trust me!!!!!!!!!!! Without PROPER training with version control systems you'll end up with more hassle than you bargained for. I would NOT recommend a source code version control system for this persons needs. He's not asking for one anyway. The best idea I've read so far was from someone suggesting that a single person manage a directory or documents and does not allow others write access. When something needs to be updated this person manages all of that. Full time job unfortunately. Ok, I've made no sense now and have been unable to communicate my point. I give up, maybe someone can help.

CVS and binary (.doc) files... (1)

koolB (149856) | more than 13 years ago | (#229312)

I use CVS exclusively for text/source. How does one ensure that all binary files are properly admin'ed out (-ko -kb)?

PVCS (3)

SuperMallen (156287) | more than 13 years ago | (#229319)

Although I can't say it's the greatest system I've ever used, PVCS offers a moderately simple web interface that should work across all OSes. Our non-developers use it to store their documents without too much trouble.

document vrc (1)

Alcoholist (160427) | more than 13 years ago | (#229321)

I've been working on and off on a document control project for years, but without much sucess. CVS stuff works fine for code, but doesn't seem to work well with the average user, who has no interest in dealing with a 'system'.

What would work better is something that is nearly automatic allowing the users to seemingly load and save things like they always have. I just haven't figured out a good way to do that yet.

your company doesn't need to buy anything (1)

Pinball Wizard (161942) | more than 13 years ago | (#229324)

In Word you can use: Tools->Options->Track Changes.

It's already in Word, it will show you what changes have been made and who changed them. Its a feature heavily used in the book publishing industry where entire books are passed around between the author and various editors. Your question didn't indicate that you need anything more robust than that.

It's already there and its easy to use, so why not?

Re:Shameless plug (2)

aradiaseven (167118) | more than 13 years ago | (#229325)

The marketing jargon is hideous and the product overpriced, but Livelink does have nice version control / check-in/check-out features, among other things.

It works through a web interface, although one that's rather prone to working well only with IE, ugh. I'm not sure how well it would work with Linux boxen -- I'd ask, but then do a large amount of testing to be sure it worked properly.

Have you checked out WinCVS? (2)

cant_get_a_good_nick (172131) | more than 13 years ago | (#229329)

We used WinCVS [] at my last job. Now up to 1.2. Works decent, at my last job even the engineers weren't all that technical (gee, wonder if that's why we havent' made any money) and works OK.

Version control?! (2)

enrico_suave (179651) | more than 13 years ago | (#229332)

Why would someone want to implement that?

Isn't it okay for people to randomly change business specs on the fly during a project so that there is a near zero chance of success? =P

Plus I like to dig through 30 different docs with different names modified by different people with insanely long filenames.

Gotta go someone just changed the spec without telling anyone again...

Long live document anarchy!



Roll your own? (2)

Alien54 (180860) | more than 13 years ago | (#229333)

One hack type of solution that I recall from the world of dos and windows what a generic NON-MS database with fileds that had the document name in it as a character field. a widget on the screen could call up the MS doc by file name, and launch word or whatever.

In the original, the file was a medical record sort of thing, so it was a doc with a name made up of pateint ssn number, doc ID, and a time/date string. The file names got stored in the db, and the db could launch w to open them via a command.

The only thing I could think of is maybe a widget or macro in word to save the current date/time as part of the file name, along with the user ID, so that as soon as word opened the file, it would be saved with the new file name with the updated data in the name.

Wait, as part of the command line, you can set it up to copy the file to a new name with the propwer date and time info in the name, then feed the string so you have a proper record of it in the database, and then open it in your word processor. This maintains an audit trail, since everytime a doc is opened, a copy is made and saved. You could also include a delete option for just for folks just looking around.

So this is not to hard to do via the database of your choice. Although you better have a lot of drive space for the clueless. A really messy solution, but if you have space to waste, semi-workable. This would work for in house, not webifried.

You would have to add a layer in there some place for converting to web format, depending on the word processor you use.

Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

Re:Shameless plug (1)

Cogline (188518) | more than 13 years ago | (#229338)

This is a seperate shameless plug, but once again might prove usefull to you...

I am currently co-op-ing at the parent company, [] , so add salt to taste.

You might consider IMAN [] . It is a multi-platform, version and project control system for large projects. I know it will be binary safe because most of what it was built to handle (CAD part files) are binary. It has a graphical interface, and sounds good from what I've seen. It also has a web portal for off-site workers or remote companion businesses. It also stands a chance of being overkill for your particular problem...

Best of luck!

Re:"Good Developers" can just slap on a front-end. (1)

MacGabhain (198888) | more than 13 years ago | (#229354)

Two weeks, one full time developer, $10,000 in lost billable time. Plus maintenance. And I've *never* seen an internally written app that didn't grow once the users got used to what it could do and started to speculate about what it might be able to do with a few changes.

Re:Teach them CVS, then. (1)

MacGabhain (198888) | more than 13 years ago | (#229355)

Right. And they'll be more than happy to turn over your development department's Legal, Accounting and Marketing aspects to your band of tech-college hackers (or are they hacks?). Here's a clue: Not understanding what you happen to understand does not make one stupid or unqualified for their job. Hell, I'd wager a weeks pay that there are less than 10 coders in my 70,000+ person company who could be an even passibly good admin assistant for a week.

I can't tell you the number of people I've interviewed with who have been absolutely AMAZED that I don't think of non-techies as ignorant baffoons. Apparantly they've all run into you a bit too often.

As much as I hate to say it... (4)

MacGabhain (198888) | more than 13 years ago | (#229357)

Microsoft Visual Source Safe.

It stores versions, has a nice, friendly, Explorer-like interface, and runs on windows. Sounds like that's all the management wants. As long as they don't want to branch documents (which I recall being a bit of a bitch), they should be fine.

(All of this with the note that I'm *pretty* sure that VSS handles binaries alright, even though it may not be able to do such things as diffs, even on files in a proprietary format from it's own company.)

Xpedio (1)

peepsplat (198962) | more than 13 years ago | (#229358)

There are a few commercial vendors for Document/Content Management. One that I have a vested interest in is Xpedio [] from IntraNet Solutions [] . There is an EJB for J2EE support. And of course you can view content through HTML, WML, or native format if you don't have the application that the documents were originally created in.

sounds like... (1)

scampbell (201429) | more than 13 years ago | (#229360)

Xanadu [] . What you're asking about is what Ted Nelson had in mind 35 years ago with his vision of hypertext. Not only would documents be hyperlinked together, but versioning was an inherent part of the system, and deleting was strictly verboten. After all, it's no good for a link to point to a deleted page, or a document that has changed. Solution: don't delete anything, and keep every version around indefinitely so that links aren't broken. Of course, storage might be a problem....

Note that Xanadu does not exist, being the king of vaporware. Nelson might have been the first to use the word hypertext, but it's too bad he never managed to finish anything...

Journaled Filing systems? (1)

fleeb_fantastique (208912) | more than 13 years ago | (#229363)

What about using a journaled filing system?

Surely by now there must be a Microsoft-compatible implementation of a journalled filing system available. One that has a relatively friendly user interface.

With that, it doesn't matter what format the file might be in, you have a sense of 'version' in that the latest file within the system would become the file of interest. If you should discover that the file needs to be 'rolled back' you simply acquire one from an earlier time-stamp. Something like that should be fairly intuitive to work with, I should think.

Try WinCVS etc. (1)

konmaskisin (213498) | more than 13 years ago | (#229368)

At (site is down now but it does exist) and for alternatives. Traditional commandline tools emacs etc all work with the resulting repository so it's really great for group development of HTML projects. There is also a plugin for Windows Explorer that lets you browse **RCS** controlled files and do simple version control right within your filemanager. ... not sure if it could be made to work with CVS but I doubt it.

That Explorer plugin for CVS (1)

konmaskisin (213498) | more than 13 years ago | (#229369)

(replying to myself ... sigh) Take a look at: you can do more than just RCS from inside Explorer after all ;-)

DocsOPEN (3)

dSV3Hl (215182) | more than 13 years ago | (#229373)

There is a product called DocsOPEN made by Hummingbird I beleive. We use it at my office. It is WELL worth working into, and it integrates into almost everything windows. There is also a web interface for it called CyberDOCS.

Basically, instead of saving your files to a drive, Docs comes up and asks you to fill out a form. The file gets saved somewhere mysterious, the data goes into a serachable database, and you get on with your life. Later you call it up by searching for it, and you can add a new version when you save it. It's pretty neat. However, it is hard to get people to use unless you beat them over the head.

MS Office document version control (2)

cprael (215426) | more than 13 years ago | (#229374)

Y'know, there's a number of different options here, depending on what you're trying to do. The problem is, you talk about the format, but not about the real issues. "VCS" is actually a pretty easy term to throw around, but not quite so easy to lock down when you're talking about documentation. That being said...

First, if all you're after is the ability to accept/reject changes to documents, then the simplest solution you want is to turn on the "Track Changes" option. You can leave the master "track" on, then either display or not display changes in either printed or written form. Also, you can selectively accept those changes to the base master document. All changes are also tracked by author, time/date, etc.

Second, if what you're after is protection of source files, then you really are going to have to implement a VCS for your writers. I've used a number of them, and fundamentally, none of them are easy for non-technical people to use without training/etc. Perforce and Clearcase both work reasonably well for cross-platform doc checkin, but, well, they're not exactly the easiest thing in the world to use. A simpler solution might be to have a decent server, and have it incrementally back up _every_ change to the doc section. You'd be surprised how easy that makes it to roll back changes. If you're also willing to be a little anal in the server setup about who owns files, it should become fairly easy, fairly quickly to resolve ownership/etc. issues.

Third, I noticed you were also talking about PDFs, and how the documentation was difficult to access. Two points here. The first is that you probably should stress to much about storing output (PDFs, generated HTML) in VCS, rather than storing source files. If you can store source properly, storing generated doc (PDF/HTML) becomes _very_ easy. The second is that making your documentation easy to access is an entirely different issue from puttingg it in a VCS. That's a matter of putting together a clear, logical structure that makes sense.

As a case in point, one of my clients about a year ago had _all_ of their documentation stored in VCSs. Their problem was not that it wasn't protected - it was that, in the course of 2 mergers, and going through 4 different writing teams, they'd _lost_ their documentation source. So before I could write word one, I had to go find the docs, sort out the doc structure, and get everything so it could once again be found and accessed.

One relatively easy-to-use structure that I've seen involved differentiating the source vs. output, and making the output available on an internal webserver. Output was automatically regenerated on a regular basis (simple scripts took care of most of it, or you can use the monkey model, and do it manually), so it was available to the entire company. Those people who needed to mess with the source files were taught how to use the VCS.

Re:PVCS (3)

Philbert Desenex (219355) | more than 13 years ago | (#229376)

I used PVCS at my last job. My group developed and deployed on Solaris 2.6, even though almost everybody had NT boxes on their desks. We chose to use the Unix version of PVCS, which nominally ran on Solaris, but actually didn't. It actually only ran on HP-UX. We ended up with a really half-baked system where HP-UX machines running PVCS and our development machines NFS mounted a partition served by an Auspex NFS server. We'd log in to the HP-UX machine, set DISPLAY to desktop machine, and check-out into the NFS-mounted partition. Then, we'd log in to the Solaris development machines to develop, compile and unit test.

PVCS for Unix is an absolute and utter mess. DO NOT let yourself be contaminated by the bug-ridden and awful terror that is PVCS. The GUI (Java app) is a heinous, bug-ridden piece of excrement with incredibly poor user interface. The GUI is slow, and has so many human factors problems that developers occasionally checked-in files in the wrong directory. The GUI doesn't do a good job of mapping "archives" to directories, and it doesn't map from directory to "archive" at all. This leads it to offer you a selection of "Makefile" archives, and you get to choose which one. You must understand the internal structure of the PVCS archive directory tree to choose the right archive. PVCS seems to think that all files have an "extension", whatever the hell that is, and if you have files (like "Makefile") that don't have an extension, it won't expand RCS keywords ($Id$, etc). The back-end is equally buggy. We had a more-or-less half time PVCS administrator, whose job included deleting lockfiles that PVCS would occasionally leave around.

The company I used to work for chose PVCS for two public reasons: (1) it's nominally multi-platform (we found out that it isn't, Merant only claims it is) and (2) it had really, really elaborate management interfaces into the bug lifecycle. This makes managers happy, but leads to lots of ugly "WTF do we do with this bug report?" meetings at the end of a development cycle, the day before a release.

I strongly reccomend you avoid PVCS.

MS SourceSafe vs. ClearCase by Rational (2)

hillct (230132) | more than 13 years ago | (#229380)

My company - a large Telecom equipment maker - has begun to shift development and product documentation from a proprietary system, to a combination of ClearCase, a popular commercial version control system, and MS SourceSafe.

For ease of use and based on cost I'd have to say, for your application (as much as it pains me) Microsoft SourceSave would be a good choice.

Just my 2 cents


Re:As much as I hate to say it... (1)

timbck2 (233967) | more than 13 years ago | (#229381)

Yet another good product (can you say Visio?) Micro$oft purchased and ruined. My company tried SourceSafe a while back, and liked it, but once MS got through with it, it was no longer something usable. I don't remember all the details, but....

Re:DocsOPEN (1)

timbck2 (233967) | more than 13 years ago | (#229382)

"Basically, instead of saving your files to a drive..." With that sentence, you've probably lost most users. People like to be able to copy their files to other drives, or to a Zip disk to take home, or whatever.

HTML is your friend. (3)

Ultimo (237838) | more than 13 years ago | (#229387)

Why not use HTML? I've been using HTML for years for all of my documentation. It works perfectly for a cross-platform manual accessable from anywhere.

If you need powerpoint-type presentations, Flash [] is easy to use, fast, and readable on nearly all modern browsers. You can even generate it with PHP [] or PERL [] .

Re:Clearcase? (1)

corky6921 (240602) | more than 13 years ago | (#229389)

I'm really sure that Dubya knows what a "right-click context menu" is. In fact, he doesn't even make any sense when he is talking about the Presidency. []

One of his best:
"It would be helpful if we opened up ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). I think it's a mistake not to. And I would urge you all to travel up there and take a look at it, and you can make the determination as to how beautiful that country is." --George W. Bush, at a White House Press conference, March 29, 2001

Think Weblication.... (3)

GeneralEmergency (240687) | more than 13 years ago | (#229391)

If you need an easy to use UI, take a look at Xerox Docushare [] or perhaps if you want to lean toward groupware look at Amphora [] .

"A microprocessor... is a terrible thing to waste." --

Re:Ultra simple CVS client (1)

kuhneng (241514) | more than 13 years ago | (#229392)

Almost forgot- CVS handles binaries just fine. Add -kb entries to cvswrapper for binary file types to instruct CVS to turn off linefeed conversion and ignore special CVS tags.

Ultra simple CVS client (3)

kuhneng (241514) | more than 13 years ago | (#229394)

Check out TortoiseCVS from the CVSHome [] website. It's an add-on to Windows Explorer that adds status dependent color shading to CVS controled directories and context sensitive commands to the Explorer file menu. Comes with a bundled SSH client for secure tunneling.

Easy to install and VERY easy to use, and no, I don't have anything to do with the project. I just use it.

Document control (1)

geneshin (249568) | more than 13 years ago | (#229398)

As it just happens, the standards in ISO9000/1 discuss this and I work for a company that develops software for document/revision control. While the company develops more than just document management software, I think this is what you are looking for. click here [] for more information at Powerway, Inc.


Re:Commercial DM Products (2)

rfsayre (255559) | more than 13 years ago | (#229400)

You could also try the M$ solution:
SharePoint []

Art At Home []

Re:HTML is your friend. (1)

MagikSlinger (259969) | more than 13 years ago | (#229401)

If the people involved were well trained enough to handle HTML or Flash, then he wouldn't be asking this question. From experience, your average office user's attitude is "If it ain't Office, I ain't interested."

With the exception of Flash (which is a personal dislike, not a rational one), I think the whole idea of office documentation going to XML (not HTML) is a good idea. It provides reasonable forward compatibility, it enables a company to enforce formatting guidelines across all documents (via CSS or XSTL), and if they decide to change things, you can even make your old documents look up to date.

Now, we just need Office apps that can be configured to do this properly.

A thought... (2)

Shoten (260439) | more than 13 years ago | (#229402)

Although it isn't documentation, and gets used for somewhat different purposes, law firms have a similar need. They don't look at it in terms of CVS, however, and the documents they deal in tend to evolve more slowly, but also pass through more hands in general. Furthermore, particularly with documents relating to negotiations, version control AND change tracking are an absolute requirement. Just the hint of a notion that a firm is not able to know precisely what changed between one draft and another can result in a catastrophic loss of credibility when negotiating.

They refer to it as "document management." While a big part of that is also a matter of FINDING the documents (think of alllll that paper), the most challenging part remains tracking changes. You might want to contact a company that I've dealt with in the past who makes a fantastic system (sorry, it's not open source) called iManage. It's overkill for what you need, but you may be able to show them another market they haven't thought of, and develop something with them to suit your purposes.

And no, I don't work for iManage, have any stock (if they are traded, even), or anything of the sorts. I just really liked the product when I helped implement it a few years ago, and know it does a good job.

If you want to spend money... (1)

HellKnite (266374) | more than 13 years ago | (#229404)

Bentley has ProjectWise, which when administered well, is a good document control system.

Clearcase? (1)

George Walker Bush (306766) | more than 13 years ago | (#229411)

Most people don't know this about me or my government because the media makes me out to be tech-illiterate, but I use Clearcase myself at my workplace, and it can handle files of any arbitary type. It integrates seamlessly with the Windows shell (right-click context menus, etc). I don't know if this is non-technical enough for your users, but certainly a far cry from the various command line tools like CVS, etc.
George W. Bush
President, United States of America

Easy! (2)

statusbar (314703) | more than 13 years ago | (#229425)

1) Switch to LaTeX

2) Teach them CVS


I'm only partially joking however. That would be SO NICE.
Regardless, CVS handles binaries (albeit inefficiently) and isn't that hard to use with wincvs.


Re:Teach them CVS, then. (1)

Theo DeRaadt (322600) | more than 13 years ago | (#229426)

Here's a clue: Not understanding what you happen to understand does not make one stupid or unqualified for their job.

However, the inability to learn new things is most certainly a sign of stupidity. Nowhere in my post did I say that there should be a shifting of responsibilities in other departments onto the already overloaded backs of the programming group.

Teach them CVS, then. (2)

Theo DeRaadt (322600) | more than 13 years ago | (#229427)

If the people in your company don't understand how to use CVS, or even what it is, then they really shouldn't be demanding that their documents are kept in an orderly fashion.

Don't bother trying to get an "easy to use" solution, which will take up valuble system resources just to run. Anything worth doing can be done from something simple like CVS.

If they are really so dumb that they CAN'T learn CVS, well, its time to tell them that they are in the wrong field, and that they should consider a carrer in garbage collection or burger flipping. Tough love oughta get them educated real fast.

Do you need versioning? (2)

Spamalamadingdong (323207) | more than 13 years ago | (#229428)

Most places I've worked have not leaned that heavily on document-control systems for things like that; there is the most up-to-date version and that's pretty much all you need. (I currently work in an environment where there is a huge document-control system, but I use it so seldom I have forgotten how to get into it.)

You probably need to have someone in control over the mess, and if that person can manage a directory tree which is read-only to everyone but the archivist you could easily keep a "history" directory beneath each leaf and stick old versions down there (with filenames containing the date of the revision). That would give you lots of history and a ready means of re-organizing if you find a tool that lets you manage things more easily in the future.
Having 50 karma is an itchy feeling; I know I'll get

An increasing problem... (3)

CoachS (324092) | more than 13 years ago | (#229429)

Most major word processors include version control, comments, revision history and so forth. A major issue facing law firms these days is making sure that all of that content is removed/turned off before submitting electronic documents to the other side.

It can be very embarrassing to have all of the private comments revealed to the other party when you didn't realize there were there. Increasingly firms are checking for these things as well.

Word 2002, from the Office XP suite, includes a Security Tab on the Options settings. In there you'll find a Privacy section which gives you checkboxes for things like deleting personal information on save and "Warn before sending, saving or printing" a document that has file revision tracking turned on.


Cobalt (2)

nate1138 (325593) | more than 13 years ago | (#229431)

Cobalt makes the little Qube network servers, with something like 20 gigs of drive space, some RAM, and proc for under 2000.00. These boxes come with a document control and search engine software installed. They run linux, but I believe that the document control and search is proprietary. Might want to check it out at Cobalt Networks [] now owned by Sun microsystems.

DOCSopen (1)

sureft (409873) | more than 13 years ago | (#229433)

I work for a worldwide law firm and we use DOCSOpen. There were some issues with it early on, but they all seem to have been ironed out in the current version. It is straightforward for non-technical people, and the IT folks have a good deal of control over how it is implemented, so you can make it even less technical if need be. While away from the office I have been able to access DOCS from the web, but your functionality will greatly depend on the connection. Make sure its a good one before undertaking a large doc retrieval. The other advantage is that since of our offices use it, we can access all of that information. In other words I can pull up in SV a doc from our DC or SF office with minimal lag time. This is one to look into.

It's Microsoft, right? (1)

digitalamish (449285) | more than 13 years ago | (#229441)

Try doing File, Versions. With the amount of changes MS has to do on their programs, you KNOW they had to build this in. VSS probably has some sort of version control for documents too. --- "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da. That's all I;ve got to say to you."

CVS Will work but... (2)

Dutchie (450420) | more than 13 years ago | (#229442)

I used to have a job as 'release manager' at a software development company. This company released sourcecode together with documentation on the sourcecode in MS Word/Framemaker files.

The source code at that point was revision controlled in SCCS (yuck) but the documentation was not. Seems very much like your situation I guess.

Putting the documentation in a CVS project along with the software itself would work pretty well, except that CVS will not do delta's on the binary files but will store each revision pretty much in it's binary format in the repository. This is not a big problem as disk space s cheap.

Also, teaching people how to use some windows CVS client shouldn't be a big issue I believe. However, I've found in the past that people often *want* the GUI version first and within a few weeks are asking me 'so how can I use that command line version you're using'.

Personally I like to teach people a few very simple things:

  • ssh into a Unix box
  • set up their CVS variables for them
  • make sure they check out/commit on a file system that can be mounted through SAMBA on their PC.

  • Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Re:As much as I hate to say it... (1)

Lissst (451356) | more than 13 years ago | (#229443)

I hate to say it myself, but your right. I am part of the analysis team at my current company and since this company is an M$ solutions provider we do everything in M$ tools. Out of all their tools it's got to be the most straight forward and easy to understand program I have used. I can retreive all my old Word documents in just a few seconds and it has a really nice history interface.
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