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I work for a small company in the Mechanical Engineering sector. Nobody here knows a thing about coding or databasing except for myself, and I know little more than basic SQL, some C#, some VBA.

I'm trying to find a good open-source/freeware document control solution for all of our engineering-related documentation. Most files are in the format of .docx, .xlsx, .pdf, or .dwg (CAD).

Is Subversion adaptable to my purposes of doc control as opposed to code control? Would it also be sufficient to produce reports of documents in the system with corresponding revision numbers?

Any other recommendations or solutions out there are certainly welcome.

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    The combination svn + latex (or any text/plain based document format) is incredibly useful for any kind of collaboratively written document. Requires everybody to learn some basic latex, though.
    – Daniel Beck
    Nov 11, 2010 at 23:45

4 Answers 4

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SVN has a GUI front-end with good Windows integration: Tortoise SVN. Many of my colleagues swear by it.

Msofficesvn is a Microsoft Office plug-in that gives access to Tortoise SVN inside Office applications. OfficeSVN adds icons for SVN operations to Office 2007. OOoSVN is a similar plug-in for OpenOffice.

With those tools, SVN is usable without requiring a command line. Administering the repository might require basic command line competence.

SVN does require some user training, but that has nothing to do with programming. Mainly, you have to get people into the habit of 1: update, 2: work, 3: commit; and you have to train them to perform merges.

A document management system that provides pure archiving without exposing conflicts will be easier to use. But that's because it hides the difficulties under the rug: instead of confronting users with conflicts, it silently loses data when a conflict occurs.

A workflow where people take a lock before working on a document is a lot more constraining, but can save headaches if they can't be taught not to panic when a conflict happens.

(Note that I have no experience of teaching nontechnical people to use version control — I'm interpolating from observed behavior with “manual” versioning, where documents are sent by mail to a person who is supposed to merge changes.)

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  • I had actually done some research on Tortoise SVN because it seemed to be the least code-oriented front-end GUI for Subversion. I definitely like that it has Office plugins. So how hard is it to compare changes between 2 spreadsheets or Word docs using Tortoise? Does it merge well? Thanks. Oct 5, 2010 at 22:47
  • Sorry, I only recently discovered the Office plugins and haven't used them yet. Oct 5, 2010 at 22:58
  • One thing to consider is that SVN will have a problem with .docx files. They are essentially binary ZIP files so when even a small update to a document is made, the whole documment is re-compressed and so the file is totally different to the previous version. SVN stores the differences between versions of a document. In the case of docx files it will have to store the entire document for each revision which could generate a very large SVN database.
    – ChrisB
    Nov 3, 2011 at 9:42
  • Msofficesvn actually is not a add-in as it claims but rather a macro. So (1) it's a potential security problem and (2) it adds bloat to every document. Jan 29, 2014 at 17:18
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Code files are simple text files. .docx and .dwg files are "little less" userfriendly ) so you need plugins for such files. In case of msword files there is a plugin xdocdiff.

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  • By less user friendly, you mean it's just difficult to run a difference check on two versions, is that right? Oct 4, 2010 at 21:23
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I would suggest a document management system over a revision control system for "binary" documents. Revision control works best for text files like source code but you loose a lot of the features when dealing with binary types.

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  • Ok, that sounds right. Any suggestions on open-source DMS products then? Any experience with a good one? Thanks for the help. Oct 4, 2010 at 21:30
  • I've used a few but don't have enough experience to recommend one. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_content_management_systems
    – Chris Nava
    Oct 4, 2010 at 21:38
  • ... And there's the rub: If you're used to the way subversion works, document management systems are a PITA. We're struggling with Office 365 and OneDrive For Business at the moment. It's not really fit for purpose but if you want to have a sensible offline capability there aren't many reasonably priced alternatives.
    – Andy
    Dec 18, 2014 at 14:55
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There is also a commercial solution among Microsoft Office Subversion plugins: MagnetSVN.

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  • Well I wanted to keep it free since I am basically serving as the document control czar for the entire company (we have like 7 people, it's not that big of a deal). However, only $19 per license is pretty good. Have you used it? Comments on its UI and system? Nov 12, 2010 at 4:27
  • I'm a developer of MagnetSVN. So I cannot be objective while commeting it :) So if you have time please drop us some feedback on MagnetSVN: magnetsvn.com/feedback.html. We will be happy to provide you with pre-release versions with new features if you'd like.
    – Eugenek
    Nov 12, 2010 at 7:04
  • This is an ancient post, but the system popped it up for review and feedback. For future reference, you need to disclose your affiliation when recommending products. Otherwise, this would technically qualify as spam. Also be aware that wide latitude is given to people who contribute in general and occasionally suggest their own stuff. But if your only posts are promotional, it's viewed differently.
    – fixer1234
    Oct 3, 2015 at 3:44

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