Simplify your life

AKA Stop sharing MS Word documents, you fools!

Greetings from the Couch
Jan 15 · 3 min read

I’ve used MS Word since the old days, and I’m one of those poor souls who “likes your old stuff better than your new stuff”.

Back in the day, the concept of Version Control was only something vaguely thought about by application developers. There was SVN and that was about it.

These days, Version Control isn’t just for the geeks.

Upfront disclaimer: I’ve used Microsoft Word for over 20 years in different forms from Word 6 up to MS Office online. I think it’s an adequate word processor but terrible at layout. And it’s the layout that everyone really wants.

Here’s the problem

Let’s say you’ve got a Word document and need to get feedback from five colleagues and co-workers.

What usually happens is you’ll write an email, attach the document and send out. This means there’s now six copies of the document (your original and the other five).

You now need to manage the five coming back. They may be named exactly the same, they may be initialled by the colleague with “my edit” or somesuch thing to help distinguish each document. Some colleagues will need a follow up.

Next, you’ve got to work through the six copies and implement, reject or keep the changes, and work out which document to keep; do you manually change in the original, or pick one each of the copies? And then how do you work out which is the latest version other than manually changing the filename?

But what about single source on a network?

Glad you asked. Well, you didn’t, I did. Anyway, I digress.

The other way of handling this is to have a single point where everything is done.

This requires a document with “Track Changes” enabled, a network folder and everyone to edit that file directly. It’ll mark where people make alterations, comments, etc.

But… once the change is made, you’ve lost the earlier copy of the document. So again, you’ve got to start changing filenames and playing around like that.

Note: If your network admin has any kind of sanity, they’ll be backing up regularly. This means it’s possible to recover an earlier version of the document if you’ve made a booboo (e.g., deleted it, lost it, etc). But there’s no guarantee.

MS Office online does handle this, but it’s far from foolproof. There’s version control of a sort, but MS Word online is a cut-down version with problems that mirror, exceed and undercut its desktop version.

My solution

Here’s the payoff, a recommendation from someone who’s tried all the variations over the past 30 years and found something simple.

Google Docs.

Yes, I know Google is evil, but that’s a different discussion.

Here’ show Google Docs works for me:

  • Single source — I have a single file that’s version controlled (auto save keeps saving changes)
  • I can share with colleagues, see their comments and changes (and the document doesn’t get kludged up as I’ve experienced with MS Word). The colleague doesn’t necessarily have to have a google account, but it does help.
  • I can export to a variety of formats such as MS Word, PDF, etc
  • I can work offline (i.e., without an internet connection). NB. I’ve had a single incident where I’ve lost changes with this method. But that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the fuckups I’ve experienced in MS Word.

Yes, you need a Google account to do this. Yes, as mentioned, Google is evil. But this solution is simple, the editor is cut-down to the basic needs of anyone writing a document, and it’s easy to use by anyone with passing experience with MS Word.

A writing blog

Greetings from the Couch

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The Write Word

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