Re: Document Comparison Tools

Subject: Re: Document Comparison Tools
From: Sandy Harris <pashley -at- storm -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 21 Jun 2002 11:08:55 -0400


Deb Beckett wrote:

> Somewhere in my travels I came upon some information about DeltaView - a
> software package that allows you to compare versions of documents. I
> downloaded a trial version and I was very impressed (you can see a
> demo/download a trial at www.workshare.com). Unfortunately, the price tag is
> a little steep - my Project Manager has yet to recuperate!
>
> I have two requests:
> 1. Does FrameMaker allow you to compare documents? If so, how easy would it
> be to import my Word documents into Frame and do this comparison? (My
> experience with FrameMaker was a long time ago and was quite limited at
> that.) I have a template that I use for our documentation in Word (if that
> matters).
>
> 2. Is there another product that you would recommend that doesn't carry the
> $4000 US price tag. (It's a neat package, but it seems a bit overpriced to
> me. Then again, that's probably why I'm a Technical Writer and not a
> marketer or sales person.)

A 'diff' utility that does this for text files has been a standard part
of Unix for at least 20 years. There are enhanced version like cdiff, a
'context diff' that prints a few lines of context before/after each
differences it shows, 3diff which compares three files, ... There are
also tools built on top of it, like the RCS and CVS version control
systems.

All of the above are freely available. Any Linux or [Free|Net|Open]BSD
distribution (~ $50 for CD and manual, or free download) includes them.
So does any commercial Unix -- Sun Solaris, HP/UX, ...

Do DOS and Windows have a version of diff built in? Microsoft copied
several of the standard Unix text utilities for DOS 2.0, but I don't
recall if they did this one.

If not, any of the free versions should compile, or you can get full
sets of Unix-like uitilities for Windows from at least Microsoft (they
licensed the MKS Toolkit from Mortise(sp?) Kern Systems), Redhat (the
former Cygnus stuff, now http://sources.redhat.com/cygwin/) and the
Unix4Win package from AT&T. All are free, I think.

The catch is that all of these work only on text files. If your docs
are stored as text files (HTML, XML, SGML, nroff, ...), no problem.

However, if they're in some proprietary format -- Word, Word Perfect,
Frame. ... -- you're stuck with either using what the vendor provides,
buying a 3rd-party product for whatever they charge, or perhaps just
building your own tools (assuming the proprietary format is properly
documented).

I don't know what happens if you get your proprietary-format tool to
dump to a text format -- RTF, MIF, HTML, ... -- and apply diff there.
It "should" "just work", but I suspect there'd be some problems.

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