Document/collaboration server advise needed

Polytropon freebsd at
Mon Jan 22 22:12:59 UTC 2018

On Mon, 22 Jan 2018 14:52:17 -0600, Valeri Galtsev wrote:
> Three groups of scientists need to write documents collaboratively. They 
> are going to use MS PowerPoint, Word, also store PDF files. They want to 
> be able to add external people from other groups they collaborate with 
> and give them access to some areas or "projects". In other words, they 
> want some collaborative work environment, mostly to work on documents.

That's a really sad story...

> In the past scientists were using TeX, and one of version control 
> systems (CVS, subversion,...). And all was great, as TeX files (pretty 
> much like programs software developers write) are ASCII text files, and 
> diff of two version is rather small...

I've been supporting such environments in the past, and users
were generally happy with it, especially because they could use
the operating systems they wanted (most Linux, some a BSD, a few
ones Solaris). With every generation of computers (servers and
"endpoints"), the system ran better and faster, something today's
users probably cannot even imagine.

> Unlike the past scientists I work for plan to use MS PowerPoint, Word, 
> also store PDF files. All these are effectively binary files for version 
> control systems, then versions will not be stored as a small diff, but 
> each version ends up being the whole document.

That is correct. Binary diffs are possible, but probably not
very efficient. Additionally, MICROS~1 "document" files sometimes
keep their own history, which you can observe by altering the
file (add "a", save, remove "a", save, "add "b", save, remove "b",
save, and always check the file size). Access to this "versioning
information" is often not trivial. One single "quick save" can
render a file unusable or even unaccessible, and it needs to be
opened and re-exported using OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Of course you probably won't convince them to use (Open/Libre)Office
because those aren't made by MICROS~1 and don't come with a support
contract. Sure, those formats are fully documented (!) compressed
archives containing XML and blobs, so in worst case, document
recovery is possible with standard means, but who cares... we
don't need a backup, we have RAID. :-)

> One obvious solution may be: just buy service, or set up 
> MS server on our own machine. And these are the two things I am trying 
> to avoid.

This is possible, and nobody got fired for buying ^W licensing
MICROS~1 products. Vendor lock-in is such a good thing, it's the
fundamental power of the free market and blah blah blah...

> Could someone recommend open source software? Some collaborative suite 
> focused mostly on working on documents, with web based interface.

Maybe this list can provide some inspiration?

In worst case, create a big pile of mud: Databases with binary blobs,
lots of servers (but make them virtual, because that's cool and also
DevOps), make the CxOs believe that they need to license lots of
stuff, and then watch them suffer. In case of complaints, like,
"This is soooo slow!" or "Why can't I do {placeholder}?" and
especially "It doesn't work on my latest-gen smartphone!",
just refer them to the support of the software they approved.
If there is no such support, well...

NB: Those who decide about the software to use won't be the ones
who have to use that software.

And whatever you suggest, it will be "insufficient", "lacking
essential features" and "not conform to specification", which of
course will be noticed after the contracts have been signed and
the money has been transfered. So always be sure to document
everything in a written form (for your safety) - I'm sure you
know why, but I thought it would be useful for future readers
who find this comment in the mailing list archive.

Sorry to be not more helful than a syringe of acid... ;-)

Sidenote: I'm more than lucky _not_ to have to work in such
environments anymore. I hope you will find a solution, though,
as nobody deserves this kind of bullshit-driven punishment.
But I know it _can_ be possible to provide users with what
users _need_ (not neccessarily what their managers _want_).
With training (and don't tell me it's possible to survive
in collaboration environments without training and tested
procedures!), everything can be fine.

Again, sorry I couldn't provide more help.

Magdeburg, Germany
Happy FreeBSD user since 4.0
Andra moi ennepe, Mousa, ...

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