Document/collaboration server advise needed

Dale Scott dalescott at
Mon Jan 22 22:53:55 UTC 2018

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-freebsd-questions at [mailto:owner-freebsd-
> questions at] On Behalf Of Valeri Galtsev
> Sent: Monday, January 22, 2018 1:52 PM
> To: FreeBSD Mailing List
> Subject: Document/collaboration server advise needed
> Dear All,
> Three groups of scientists need to write documents collaboratively. They
> going to use MS PowerPoint, Word, also store PDF files. They want to be
> 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.

Are your users comfortable using revision control systems? If yes, then how
technical or how simple do they want the process to be?

There is a nice "Document Revisions" plugin for WordPress, with a "drag and
drop" onto the web page interface. It manages each document individually but
essentially non-collaboratively. It also manages documents individually,
which is not so well if you have groups of documents that are controlled
together (e.g. a Visio file plus a Word file plus an PowerPoint plus a PDF
all together equal a conference submission).

Many people use Subversion for ad hoc documents such as mechanical
engineering drawings, Word docs, etc., but a tree document structure has to
make sense to users and document searching doesn't seem to feature in any of
the Subversion clients (which is disappointing, because I suspect
TortoiseSVN and a back-room Subversion server are the document control
system in many embedded engineering groups). The more technical the solution
is though, the more there will need to be a software-orientated champion in
the group for the process to work effectively.

Do your users currently use a shared network directory for all their
documents, with perhaps with an ad hoc filename naming convention? I was
once managing engineering product documentation (schematics, mechanical
drawings, Word docs, etc.) and configured a nightly rsync from effectively a
shared "sandbox" into a "controlled vault", only copying modified files and
adding a date and time suffix if an updated version was copied. 

Have you investigated built-in collaboration tools? Word has built-in
collaboration, merging edits, etc. If Word is the document creator/editor of
choice for your users, perhaps the "best" solution is use Word for
collaborating. I would still also advocate for a process though that creates
a copy of the file at various milestones (e.g. "release to print shop",
"submit to conference") for visibility and reliability. I believe Excel also
has built-in collaboration features.

Don't under estimate the need to keep people happy. The new system has to
solve the problems that users perceive they are having, otherwise moving
them to the new system will be an uphill battle and could easily lose
traction and collapse before complete. Technical people have a high-degree
of tolerance for complexity (even liking it!), and users will avoid "better"
solutions and find workarounds if they don't agree (and I say this as a

Good luck!

Dale R. Scott

> 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...
> Unlike the past scientists I work for plan to use MS PowerPoint, Word,
> store PDF files. All these are effectively binary files for version
> systems, then versions will not be stored as a small diff, but each
> ends up being the whole document.
> 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.
> Could someone recommend open source software? Some collaborative suite
> focused mostly on working on documents, with web based interface.
> I run owncloud server for my Department, and one in general can use that,
> but I hope to find something more focused towards collaborative work.
> Thanks a lot for your advises and pointers.
> Valeri
> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> Valeri Galtsev
> Sr System Administrator
> Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics Kavli Institute for Cosmological
> Physics University of Chicago
> Phone: 773-702-4247
> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
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