OOo Off the Wall: That's Your Version--Document Control in OOo Writer
OpenOffice.org has multiple Undo levels. You can set the levels as high as you like from Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org -> Memory -> Undo. However, if your files receive extensive revision or if more than one person writes or edits them, you need more sophisticated tools to handle changes. OpenOffice.org Writer provides three such tools: Changes, Compare Documents and Versions. All share some common interface features and are quick to learn, although possibly confusing for users unfamiliar with version control.
Keep in mind, though, that these three tools do not add up to a complete version control system, such as CVS or Subversion. None of them, for example, automatically assigns version numbers. And you can't create development trees with them. You can, however, enter version numbers manually as comments. You also can merge different versions of a document into the current one. In short, although OOo's three change tools are less sophisticated than programmers' version control systems, they still are useful for people working at the office-suite level.
Changes, Compare Documents and Versions are customized in Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org Writer -> Changes. From this tab, you can set four aspects of the material you'll be dealing with:
Insertions: content that is unique to the second document or version.
Deletions: content that is unique to the first document or version.
Change Attributes: any formatting change.
Lines Changed: the position of the change bar indicates that something in a line has changed. You can set this option to the left, right, inner or outer margin. Usually, you can keep it on the default setting of the left margin. You may want to change it, however, to the outer margin if you are using mirror-image left and right page styles. You also can turn off change bars altogether, but doing so robs you of a useful tool.
As you work, remembering the definitions of Insertions and Deletions is particularly important. Forget these definitions, and you quickly can become confused when trying to merge all of the content into a single document.
For the first three aspects--insertions, deletions and change attributes--you can set colors to mark changes made from the current user account. In most cases, though, you can let OpenOffice.org assign a color to each editor of the document as needed.
If the document is being edited by more than one user account, you'll likely want to make sure that at least the First Name, Last Name and Initial fields are filled out in each account, under Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org -> Personal Data. Changes made from accounts that don't have this information are listed as being made by Unknown, making changes much harder to sort through later.
Whether you are working with Changes, Compare Documents or Versions, you will reach a point at which you have to decide how to deal with each change. At this point, you be using the Accept or Reject Changes window.
The Accept or Reject Changes window essentially is a graphic equivalent of running the diff command on two text files. It's a floating window that you can keep open while referring to the document. The window opens on the list tab, which displays all the insertions, deletions and changes in attributes--which, rather confusingly, it calls Formats--in the order they were made, from the start of the document.
For each change, the list tab shows the type of action, its author and its date. In addition, the Version tool also allows you to enter comments along with the change, and these comments are shown in the list tab as well. The Compare Documents and Changes tools, however, don't allow you to enter comments with your changes, although Changes has a permanently grayed-out sub-menu item for them.
If a document has been changed frequently or has been edited by several writers, the list tab can be confusing. In such cases, you can use the filter tab to change the display of actions by using any of the four attributes listed for each action. For example, the date of displayed actions can be set to different ranges, an exact date or "since the last save". Sorting by an author's name works best if all of the editors fill out the Personal Data while viewing the document from their own accounts. Otherwise, all editors except the current one will be listed simply as "Unknown", as described above, and you'll have one less filter to use later.
When you are ready to make decisions about changes, open the list tab. To deal with an action individually, click on it and then select the Accept or Reject button. The first few times you work with changes, you may want to remind yourself periodically of how insertion and deletion are defined in this context, so you actually do what you mean to do: to keep a deletion, reject it; to keep an insertion, accept it. Conversely, accepting a deletion confirms the deletion, and rejecting an insertion removes the selection from the document.
Once you are sure of what you are doing, you can deal with all of the actions currently displayed in the list tab by selecting the Accept All or Reject All button. Provided you take the time to set up suitable filters, the All button greatly can reduce the time you spend dealing with document changes.
When the last action is accepted or rejected, the window stays open. The document, however, is no longer marked by the attributes you set up in Tools -> Options -> OpenOffice.org Writer -> Changes. They come back when you start writing again.
One last word: the Accept or Reject Changes window can be remarkably hard to close sometimes. To get rid of it, go to the sub-menu of Edit -> Changes. Un-selecting Accept or Reject should close it, but you may need to un-select all of the items in the sub-menu.
-- Bruce Byfield (nanday)
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