More Version Control

6 December 2004

As someone who uses version control all the time, I think it's something that can grow into more areas of computer use. Other than software developers, few computer users use version control. Yet as software developers know, version control is a great mechanism for collaborative work, allowing multiple people to work together on a single software system. What would be the benefits of version control being more widely used?

We've reached a point where it's practical for everyone to use version control systems in their work. Subversion is a freely available system that supports binary formats easily and removes many of the limitations of CVS. Disk space is cheap enough that you can put people's entire working directory under version control.

At the moment the big limitation is that not enough applications and tools are aware of version control. Word has had some change tracking capability for a long time, but it's not written with version control in mind. What would version control facilities, with diff and merge, look like for common applications that people use. How could these kinds of applications make use of these ideas?

I do schematic drawings with tools like Visio. It would be nice to be able to diff drawings to see what changes have made between versions and to see what changes someone else made to my diagram.To really get the value of this kind of things we may need tools that support a SemanticDiff.

This might be a real opportunity for the open source community to take conventional applications and move them in this direction, building on the fact that everyone can easily obtain and use subversion. Some good ideas around here could really enhance collaborative work.