Compare & contrast

Want to view different versions of the same document? Here's how to make office easier.

It's easy to end up with two slightly different versions of the same document - whether it's saving a copy to try out some changes or getting suggestions from people you work with. It's not as simple to work out which version is the version you want.

Word has an option on the Tools menu to Compare and Merge Documents. This merges another document into the file you have open so you can see the differences - see FIGURE 1. You can tick the checkbox labelled "Legal blackline" to get a new file containing the combined version. What it doesn't show you, however, is the two documents side by side. That you can do in Word (or Excel) by choosing Compare Side by Side with from the Window menu - you have to open both documents first. This will display the original documents, but with no markup to help you pick out what's different.

Combining the two tools gives you something more useful. First, use the Legal blackline option to merge the two documents, then use the compare feature to look at the new version against one of the originals.

If you regularly need to com­pare documents, invest in a copy of Workshare's DeltaView PE which makes it much easier. You see both docu­ments side by side, as well as the merged version, plus a list of the changes down the side. Pick a change and all three documents scroll to the right place. This makes comparing work and keeping the right one much faster and simpler. DeltaView can compare DOC and RTF files, so it works with WordPerfect as well as Word. Or, indeed, anything that saves as RTF. It's also handy for dealing with problems caused by styles and tables that have been pushed out of line.

If you've got duplicate docu­ments that have been hanging around on your hard drive for a few years because you haven't had the time to check which is the one you need, DeltaView PE can help you clear out the clutter - see FIGURE 2. But if they're really old files, such as Word 2.0, open them and save them to a more recent format to make sure DeltaView can read them.

Worth it

There's a more expensive version, DeltaView 5.0, which can compare Excel, PowerPoint and PDF files as well (you can even compare a PDF with the Word file it's based on).

PowerPoint has a Compare and Merge Presentations command on the Tools menu but, although you can pick any file, it will only merge different versions of the same original document. Use it for com­­bining changes when you've asked someone else to look over a presentation. To combine different presentations, use Insert menu-Slides from Files.

Excel has Compare and Merge Workbooks, too, but it only works on files in the same folder that started out as a shared folder and have always had track changes turned on. Unless you deliberately created two versions for different people to work on with the aim of combining them later, it's not likely to help you.

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Mary Branscombe

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