From the workplace · On writing · Technology

Version Control

Do you have “version control issues”? Do you have multiple copies of the same documents (digital or printed copies) and end up with confusion about which copies are most up-to-date? I remember this being a problem 10-15 years ago but it feels like we are over the worst of it now. It’s a problem that hasn’t affected me too much in my working life, and I hope that it’s not a problem for you either.

There are simple steps that I take to prevent confusion in printed copies: all drafts contain footers with the date and time, page numbers and the total number of pages printed. This has generally been more important with spreadsheets than with word processed documents. Either way, when you look at a print-out you should be able to check what version it is, and whether you have all the pages you should have. And just to be on the safe side you might also want to include the Drive, Path and Filename, for other people’s benefit if not for yours.

For digital copies the possibility of version control problems might be greater than ever. There are so many places you can store your files these days. Fifteen years ago I would store files on computer hard disks or on floppy disks (3.5” 1.44Mb disks – remember them?). In the workplace files would also be stored on a network, and backed up by someone else. In 2001 I got my first computer with USB ports and a read-write CD drive, so there were two extra places to store work: USB sticks and (finalized, read-only) Data CDs. Now I have a variety of USB drives, ranging from those old 1Gb sticks to a slim 1 Terabyte drive. I have 5 drives that have at least 512Gb of storage each and maybe 10 ranging from 1Gb to 32Gb, and SD cards and mini-SD cards ranging from 512Mb to 32Gb. We also have a 2 Terabyte “home cloud” drive, plugged into the router downstairs, and then there are all the actual cloud-based places: OneDrive, Dropbox, Norton backups. And there are email attachments and documents stored on my Windows 10 phone, and for old times’ sake I still occasionally burn a Data DVD of files, knowing that they can’t be modified once the DVD is finalized. It’s conceivable that some of my Word documents exist in more than 50 different versions, or rather that there might be 50 different copies of a file at various stages of development.

Although there are so many places to store files, I keep things simple, and typically create and edit files in one of two places: my Mac Book Pro or my netbook (which is over five years old now), with some notes and edits made on my Windows phone if that’s all I have to hand. All those extra copies are backups rather than versions that I need to revisit.

This Blog has reduced the risk of version control problems. There are draft versions of some of these pieces going back months and even years, but now they have become final. There is only one place to update them, and factual information, like the list of tube station exits and interchanges in this Blog post, or “57 songs that rhyme heart and apart”, will only be updated on this site. It was the information about tube stations that prompted this post. I had never noted down all those exits and interchanges before, and even if I had, sometime in the last 30 years, it would have taken time to track it down, especially if it was in a notebook rather than on a computer somewhere. And although I am less of an evangelist for the Cloud than many of my contemporaries, shared locations like Dropbox and OneDrive have saved a lot of time when sharing information with family and friends. There are still dozens of backup copies of those JPGs that I created many years ago by scanning old family photos, but if anyone wants to see them they’re on Dropbox and all I have to do is add an email address to the “Shared folder options”. I find it all rather liberating. Version control, Shmersion control, for now. And that reminds me: I haven’t backed up any of my files since Easter, so I’d better go and do that now.



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