Software developers have used version-control apps for decades to manage changes to documents and track who’s got the latest copy. Business users have had access to document control systems, too, but these systems haven’t caught on. That may be because the typical document management system is a centralized application run by the IT department, and using it involves changing how you work.
NextPage 1.5 suffers from neither of these restrictions. It’s installed on the user’s machine and works in the background to track document versions and who’s got what. This is a document management product that returns impressive benefits without requiring a lot of discipline or thought from its users.
Controlling the flow
NextPage 1.5 is more a service than an application, so there’s nothing to launch. To get information for documents not on your machine, the client communicates with a central server run by NextPage. Indeed, after you’ve loaded the small app on your computer, you may wonder if it’s working, because it sits quietly in the background as it tracks your documents. The system runs as easily across corporate boundaries as it does inside the organization.
I set out to test NextPage 1.5’s operation by installing it on two machines running Windows XP SP2, one running Office XP and the other running Office 2003. A third machine, my PowerBook running OS X, tested how NextPage handles tracking when documents get sent to machines without NextPage installed. I used a separate e-mail address on each machine to simulate three different users.
Because it’s integrated into Word, Excel and PowerPoint, NextPage starts tracking a file as soon as you save it. While NextPage 1.5 does fine with Excel and PowerPoint, I found the feature set is most fully developed with Word documents.
NextPage discovered that most people distribute documents in one of two ways and built its management modes accordingly. The mode you’re in controls which version of the document is the “master” and which versions are the “alternates.”
In the first mode, called “turn taking,” the author doesn’t control who creates the next authoritative version. Changes are made to the document as it’s passed along. When you start editing a document, NextPage warns you if it’s not the latest copy.
In the second mode, which NextPage calls the “quarterback model,” the document is created by one person (the quarterback), who sends it out for editing. Changes are returned to the quarterback, who merges the changes back into the mas