capsule review

Versomatic 1.0

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If you’ve ever deleted a document only to instantly regret it, or decided that an earlier version of a report packs a lot more punch than its current iteration, Versomatic 1.0 may be what your workflow needs. The new program from Acertant Technologies offers version management and retrieval capabilities. Versomatic makes a promising debut on the Mac, but it will take some interface improvements for users to get the most out of the program’s handy features.

Versomatic keeps track of any changes made to a document, saving each version in a protected archive (the location of which you can specify, if you like). Whenever you save a document, Versomatic records the changes as another version connected to that document. Want to go back to an earlier version of the document? Just control-click on the file and select the appropriate version from the revision history drop-down menu. Or, access the five most recent revisions from a Quick Menu item in the Menu bar. Even documents you throw out are available through Versomatic—just open the last version and save it to restore deleted files.

Versomatic replicates features that already exist in some applications or that will be coming to Mac OS X soon enough. Microsoft Word 2004, for example, sports a Versions feature that lets you save specific revisions to a document. And one of the major additions to the forthcoming OS X 10.5 update is Time Machine, a backup feature that, among other things, will let you restore deleted and altered files. But the Versions feature in Word requires you to manually save iterations of a document—Versomatic does its business automatically. And while OS X 10.5 and its Time Machine feature won’t ship until the spring of 2007, Versomatic is available now for OS X 10.4 users.

Versomatic gets to work immediately after you install it—by default, it starts saving most document types without you having to lift a finger. You will want to dive into the application’s preferences to tell Versomatic which file types to ignore, however. MPEGs, chat transcripts, and .app files are excluded by default, but otherwise, Versomatic will keep versions of nearly anything and everything you put on your computer. After importing several batches of images into iPhoto, for example, my Versomatic Version Manager became littered with JPEG images; Versomatic also kept four versions of a MacMAME NVRAM file for the arcade game Centipede before I set my preferences to ignore .nv files. It’s better for a version-tracking application to be overly inclusive with the files it tracks by default, but Versomatic users should be prepared to fine-tune exactly what is getting archived.

The program stores all the revisions to all files in one central repository. By default, Versomatic saves 30 revisions per file and limits the data repository archive’s size to five percent of your main disk drive (5GB of a 100GB hard drive, for example); you can alter both settings to your liking. If you brush up against the capacity for your archive, Versomatic can be set to automatically delete files and revisions on a first-in/first-out basis; I’ve got the program set to alert me when I’ve reached my limit. And though I’ve been using Versomatic steadily for a month—with my preferences set to save 1,000 revision per file—I’ve yet to get a notification that I’ve run out of archive space.

Versomatic works best when you’re recovering deleted files or restoring a document that you’ve accidentally written over. For instance, I put out a weekly newsletter for Macworld using BBEdit. Typically, I open the previous week’s edition to create a new newsletter, but I have a terrible habit of copying over the older version instead of using the Save As command. Using Versomatic, I can find the proper version in the Version Manager, open the read-only file, and use the Save As command to restore the overwritten edition. These restore features work just as smoothly for documents I’ve accidentally trashed.

The program becomes less useful when you use it to search among earlier versions of a document for that perfect turn of phrase you remember writing several revisions ago, or to restore a file to its prior glory after you decide the last several rounds of changes just didn’t pass muster. The problem is one of volume—if you’re like me, you’re used to hitting command-S early and often, lest you lose a file to a crash or a power outage or some other mishap. Each time you save a document, however, Versomatic creates another version. Work on a document long enough, and those versions begin to pile up. I’ve got a 17-page, 8,000-word Word file that has 378 revisions in Versomatic’s Version Manager, and I’d be hard-pressed to tell you how version 290 differs from version 294, other than that they were saved four minutes apart.

The Version Manager interface is little help in this regard—its columns include the version number, the size of the file, the date and time it was modified, and a Comments field. Those first three columns offer very little at-a-glance data to help you distinguish one version from the next. The Comments field, where you can manually input distinguishing information, provides some help, but this initial version of Versomatic features a flawed implementation. You have to go into the Version Manager to add comments to a version, defeating the behind-the-scenes convenience of the application. Also, the size of the comments field is limited; you can enter in as much text as you like, but only two dozen characters or so will be visible in the field unless you resize the Version Manager window. Other applications display the entire line of a lengthy text field when you mouse over it; Versomatic 1.0 doesn’t, and it’s a very un-Mac-like experience.

While Versomatic is best for managing word-processing files, spreadsheets, and presentations, it can track revisions to larger multimedia files as well—though you should be prepared for a few quirks if you put that kind of demand on the program. Saving revisions to text documents is seamless—you don’t even notice that Versomatic is doing its thing. That’s not the case with multi-megabyte files. I edited a 263MB .aif file in Ambrosia’s SoundStudio, and there was a noticeable lag every time I saved the file while Versomatic archived that particular version. Users who want to tap the application to track multimedia files should be prepared for the performance hit; others who prefer to stick to the document tracking Versomatic is designed for would be advised to add .aif files to the Ignore list in the program’s preferences.

Macworld’s buying advice

This debut version of Versomatic does an admirable job of keeping tabs on document revisions, particularly when it comes to rescuing deleted or overwritten files. If you find yourself overwhelmed by multiple Word files, spreadsheets, and presentations, you should be able to impose some order thanks to Versomatic’s clever tracking features. As useful as this first version is, some modest interface improvements will go a long way toward making Versomatic a more indispensable tool.

[ executive editor Philip Michaels sees more document revisions before 9 a.m. than most people do all day. ]

The Comments field in Versomatic’s Version Manager is your best bet for differentiating one version of a file from another, but the limited space for text reduces some of this feature’s usefulness.
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