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Never Again will you Lose an Important Document

Aug 17, 2007
Programmers have been using version control software for a long time. With version control software, you first take a snapshot of a file or files in a folder. When you want to make a change to a file, you check out the file, make your changes, and check the file back in. If you look at the file you'll see the latest version including all your changes; however, the version control software has transparently recorded the original version of the file and all changes you've made to it since.

The really great thing about version control is that you can restore the file back to any point in time. What sucks about it is you have to remember to commit the changes each time you want to create a new version.

Software such as Tortoise SVN has made this much more accessible to non-programmers, but there is an easier way, which I call automatic version control software. I've only discovered two software programs that do this: AJC Software ActiveBackup and the freeware FileHamster from MogWare.

ActiveBackup and FileHamster work similarly. First, you configure the software to watch a folder like My Documents. Then you use wildcards to specify which files you want to be version controlled and which ones you want excluded. For example, if you are watching My Documents, you would specify *.doc to record all changes to your Microsoft Word files, but might want to exclude *.tmp to keep the software from recording changes to temporary files.

After you configure the watch, the software will search the directory and take a snapshot of every file that matches your criteria. The software automatically starts up when you boot your computer and takes another snapshot every time you save changes to a file.

Now you are truly free to make changes to your files without fear of losing any changes. This is great for writers. Open a file and create a rough draft. Save the file. Now revise your work. Go wild. Get creative and change everything without any inhibitions. Don't worry you can go back to any previously saved version at any time.

How? Both ActiveBackup and FileHamster allow you to view the differences between two file versions, side by side. Open your version control software, compare the versions to find the best one, and restore it to the current version. Now work with that file, making changes and saving them along the way and you have an infinite undo capability saved to disk.

Note: You can also make the work of finding the correct version easier by adding comments as you go about what changes were made every time you reach a milestone.

I've been using ActiveBackup to version control my personal documents for a few months. I experimented with FileHamster and it's great software too, but ActiveBackup only stores the compressed differences of each change, which ends up being a lot less disk space over time. Another plus for FileHamster is that it's free, but I don't mind paying a reasonable cost for reliable software that I use constantly.

Lately, I've started using this ActiveBackup instead of more feature-rich versioning software to handle the version control for my programming projects. I love that I can simply set it and forget it, get on with my work, and not worry about losing any work, should I make any numb skull moves like accidently deleting the wrong folder. I can always restore the last good version.
About the Author
David Burch is the owner of Hear-Hear.com. Hear-Hear.com brings you tips, software, and gear for health, happiness, productivity, and self-improvement. Read more tips and reviews at Hear-Hear.com
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