How to use Git with Microsoft Word
Learn how you can bring the features of Git (including versioning, commenting, diffs, merging, branching, pull requests and more) to Microsoft Word
Git is a fantastic tool for version control of code, and functionality like branching and pull requests mean that multiple people can work on the code at the same time without overwriting each others work.
All of these features make Git a great collaboration tool, but unfortunately out of the box it doesn’t work with Microsoft Word documents, meaning you’re not going to be able to use Git for document collaboration without a whole lot of extra work converting files between Docx and plain text each time you want to write something.
There is however, a tool that has all features and functionality of Git you’d need (including versioning, commentings, diffs, merging, branching, pull requests and more) and it directly integrates with Microsoft Word. That tool is Simul Docs.
In this article, we’ll outline how you can use Simul to collaborate on Word Documents in the same way you would use Git to collaborate on code.
To get started using Simul as a Git-like tool for Microsoft Word documents, you need to upload your document.
Documents can be uploaded from your computer or from cloud storage services like OneDrive, Sharepoint, Dropbox, Box and more.
Once you’ve uploaded your first file (usually a .doc or .docx), this will create a ‘Document’ in Simul.
'Documents' in Simul are like repositories in Git
'Documents' house all the versions of your document as well as the meta data about each version (who created it, when it was created, etc). They also store any comments, tasks, etc.
Once you’ve created your Document in Simul, it’s time to add members to the documents. These are the people who will work on the document with you.
Now that you have invited people to work on the document with you, all they need to do is click the ‘Open In Word’ button and the selected version (usually the latest) will open on their computer.
Opening a document in Word with Simul is like a Git Pull
Once the document is open in Microsoft Word on their computer, they can make changes to it locally. Once they’ve finished, all they need to do is click ‘Save’ and their changes will be pushed back to Simul and a new version created.
Saving the document in Word with Simul is like a Git Commit and Git Push
Finally, once the new version has been created Simul will automatically compare the latest version to the previous one and highlight what was changed in that version.
A comparison in Simul is like doing a Git Diff on a Commit
If two or more users open the document at the same time, Simul will automatically recognise this has happened and will save each person’s changes in a separate branch.
Branches in Simul are similar to Branches in Git
You can click on each person’s version and it will show you exactly what each person changed (similar to doing a Git Diff on each commit).
Now that you have two conflicting versions of the document, you’ll need to bring them back together.
Fortunately, Simul provides a 1-click way to merge the two versions. You simply click the purple merge button that appears at the top of either of the conflicting versions.
Merging branches in Simul is similar to doing a Git Merge
This will create a new ‘merged’ version of the document and bring the branches back together in the version history.
Finally, when you open this merged version in Microsoft Word it will use Word’s default Track Changes feature to highlight the changes that each person made, so you can easily identify and fix any issues (I.e. Because both people edited the same paragraph, so you need to review both their edits and decide which is correct).
Collaborating outside Simul
There are often going to be times when you need to collaborate with someone who you don’t feel comfortable adding as a Member to the document in Simul. This could be:
- Opposing counsel on a legal document who you don’t want to see your full version history
- A client or prospective customer who you need to get feedback from but don’t feel comfortable inviting them into Simul and making them learn a new tool
Fortunately, Simul has a feature called ‘Link Sharing’ which makes it easy to collaborate on documents with people who don't have a Simul account and still bring their changes back into Simul so you can see their changes in the overall version history.
To get started, click the ‘Share This Version’ button alongside the specific version you want to share. After completing some details (like the name of the link and an expiry date) you will be given a link you can send to the people you want to collaborate with.
When they click the link, they'll be presented with a page that contains the version you shared with them. They do not need to create a Simul account to see this page.
Your collaborators can use the 'Download Document' button in the left sidebar to download the version you sent them as a .docx file to their computer
Once on their computer, they can open it up in Word and make changes to it locally.
After they have made their changes, they can come back to the link and select 'Upload Changes' to begin uploading their modified version of the document.
Once a collaborator has uploaded a new version of the document, it will appear as a new version in your version history in Simul and the changes they made will be highlighted.
You can then merge this new version they created with the previous version you sent them and Simul will have automatically highlight the changes made by the collaborator using Word's default Track Changes feature, so you can go through change by change and accept or reject them.
Benefits of using Git for Microsoft Word
Whether you choose to use Git directly or a tool like Simul which brings the features of Git to Microsoft Word in a native way, there are many benefits of a Git-based workflow over the standard way of collaborating on documents (which is usually emailing them back and forth with crazy filenames like ‘Contact_V27_FINAL’).
- Instantly access the latest version from anywhere - Open the latest version of a document in Word or Word Online in just 1 click. No more trying to work out whether “Contract-final” or "Contract - final_FINAL" is the latest version.
- Collaborate on documents with ease - Never email Word docs around again. Multiple collaborators can open the latest version in 1 click, edit in Microsoft Word simultaneously, and their changes are automatically saved as new versions.
- See exactly what changed between versions - Easily compare different versions of a document so you can see exactly what people changed in each versions, even if they forgot to turn Track Changes on.
- See the full history of changes in one place - See every version of a document - including what changed, who changed it and when - in one simple interface. No more digging through old email threads trying to find when that change was made.
- Easily access old content - Revert back to a previous version in just 1 click, or easily grab content from a previous version and add it to the latest one. With Simul, your content is never lost.
As you can see from the post above, a Git-based workflow has a lot of benefits over the standard way of collaborating on documents.
Unfortunately though, Git simply wasn’t built for Word documents and the process of trying to integrate Git with Microsoft Word is extremely inefficient.
Using Simul however brings all the key features and functionality you are looking for in Git to Microsoft Word documents, but does it in a user friendly way that anyone can access.
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