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March 2019
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SimpleEdit: Editing documents just got simple

Peter MesottenPeter Mesotten

The content paradigm

The way companies are managing and consuming information is constantly changing. Portal and ECM solutions assist in centralizing and structuring the ever growing pile of information that forms the heart of many organizations. Easing the collaboration on information is usually the biggest advantage of adopting these solutions. The type of solution depends on where the information originates from and the desired level of collaboration. Today, we see a notable shift towards web-based collaboration tools, such as Google Docs, Office 365, Atlassian Confluence, … Web-based information is easier to manipulate, search through and share.

Despite this, many companies still have a document-centric approach. In some of them, information originates from a paper flow. For other organizations, the reason to adopt a document management system is more historical. Too much effort would be needed to transform all existing data into structured web content.

Adopting an ECM

Whatever the reason, these companies are most skeptical about moving away from their shared network drive. Implementors like us have to convince them that an ECM platform will make their content searchable, better structured and better secured than ever before. If we do our job well, we succeed in this.

However, once the solution is truly adopted, the end-users sometimes aren’t happy with it. They feel that accessing and working with documents through a web-based application is not what they expected. Certainly, the ECM system is not as straightforward compared to accessing their shared network drive. And you know what? They are totally right. The end-users are always right.

Documents in Liferay

Take Liferay for example. Documents can be uploaded to a document library in Liferay. Site pages can present a view on (part of) these documents. The textual content of documents is indexed, so they can be searched properly. Documents are even previewed, so you don’t need to actually download the document to read it. Awesome, right?

Liferay editing documents

This is great for consuming document-based information. But not really helpful for people producing and collaborating on documents, that is editing documents. They have to go through a number of steps for every minor or major change:

  1. Checking out the document to prevent concurrent changes.
  2. Downloading the document to their local system.
  3. Opening the document.
  4. Making changes.
  5. Saving the document.
  6. Retrieving the document they were editing, in Liferay.
  7. Uploading the new version of the file.
  8. Checking in the document.
  9. Removing the local copy of the document on their local drive to prevent it from living a second life.

Now that’s a lot of actions just for editing a simple file. Even more so compared to what these people were used to on their shared network drive:

  1. Opening the document.
  2. Making changes.
  3. Saving the document.
  4. Grabbing a coffee (optional).

Now wouldn’t it be nice if there was a tool that could turn editing documents in Liferay more familiar again? Allowing one to work with documents in Liferay as if it was a shared network drive, but with all the advantages of the underlying ECM platform?

Meet SimpleEdit

COIN, short for Content and Information Solutions, is a business unit within the podular organization of ACA IT-Solutions. Our team helps customers with their content and document management needs by providing them with customized solutions and services. Adding the human touch to efficient and future-proof content and information solutions is our mission.

When we started working on SimpleEdit at COIN, we only had one goal in mind:

“Allow users to edit any document in as few clicks as possible, starting from the browser.”

It’s no coincidence that this goal much resembles the way how users currently work with their documents on a local or shared drive. So we went back to the simple 3-step approach of editing documents.

1. Opening the document

With that in mind, we figured out that we first had to make sure that editing documents should be initiated from the document library of Liferay itself. As a result, we extended the document library with a new “Open in SimpleEdit” action. This one action checks out, downloads AND opens a document with a single click.

Liferay SimpleEdit - opening

Recent ECM systems have focused on making it possible to edit documents online in the browser. But have you ever tried uploading a complex Powerpoint document to Google Drive? Visual effects and animations that are unknown to Google Slides cannot be transformed correctly. Or what about files that were created with a Mac? Or files with very specific applications, such as Photoshop files or AutoCAD files?

You’ll agree with me that a document is best edited in the application that was designed specifically for that document. That’s why we made sure that SimpleEdit opens the document in the right application. But of course you need to have a suitable application installed on your machine. So, .doc files are opened in Microsoft Word (or maybe you prefer OpenOffice?), .png files are opened with Microsoft Paint and .key files are opened with Apple Keynote.

2. Making local changes

Once a document is opened with SimpleEdit, it is featured in the SimpleEdit dockbar at the top of the screen.

Liferay SimpleEdit - editing documents local

What happens if you lose your connection to the server while editing documents? In some ECM systems, this means that you can no longer work on the document. Each local update is automatically synchronized with the server after all. Not with SimpleEdit. A document that is checked out with SimpleEdit remains local until the user decides to synchronize it back to the server. This way, users can work completely offline. Additionally, they have full control over when a new version of the document is created on the server.

So when you want to make a local change, all you need to do is use the Save action of Microsoft Word, Excel, AutoCAD, …

Even more so, SimpleEdit keeps track of all documents that are currently checked out from the server. So you can even shutdown the application and reopen the document that you were editing the day after.

3. Saving the document

Eventually you do want to synchronize the document back to the server. You wish to make the changes available to other users of the platform. For this you use the Done button in the SimpleEdit dockbar. This will upload the file, update the according document on the server and check it back in, all in one single action.

Liferay SimpleEdit - saving

After the document is uploaded, the local copy on your system is automatically removed. This to ensure that the document doesn’t start a life on its own. So everything is back to where it was before we started editing the document.

Alternatives in Liferay

You might be wondering why Liferay didn’t come up with a way for facilitating document edits themselves. Actually, such solutions do exist indeed. However, there are important differences with how SimpleEdit addresses the problem. For completeness, check out the comparison sheet below.

MS Office integration
WebDAV integration
Liferay Sync
SimpleEdit
Prevents concurrent editing (check-out/check-in) check (error) (error) (tick)
Works in all browsers (error) N/A N/A (tick)
Works on both Windows & Mac (error) Unstable (tick) (tick)
Works for all file extensions (error) (tick) (tick) (tick)
Edits offline / without connection to server (error) (error) (tick) (tick)
Only creates a new version when needed (error) (error) (error) (tick)
Local copy is removed afterwards (tick) (tick) (error) (tick)

Great! Now where can I get this?

SimpleEdit is available for download on https://www.simple-edit.com. You can request a free trial license that is available for 30 days. If you like it, there are different pricing models depending on the size of your organization.

Try SimpleEdit today and let us know what you think!

 

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