My day job consists of helping to manage a few hundred Macs and Windows PCs in a school. Thanks, I need your sympathy.
Besides keeping all the computers running, I help users find their files. It’s my number one time loss leader because users are free to save their files where they can remember.
Where Did That File Go?
That’s the problem. Everyone saves files on their Macs and PCs differently. And they don’t remember where they put everything. A solution is in order (as in, I’m ordered to find a solution.
I’ve been on a search for some kind of multi-user Mac file management system that can work for a few hundred teachers and staff, and the poor, lowly administrators (that would be me).
From a personal and experienced perspective, file management can be amazingly simple and remarkably complex; depending on who’s in charge of the whole management process.
I vote for me. I like simple and simple is better.
Simple Or Complex: Choose One
My view is that saving and storing and retrieving documents on a Mac usually falls into one of four basic methods, starting with ultra easy and problematic, and moving on to rigidity, complex, and a need for user discipline.
#1 – Put All Files Here: Think about it. Every Mac has a Documents folder. Have everyone in the entire organization save all their documents in the Documents folder. That makes network back up easy, and it makes finding files easier, but it assumes everyone can remember to save their files in the same folder.
#2 – Divide And Conquer: As with #1, all files must be saved in the Documents folder, and can’t be saved anywhere else. Ever. That means locking down each Mac so each user’s files can only be saved in their Documents folder. Sounds simple enough, but we’ve tried that and there are even more support issues attached to that solution.
#3 – Save Everything Over There: This solution is a combination of #1 and #2 and requires that all user files be saved on a network server instead of (or, in addition to) on the local Mac or PC. Once a Mac is setup to save files to a specific location all support has to worry about is backup, right? Oh, and responding to, “I saved it there but now it’s gone” support call.
#4 – Try This App!: One of our attempts at document management was to try testing a variety of Mac apps that manage documents. This is the story of iDocument.
Come Into My Database, Me Pretty!
iDocument is document management for your Mac. The concept is simple and appealing. Everything you save gets saved into a database with some semblance of organization.
All of our teachers and administrators have hundreds, even thousands of documents—files from photos to spreadsheets to PDFs to snippets to videos to music and reports and much more. Most of them are stuffed, in one way or another, to varying degrees of acceptability, into the Documents folder.
iDocument pulls all those files into a user Library (one user at a time). Drag and drop.
Easy enough, right? iDocument then monitors all your Document folders and file changes and makes appropriate changes to the database.
Each user can sort and search and tag files and folders in individual ways, and arrange it all in a way that makes personal sense. Everything stays in the iDocument library (just like everything stays in the iTunes and iPhoto library).
The built in tag system makes it easy to use memorable tags for different types of documents and files. Files can be searched any number of ways—tags, keywords, title, contents, even ratings.
And, for organizations with many Mac users, documents and files can be shared with other users with just a few clicks.
iDocument has a security layer which locks documents and files, no matter the owner or file type, into a private folder that’s password protected.
There’s even a built-in scanning function so paper documents can be scanned and dropped directly into iDocument.
What’s not to like?
So far, the biggest deterrent to an attractive, structured, and somewhat affordable document management system has been the user.
Mac users are a creative bunch and manage to find new and innovative ways to need support to find files and retrieve documents. A rigid, structured, rules-based document management system may be the only answer.
After reviewing half a dozen document management solutions, iDocument appears to be a decent solution, topped only by my personal favorite. All I ask is for every user to put their files and documents into the Documents folder, organize it however they like, and I’ll back it up on the network servers multiple times every day.
Then call me when you need me (job security is important, too).