So I’m taking a break from comparing files to talk blog about File Comparison tools. I’ve been using Compare It! for the last year. But in the interest of keeping current I have done some research into what is currently out there in the world of file comparison tools.

    First let’s talk about why you would need a file comparison tool. Well one is if you fall into a situation like mine where you have dozens (or more) copies of files with the same name, some could be corrupt, some could be altogether different, and some could just simply be duplicate. But how do you know? There are several visual cues you could try to judge on without even opening the file; the number that’s been attached to the file by your computer, the creation or modification dates, the file size. Still not any one of those can be a guarantee that the files are the same or different though they increase the chances the more things that you compare. The more important the contents of that file more sure you will want to be.

    Okay, so how can you be even more sure? Well if you use Microsoft Office you can do side by side comparisons and scroll through the files and HOPE that your eyes catch any minor differences. Like when in your third pass though you finally noticed that the line that you wrote in the first draft still had your heroine’s eyes listed as green when her eyes being blue turned out to be imperative or where you’d dropped a letter in a word completely changing the meaning of that line; this mistake was hard enough to spot the first time but do you even remember making it so that you know to look for it now. If you are comparing files by size a change this small might not even change the BITES of the file let alone register at the KB level (which is what that column usually shows), you could compare the modified/created date but if your files have been “recovered” that data could be changed. You could do what I did prior to finding file comparison tools; print out the files and go word by word – or if you have those kind of friends, recruit people to help. It does work, I have several friends who can attest to it. We found such mistakes in two seemingly identical files of a script I wrote. But if it’s more than a couple of files you’re going to spend a lot of money on wasting paper, ink and time. So believe me when I say; finding a file comparison tool that’s right for you is VITAL!

    I have played with several and I even have different programs to sort through image files and music files (my Doc folder wasn’t the only victim of the Geek Squad screw up). One thing I encourage is if you can go free – do so, especially when trying out software. You also need to learn what works for you. A lot of the reason why there are so many programs that do the same thing out there has a lot to do with ascetics, as well as the little things. I personally am partial to a clean simple look when it comes to this kind of software. I also don’t want to have to look at the comparison data myself to determine if they are identical – that’s why I have the software right? The basics that you are looking for in a File comparison program are as follows:

    • Compares several kinds of files (e.g. .doc, .xls, .html, .pdf)
    • Compares the source and file names
    • Compares the file size
    • and most importantly Compares CONTENT! This can be your most useful tool down the line for many reasons including version control. (Which we will discuss in a different post)

    So let’s look at what’s out there.

As I said before I use Compare It! this program has has a free trial version that works just fine, but you can also pay for the full version. I like because when it does find differences it shows them in a side by side view and highlights what and where the changes are. If the files are the same it says so in a nifty little box message at the completion of the comparison – so easy so you can just move forward. And after playing with several other

This only works with Windows. It has the old Windows 95 look and feel. I’m holding out to try their WinMerge 3 which promises to be a significant improvement. But Apple/Mac users you’re out of luck here. It seems to have a similar system as Compare It! (The OS X answer to this is FileMerge, I don’t use Apple/Mac PCs so I can’t comment on that program.)

This program is like Compare It! in that it has a free trial download and a Pro (paid) version. I downloaded the freeware version and it looks nice. What they don’t tell you right off is that after a little bit the program will bug you every 15 minutes to upgrade to Pro this alone turns me off to the program. But if you don’t mind the interruption this could be a good option for you. That being said the pro version looks very complete, if you are thinking of paying for your compare app this is a good contender along side Compare It!

From what I’ve read about it; Don’t Bother! But if you want to test it that’s up to you.

The specs look great. And again it has the free trial and paid versions. Though I couldn’t find the paid version to save my life. One of the bonuses to this program is that you can compare portions of files and customize what you do and don’t want to ignore in searches. This tool looks to be really useful in helping with version control. It’s not my favorite for plowing through large numbers of files though.

If you don’t want to download a file comparison tool and you only have a few files to compare this online “service” seems to be your best bet.

    All the other programs I looked into were either 30 day trials or paid software. You are more than welcome to look into those if you wish. But then again you can also pay someone else to compare your files for you as well.

    If you want to do your own research on File comparison tools I suggest looking at this Wikipedia article and doing a Google or Bing Search. I also found this article but for most writers this is a little over the head.

    Good luck!