First this is a subjective questions, so to narrow it down, I'm including some general requirements as I see them for what a good document management system should handle.

General Requirements

  • Search
    • Word, PDF, Powerpoint, Excel etc
  • Revisioning
    • Author
    • Comment on change
  • User customizable watchers
    • Feed Notification of changes to files / folders / tags / patterns that matter to them.
  • Integration with User Directory (LDAP/AD etc)
  • Easy remote access
    • Ideally a web system for Search/Remote Access/Document Linking
  • Document Cross Linking
    • If a file moves, old links to the file should remain valid
  • Document Tagging
  • Offline access
    • If a user is offsite, can they easily pull down the file set/directory to their machine and then work offline, for example an international flight.

Assumed Requirements

  • Ability to Backup
  • Can handle a reasonable pool of users (20-1000)
  • Some way of scaling long term


I have a few things in mind, but nothing really strikes the sweet spot of the above requirements and usability.

  • Microsoft Sharepoint
    • Not friendly to diverse user base (multi-os etc)
    • Hard to manage documents en-mass and confusing interface
  • Subversion
    • Solves offline, but requires a lot of bolt-on's to resolve search, usability and other needs
  • Atlassian Confluence
    • Documents are secondary to wiki functionality, and harder to access offline

Any suggestions?

Fine Print

I haven't mentioned other VCS solutions (git/P4/cvs etc) due to user experience complexities, but I'm open to suggestions and examples using such technologies.

Additional Notes


Despite the cons that you mentioned, SharePoint meets all of your requirements and is hard to beat when you look at the big picture. Here's why:

  • It's free! The standard edition, Windows SharePoint Services is a free add-on to Windows Server. Windows Small Business Server has it built in and configured, out of the box.
  • Scalable. Upgrade to Microsoft Office Server System, enough power for a giant enterprise.
  • Better Together. Integrated with Office 2007 and Windows Desktop. The integration features should not be underestimated, they make SharePoint much simpler to use.
  • Open document libraries in Windows Explorer, manage them with drag-and-drop.
  • Workflow, built in, based on Windows Worflow Foundation.
  • Excellent developer community and full SDK, should you wish to add custom features.

Don't consider solutions in isolation. They may well tick all the boxes, but if your end users don't like them or refuse to learn a new interface, you'll have a failed deployment on your hands. I believe that the key to SharePoint is the close integration with Windows and Office. Plus, SharePoint will do a lot more than just document management - have a look at the "Fab 40" application templates to see what I mean, and they all work on the free version.

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  • But that's just it, our current users aren't happy with SharePoint. When you step away from Windows, Internet Explorer and Office, you are left in the dark. Free isn't a requirement, usability is much more important. Hence why alluded to spending development effort on modifying Subversion. Not to say SharePoint isn't out of the question, basically on the look out for something better, or making SharePoint better. Additionally I'm not ticking boxes. Those are the actual requirements that'd have been an major issue. – Scott Markwell Oct 12 '09 at 22:13

This is a very good question and one that I'm eager to read other answers to.

Knowledge Tree hits on most of your requirements. It's open source, but has paid support and value-add versions. It's primarily web-based, but I see that new versions have desktop and application integration, and DAV support.

I deployed the community version and used it for a while, but eventually let it go because it didn't catch on in my organization. It had lots of great features, but doing document management through a web browser added too much PITA overhead for most users, and they hated it. We went back to using simple shared directories with no versioning capability, but we have decent search using Mac OS X Server-side Spotlight indexing. We also encourage document collaboration on our internal wiki (which is versioned, naturally) rather than in Word and Powerpoint documents.

A successful DMS has to integrate tightly with existing document-management paradigms (such as the Mac OS X Finder) in order to catch on. Many users have difficulty understanding concepts like local working copies versus checked-in copies, and it quickly gets worse when they unknowingly circumvent the system by emailing a file to a colleague for review, for example.

I can't imagine Subversion et al being useful at all in this context. They're great for programmers editing text files, but a total disaster for normal users who want to collaborate on a powerpoint presentation.

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  • Agreed on all your notes. Will look into Knowledge Tree. I think the trick with users is sharing a document through a URL link rather then an e-mail attachment. Although I know Zed had kicked around the idea of using Lamson to automatically intercept e-mails and centralize those documents as well. lamsonproject.org – Scott Markwell Oct 9 '09 at 21:33

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