Outside the CAD world, nearly everyone behind a keyboard has experienced a “version control” problem. Few of us may label it that way, but everyone knows what it is.

How many times have you worked on a document and shared it with your colleague for approval or further input?  You email it to her, she makes revisions and comments and sends it back. Meanwhile, you go home and have dinner and then change a bunch of things in your original draft.

You save your file as John.doc. Your colleague names her revised version as John-1.doc. Neither one is the original, so what do you do for the next draft? Is it easier to take your changes and add it to her document or is it easier to do the reverse?

Depending on how many colleagues are involved in the editing – and how picky they happen to be -- the results can be madness. Every new contributor might rename their revised file with “V1, V2, V3” or perhaps add the date or their initials. Your desktop can quickly become a junkyard of different versions of your document as you keep downloading the latest email attachments. 

Microsoft Word’s Track Changes feature has been a popular way for multiple editors to communicate and make revisions within the same document, but it unfortunately doesn’t address the confusion of multiple versions.

The fact is, whenever multiple people have to work on the same “disk” file, only one person can work on it at a time. So the benefit and fun of teamwork is eliminated by the technology. Teamwork is serialized to one editor at a time, which isn’t teamwork at all. Teams are not working how they want to work. They are working how the software makes them work.

In 2006, Google purchased Writely, a web-based word processing application and morphed it into Google Docs, an online alternative to Microsoft Word. Using Google Docs, writers and editors for the first time could simultaneously collaborate on the same document.


Watch any high school student do their homework and odds are that they are using Google Docs. They can simultaneously collaborate with other students on a project or even have their teacher respond to their work in real time. No need to email documents back and forth.

According to Business Insider, more than 40 million students, teachers and administrators are now using Google Docs, “including 7 of the 8 Ivy League schools and the majority of the top 100 universities in the U.S.” These are tomorrow’s new employees and they already have different expectations on how collaboration should be.

The first time I ever saw Google Docs in action was when my son was in the eighth grade. He was working on a capstone project, a research paper and oral presentation about Ferraris and the design tradeoffs between aesthetics and power. At 11 p.m. on the night before it was due, it was fascinating to see my son collaborate with his teacher in real time.


The teacher was one paragraph ahead of him and as she made comments and suggestions, you could see a red box around her paragraph (this was an early version of Google Docs) and you could clearly see that it was her. And my son was in a yellow box and making real-time edits and modifications. Those of us who use Google Docs now take it for granted, but seeing this dynamic play out for the first time was amazing.


Have you ever had the miserable experience of your computer crashing before you clicked the Save button and losing 10 minutes of work or more? Once it happens to you, it instills a Pavlovian need to keep clicking Save.

Because it automatically backs up everything instantaneously and redundantly in the cloud – almost to the last keystroke – Google Docs got rid of their Save button. According to Writely founder Sam Schillace, who helped build Google Docs, this move strangely felt like yanking away someone’s security blanket.

“It’s obviously better to never have to think about saving, but we’re all conditioned to think about it, worry about it, etc. We’ve been trained to do work for the computer, which sucks,” he told The Verge, a technology news site. “So, we really wanted to take that out, but it freaks people out when they ‘can’t save’ their document. I think it’s funny — as though, if save were broken, your act of clicking on the screen would help the computer get that job done magically.”


Microsoft Word is still the dominant word processing program used in corporate America, but the tide is changing. More than 6 million paid businesses and institutions are now using Google Apps (which includes Google Docs, Gmail, Hangout and other business applications). This momentum was evidently enough to convince Microsoft to come out with its own cloud-based version of Word in Office 365.

Pushing the Battle of the Titans aside, Google Docs has dramatically changed the way we write and edit business documents in the following ways:

    1. Accessing Your Work From Anywhere – You no longer have to be at your laptop or desktop to work on a document or need to download an email attachment. You can work from any Internet-connected device.
    2. Collaborating on Documents in Real Time – Instead of having to wait for colleagues to make their revisions and email them, you can see their edits and respond as they happen.
    3. Controlling Who Sees Your Work – Administrative controls allow you to give and withdraw read-only and editing permissions to individual colleagues.
    4. Tracking Changes – In Suggesting mode, multiple collaborators can make edits that are subject to the final approval of the lead editor. This feature prevents collaborators from overwriting each other’s work.
    5. Backing Up Your Work – Using multiple servers across the world, Google Docs instantly records every keystroke redundantly in the cloud. No need to ever click “Save.”
    6. Saving Revision History – Google Docs saves versions along the way, as snapshots, and allows you to quickly return to any stage of the writing process.
    7. Eliminating Confusion Over Multiple Versions – Collaborating on the same document in the cloud means there is no longer a need to rename files and email revisions back and forth.

That last point is the most significant of all. When creating contracts, proposals, marketing materials or any business documents in Google Docs, there is no longer the chaos around which copy is “the copy.” There is now only one copy. There is only one version of the truth.

What does any of this have to do with CAD or product design? Try Onshape and find out!