Araxis Merge review

Very few applications are in the "save your job" category. Task managers keep you organized; Apple iCal helps you stay on time for meetings. But Araxis Merge 2009, a powerful file comparison utility, can get you out of a tight spot at work.

The name is a slight misnomer: its purpose is to check the contents of two files and reveal the differences between them. You can then merge one file into the other if you choose. The professional edition I tested actually lets you compare three files or folders, while the standard edition lets you compare two.

For example, if a law firm needs to compare the historical record of a document to a newly updated file, a clerk can quickly see the differences between the files via colour coding.

Or a journalist who has several drafts of an article can see the changes between document versions. There’s even a way to see minor differences between two images by inspecting the binary code. (Currently, Merge only allows you to see that the images are different, but not to make corrections.) For developers, comparing code changes becomes easy and intuitive, as opposed to very complex, frustrating, and time-consuming.

Merge has some tough competition, though. There’s Deltopia DeltaWalker Oro, a less expensive option with similar features, and Softhing's File Compare 1.1, a more limited program that’s free.

Apple includes a basic file comparison program called FileMerge with its developer toolkit. But Araxis Merge is easier to use than the other commercially available choices because it runs natively in OS X (DeltaWalker requires a Java run-time environment and runs on Eclipse—a universal toolset for development), runs fast, and supports a cornucopia of file formats.

If you’re a coder, reporter, photographer, or just someone who has a lot of files and needs to compare them, Merge is a powerful ally.

File comparison tests

For comparing text documents, Merge provides two windows in a side-by-side view. Green blocks help you find key differences, such as a single word or even just an out-of-place comma. It would be nearly impossible to visually compare two long documents in Microsoft Word, for example, by scanning through every line for a slight variant.

Developers can see differences between lines of code in XML and HTML files. I tested a series of HTML sites and found several code problems: in one older HTML file, a navigation bar pointed to the wrong HTML file, and an image link was spelled wrong.

When you find differences between files, you have a few options - you can just type in text to correct one of the documents, or you can merge changes from one document to another by clicking a small merge button next to each highlighted comparison.

Or you can copy and paste text into the windows - the quick method. Merge supports native Word and Excel formats (including the latest 2008 versions), OpenDocument 1.2, Adobe PDF, and Rich Text Format. It also supports PowerPoint and HTML files.

Once you locate changes between documents and save the results, you can have Merge generate a report showing the differences between the files to send to colleagues.

Merge can even generate an HTML file you can post to a Web site, where co-workers can then see file comparisons for themselves. The program supports Perforce and Subversion plug-ins, tools for source code control.

I tested document discrepancies in a 200-page novel for young adults that I’m writing. In the vein of job-saving practical use, I discovered two documents in which I had started writing new sections.

Even in a manuscript of over 100,000 words, Merge quickly showed me where the documents differed, and I added new sections into one of the documents by clicking on a merge button. If I had archived one of my files with Time Machine, Merge supports a comparison between a current file and an earlier revision in the Time Machine archive, a handy addition.

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