First Look

OpenDocMan: How to get your documents organized

Free, open source, simple, effective document management

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Even under the best circumstances, document management gets messy and complicated very quickly. Documents get lost, versions get confused, and multiple people try to work on the same document at the same time usually with disastrous results.

Now the more technical amongst you might be thinking “that’s easily solved; just use Subversion or Git” but while those systems, which were created for software development, will absolutely do the job they have a steep learning curve and are heavyweight solutions compared to the actual scope of most document management problems.

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If you’re looking for a simpler solution more suited to the average non-technical user check out OpenDocMan, an open source, PHP-based, Web-based document management system (DMS). The application is free when self-hosted and there are options for hosting and support along with an installation service for self-hosted Linux implementations.

OpenDocMan was designed to comply with ISO 17025 “the main ISO standard used by testing and calibration laboratories” and the OIE standard for document management.

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Viewing document archive

You can add any file type to OpenDocMan directly from your browser to be stored on the server and set metadata fields and custom document properties for each file including an expiration date if needed. Documents can be assigned to a department and or a category and there’s a check-out feature to prevent over-writing of edits. OpenDocMan also supports fine-grained access control down to individual file level for specific users or departments and there is support for plug-ins to extend the system’s functionality.

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Viewing cued documents

OpenDocMan has a couple of weaknesses. The biggest issue is that searching is limited to metadata rather than content so you’ll probably want to add a separate content search function. The other issue is that OpenDocMan’s user interface is kind of ugly. While the UI’s simplicity is intentional and arguably the right approach for non-technical users, the lack of “polish” is disappointing; that said, it is open source so hacking a better look and feel is possible.

Installation on any platform running PHP 5 with MySQL 5 under Apache or IIS is simple using the automatic installer and the application includes a built-in update feature. OpenDocMan supports localization (eight languages including English are currently available).

If you don’t want to run the OpenDocMan in-house you can select the hosted SecureDocMan DMS Basic for $29 per month or, if you want customized document approval workflows, SecureDocMan DMS Pro is available for $89 per month.         

Bottom line: OpenDocMan is a viable and effective way to implement document management. You can use either the free version or the hosted options and in either case what you’ll get is an open source, lightweight, standards compliant, and uncomplicated. If you have a document management problem, this is a product worth checking out.

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