Easily Compare File Versions with Kaleidoscope

Kaleidoscope is an excellent little app from Made By Sofa that facilitates identifying changes that have been made in documents and images. It’s really pretty to boot.

The interface is remarkably innovative and the app works beautifully. Today we’ll go over specifically what Kaleidoscope does, how to use it, and how it performed during the review process. If you’ve ever needed to compare two files, this is a review not to be missed!

The Basic Premise

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The Beautiful Kaleidoscope Website

Have you ever saved multiple versions of a file? Or perhaps you work with a team that passes around a file that everyone works on and you need a quick way to compare the last version you received to the newest one. Performing the comparison manually can be quite tedious and time consuming.

Kaleidoscope solves this problem by comparing two or more files for you. Kaledoscope can handle both text files and image files and supports a number of file types including PSD, TXT, HTML, JPG, and PNG.

The Main Window

When you open up Kaleidoscope you are presented with a simple window inviting you to drop in files to compare. To get started, just navigate to the files you want in Finder and drag them onto this window.

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Kaleidoscope Main Window

One really nice feature here is the ability to open up multiple tabs to run multiple comparisons simultaneously. To open a new tab, just hit the little plus button on the right side of the window or type ⌘+T. You can rearrange the tabs just like in Safari by dragging them left or right.

Comparing Text Files

Once you drag in two or more text files you are taken into the “Text Scope.” As you can see in the image below, you are give two panes, A and B, and shown a side-by-side comparison of the two files.

Kaleidoscope instantly analyzes the text and highlights any discrepancies. Deleted sections are highlighted in red, added sections are highlighted in green, sections that contain changes are highlighted in purple and the specific changes within these sections are assigned a darker purple.

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Comparing Text Files

The top of this window contains a button that allows you to quickly swap out the contents of the two panels. There’s also a breadcrumb navigation so you can easily see the path of the open files.

The bottom right of the window contains two arrows that let you quickly jump between the active changes so you don’t have to manually browse the document (you can also use the arrow keys for this). Next to the arrows is a counter that shows you how many differences there are and which one you have selected.

Finally, the buttons on the bottom left allow you to switch beaten three different viewing modes: blocks, fluid and unified.

View Modes

The Block view is shown above and attempts to align blocks of text from each document side by side. To accomplish the alignment it adjusts the visual spacing of your document, adding in gaps where necessary. This makes for an easy visual comparison, but can considerably lengthen the document.

The Fluid view displays both documents in their normal form but adds color-coded lines connecting equivalent sections. This view is a little more indirect than Block view but is more compact.

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Fluid View

Finally, the Unified view takes both versions and combines then into a single pane. The sections that are the same are merged, the sections that are different are stacked and the two columns on the left side of the window indicate which section goes to which document.

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Unified View

Comparing More than Two Files

When you drag three or more files into Kaleidoscope, a drawer opens up at the bottom of the window allowing you to select which two you’d like to compare (you can’t open more than two panes).

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Comparing Three or More Files

As you can see, each file is represented by a little box. When you click on one of these boxes you are given the option to set the file as active in pane A or B. This system makes it quick and easy to jump between lots of file comparisons.

Comparing Image Files

Dragging images into Kaleidoscope will automatically activate “Image Scope.” Here you can compare images using a number of different views and tools.

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Comparing Images

The tools available here are basic pan and zoom stuff: a hand tool, magnifying glass, zoom slider, zoom to fit and zoom to actual size.

You can choose to view the images in one of four modes: Two-Up, One-Up, Split and Difference. Two-Up is the mode you see above and places the images either side by side or stacked vertically.

In One-Up mode, you only see one of the images and can use the A/B buttons to switch back and forth between the two to compare. There’s also a Play button that will automatically cycle back and forth between the two images based on a time interval you set.

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One-Up View

In Split mode the two images are merged into one area with a slice that separates them. You can move the two end points of the slice to position it in any way that you like.

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Split View

Finally, Difference mode automatically highlights the areas that have been changed so you can immediately see where the differences lie. The little slider with the eye allows you to change the opacity of the difference overlay.

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Difference View

Integration

Kaleidoscope features built-in integration with Versions, TextMate and Cornerstone. It also features a ksdiff Command-line tool that allows you to add integration with other applications.

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Integration Options

Closing Thoughts

Kaleidoscope is a nearly flawless piece of software. Comparing different versions of both text and images is super fast and extremely easy. I found the text comparison to be particularly impressive. Here the developers have given you not one but three innovative interfaces for comparing files.

I always love apps that were built and designed exclusively for Macs and Kaleidoscope is a shining example. It looks, feels and operates exactly like you want it to with full Finder integration, tons of keyboard shortcuts and a quick, responsive UI.

My one feature request would be to beef up the text comparison in such a way that you could merge selective portions of different files into a single new file. This would really facilitate group work as it would allow you to combine changes made by separate team members and choose the best versions of similar sections. The application just feels like this functionality should be present, which leaves users frustrated and searching for a feature that doesn’t exist.

Go download the Kaleidoscope demo and leave a comment below telling us what you think of it.


Summary

Kaleidoscope provides a quick and easy way to compare two or more versions of a text or image file. The interface is excellently innovative and the app works beautifully. The only downside is the lack of a way to merge files or move sections from one file to another.

9
  • pixelmixture

    for me it really lacks the syntax coloring

    • http://davidappleyard.net David Appleyard

      I can’t help but think that syntax highlighting would add another layer of complexity, and make the version differences harder to spot. Would be interesting to see them try, though!

      • http://www.iynque.com iynque

        “To clarify or simplify, add detail.” -Edward Tufte

      • Davis John

        I agree with your view partially. While full syntax coloring could make things more complex, being able to tell apart at least comments and code would be nice.

        And while I really love the UI, I am not sure if that is enough of a justification for the lack of merge support. As a developer, 8 out of 10 times I use a comparison tool to merge changes.

    • http://www.lamiscela.net Junio Vitorino

      I guess that syntax highlight can be present, in the images above the files compared are rtf, maybe if you compare other type of files the highlight can be available. I didn’t try out the app yet, but I’d like.

  • http://vaclav.vancura.org Vaclav Vancura

    yeah, and folder comparison.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Folder comparison is a neat idea, you should suggest that to them!

    • http://www.rolug.ro Armin

      Yup, missing Folder Comparison. Sticking with File Merge for now (though text comparison is sweet).

  • Rizky Syazuli

    awesome app.. so far, it’s the best file comparison app i’ve used. loved the integration feature. could be better if they add support for Git Textmate bundle as well…

  • achenchik

    Guys do you have any idea which is better – Araxis Merge or this? And why? Thank you!

    • Dave Woodwater

      Here’s a copy/paste of what I wrote lower in the page:

      ————————-
      Looks great. But feature wise Araxis blows them out of the water.

      ….

      Also, folder compare is pretty crucial.

      Very neat piece of software, but Araxis is so much more powerful and doesn’t look horrible to boot.


      ————————

      Specifically, Araxis does a fantastic job for folder compare and 3 way merge which is what I want to compare 80% of the time. It is more pricey, but I think it’s well worth it.

  • http://www.shadowboxcreative.ca Eric Barstad

    A lot of comments around the web have noted that MadeBySofa isn’t known for updating their apps (citing Disco and Versions), but I’m hoping that file merge and folder comparisons make it into the app. I bought it in the hopes that it will see some of these updates.

    I also have Changes.app, which works pretty well, but its development has slowed to a crawl and I much prefer Kaleidoscope’s text comparisons.

  • Patrick

    WHat no support for PDF? How basic is that?

  • Arnoud

    Thought this could win me over from DeltaWalker, which is not native, but no.. it misses too many features like folder comparison and merge left/right. Too bad, as I’m really wishing for a compare app that’s native and beautiful, with the same (or more) features as DeltaWalker.

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Wow, I’ve never heard of DeltaWalker but the interfaces are quite similar!

  • http://madebysofa.com Jonathan Dann

    Hi Joshua,

    Thanks so much for that great review. It really is fantastic to work hard on something like this and then see such a great response. Makes it all worthwhile.

    Jonathan

  • anonymous coward

    Awesome app. I downloaded it, tried it and purchased it.

  • http://theunfocused.net/ Blair McBride

    Beautiful app with some great features, but sadly doesn’t support 3-way diff (no, the drawer doesn’t count). That’s the deal-breaker for a lot of developers.

  • Dave Woodwater

    Looks great. But feature wise Araxis blows them out of the water.

    I spent 20 minutes looking for a way to bring changes from one side to the other. I’m still amazed you can’t do that. I’m assuming it’ll come in future versions.

    Also, folder compare is pretty crucial.

    Very neat piece of software, but Araxis is so much more powerful and doesn’t look horrible to boot.

    Looking forward to an update.

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  • Greg C.

    Integration to the Cornerstone is cool, i love that.

    I would love to see the support for the PDF files too. For me, I basically want to compare two plot in PDF file prepared for scientific journal publication.

    If it support Adobe Illustrator file, that would be a sure plus. As we always works on vector files, till now I fail to find a way to have a neat version control on that.

  • Felipe Augusto Dornelas

    The ability to merge files is so basic.

    Cornerstone has a very good built-in diff visualizer, I don’t think it’s worth it to buy Kaleidoscope. Unless it supported file merging too.

  • boob

    Hi, this app looks very nice.. It’s possible to manually write text (just open 2 blank “files” and paste text there so i don’t have to save it as file and compare it then) ?

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  • Andrey

    It really suck without merge and syntax coloring support. This stuff is basic for comparasion tools. Don’t see why I should pay 30 euros for this.

    App looks great, but lack of functionality is show stopper.

  • Billy

    Yah, I bought this app before fully testing it out. I really thought file merging would be a part of any comparison app… Not this one. Overall, I like the app, but it’s pretty useless if I can move changes from one side to the other.

    Also, before I bought Kaleidoscope, I tried out the diff tool that comes with Mountain Lion’s Xcode (FileMerge)… Pretty basic app and I was hoping Kaleidaxcope was going to have more options; long story short, I was suprised to see that the apps have a very similar look/feel/design/functionality. Kaleidoscope is a bit more pretty, but it’s just a “viewing” app… What’s the point if I can’t actually fix/merge changes?

    • Billy

      I forgot to mention, at least FileMerge has the ability to actually “merge”… I still prefer BBEdit’s file comparison/merging over both Kaleidoscope and FileMerge.

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