Squinting at two documents side by side is not a way to understand what has changed between them. Computer systems have offered “diff” utilities for decades that attempt to compare two files (and sometimes more) and tell you what is different in each. You can invoke comparisons in Microsoft Word, BBEdit, Command Line, and other applications, but not Apple Pages. Each of these tools serves a particular purpose, such as plain text or rich text, and offers only a few options to control the display and merge conflicting elements.
Kaleidoscope has a greater range than these built-in features, but does not exceed its range. The app compares plain text, RTF (Rich Text Format), Word, and PDF files, among other document formats, in side-by-side and integrated views that highlight their distinct contents. It can examine two images and show you the differences pixel by pixel. You can also compare the contents of directories. The app integrates with popular versioning and development tools, such as P4, Subversion, Releases, and Xcode, but doesn’t require any other utilities for you to take advantage of it.
I’ve also been using comparison apps and built-in features for years, and Kaleidoscope stands out as a leader. This is even more striking in version 3, which refines the ideas and features introduced in version 2, while further improving its interface.
The minimal design ensures that your attention is drawn to only the fewest necessary elements that provide obvious visual cues. This includes color coding, highlighting and connecting lines. At a glance, you can easily see both the extent of changes between the compared files, images or directories and what specifically is different.
You can drag one or more similar items (documents, images, or folders) into a comparison window or use menu commands or toolbar buttons to add them. You’re also not limited to two: each type of “scope”, as the developer calls it, can display a list of items at the top, and you can select which one is version “A” (on the left ) and including the “B” (right). Clicking on the letter next to any listed file or directory loads them into that position, while a Swap button changes their labels and sides.
Most people will probably turn to the app to compare text. The document comparison approach offers three views: Blocks, Fluid, and Unified. Blocks are the most conventional, aligning text in side-to-side paragraph breaks, although this results in lots of vertical white space below a paragraph on one side if the other has lots of changes.
Fluid and Unified offer great alternatives for a better understanding of written text editing; other modes can stand out for programming or debugging. Fluid compresses vertical space by running all paragraphs together and using straight and curved lines between left and right hand documents to show relationships. As you scroll, these lines update to keep the sides in sync.
With unified view, Kaleidoscope provides a single view that concatenates unchanged paragraphs and stacks modified ones. The app marks stacked paragraphs in the left margin as A and B.
Although Kaleidoscope is close to perfect when comparing documents that contain formatting, it can only merge changes with plain text files. Keyboard shortcuts allow you to streamline merging or copying changes from A to B or vice versa in these files. Still, given the tools I’ve used in document and PDF editing software, I prefer Kaleidoscope to find what’s different, even when I have to keep a native app open and adjacent to apply changes.
Because the purpose of the application is to distinguish versions of files, image comparison falls within its bailiwick. This is arguably more for sorting through issues and examining alternatives than for merging elements, as with text. For example, Kaleidoscope can help you determine which revision of an image is the correct one if you or someone else has produced a number of versions, and it’s not immediately clear which is the latest in the sequence. .
Displaying two images allows you to view them side by side or swap them in the same view. But the Split view and the Different view have unique advantages. Split lets you drag a split line to spot distinctions, rotating it to any angle. The high-contrast Difference view makes the changes quite obvious, showing them in black.
While many standalone programs offer file and directory synchronization, inclusion in Kaleidoscope makes sense for those who use directories to manage files instead of using a version control system, including on shared volumes. on the network.
However, if you are working in one of the many version control systems or content management systems for code and text, Kaleidoscope has a dialog (in Kaleidoscope > Integration) that details exactly how to plug it in or select it as an option on 13 apps and systems. This includes invoking the application via shortcuts in Monterey.
The only thing that might set you back is the price: at $149, you might want a before and after blood pressure comparison. The utility of this app is so high and its functionality unmatched, however, the app can save tens of hours per year – measured from seconds to minutes – for those whose needs match.
Version 3 requires at least macOS 11 Big Sur. It can be purchased directly from Letter Opener or through the Mac App Store. The company-purchased version and the App Store have slight differences in configuration, not functionality, which are listed in the support notes.
If you need the best professional quality file difference finder, Kaleidoscope is what you need.
Macworld last reviewed Kaleidoscope in 2013 when it released version 2: “Anyone who has to work with large amounts of structured data, from system administrators to graphic designers, can take advantage of its features for a variety of purposes.” Version 3 continued to refine these benefits.
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