OS X Lion: Using Auto Save and Versions

| How-To

Apple’s completely changed the way that saving a document works in Lion. In Snow Leopard, you hit Command-S, and you were done for the day. If the program crashed or if you didn’t save before you quit, you were mostly out of luck. Ah, the good ol’ days! It’s not nearly so simple now—“Save a Version”? “Browse All Versions”? Calgon, take me away! I promise to let you in on all the secrets I could uncover for this article, and I’ll even attempt to be entertaining while I do so. No promises on that, though.

The first thing to understand is that you don’t even have to remember to save anymore in programs that support Auto Save, which currently includes TextEdit, Preview, and the iWork applications. As programs add compatibility, you’ll be able to use this feature in more places. I admit I shudder just a little to imagine the Office suite implementing this and the inevitable chaos and world-ending destruction that will follow.

So how do you use it? As I noted, you don’t have to save, so what DO you do? Well, you can open and quit your program at will—or don’t, and even reboot your machine—and your Mac will save your current document state automatically, even if you’ve never chosen to name your file or put it anywhere. That’s pretty awesome. 

If instead of quitting the program, you’d like to just toss out the current unsaved document, you can do so by clicking on the red button at the top-left of your window or by hitting Command-W. You’ll then be taken to the oh-so-familiar “Save As” dialog box.

Choosing “Don’t Save” from that seems to be the fastest way to dismiss a document that you don’t want anymore, seeing as how programs with Auto Save will helpfully continue opening your file again and again and AGAIN until you do. I know, I feel your pain. In System Preferences > General, there’s a tick box you can turn off labeled “Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps,” but that only changes the default behavior for files that have already been saved to a location on your hard drive. Your Mac assumes that until you take the steps above, you’d just like to continue opening that unsaved file until the end of time or so.

So we’ve established that a file in progress gets preserved automatically through the new Auto Save feature. Check. We’ve learned how to get rid of an unsaved document that you don’t need anymore. Check. Now let’s talk about saving the document to a location on your hard drive, as you can’t actually take advantage of any of the features of versioning without doing so. 

When you hit Command-W, Command-S, or choose File > Save on a new document, your Mac will ask, naturally, where you’d like to keep your work. Tell it where, and afterward, a new drop-down arrow will appear when you hover over your document’s name in the title bar. Clicking there is how you access your different versions of a file. (And as in my screenshot below, if you’ve saved a document previously but have made changes since you did, you’ll see “Edited” appear beside its name.)

Look at all the new options we have! From there, you can choose first to lock the file, which prevents it from being changed without your permission. This is great if, for example, you’d like to create a template, but you have a serious problem with overwriting your templates once you’ve made them. I’ve never done that, I swear. You can also choose to duplicate the file, which again is quite useful if you’re using templates—or if you’re like me and just like to scatter several versions of a file across your hard drive, never to be seen again by the eyes of man. 

The last two options, though, are brand new. “Revert to Last Saved Version” will erase all of the changes you made since the last save, and you’ll get a stern dialog box warning you of that (and giving you other choices) if you attempt to do so. 

“Browse All Versions” is where things get spacey. Literally. Click that, and you’ll be taken to a Time Machine–like interface, where you can check out all of the saved versions you have of that file.

 

Your current document appears on the left, and all of the versions you have are stacked on the right.

 

You see, every time you hit Command-S while you’re working on an already-saved file or choose File > Save a Version, you’ll be keeping a record of the changes you’ve made. And Lion keeps track for you, too—every hour that you’re slaving away on that file, an automatic version will be created. Apple’s documentation also says that Lion will make a new version every time you open a saved document, but this only seems to be the case if you’ve actually edited the file, which I think is pretty smart for them to do.

So within that space-time continuum view, there are tons of ways you can manipulate things. Browse through all of your versions by clicking on any of the multiple title bars shown (each one represents a version) or by scrolling through the timeline on the right to pick the exact date of what you want.

If you’d like to return to a previous version of a file, choose it from your timeline and hit Restore. Hold down the Option key before you do so, and the “Restore” button will switch to “Restore a Copy,” which is crucial if you find that you don’t want to overwrite your current document. And when you want to remove a version entirely, click on the file name in the title bar of that version. Look, hidden choices!

You can even access your program’s menu bar by moving your cursor to the top of the screen, and it’ll pop down.

What? This is interesting, goshdarnit. It’s the MENU BAR. ON A SPACEY BACKGROUND.

 

When you’re finished browsing your versions, just click the “Done” button. I understand that’s surprising behavior, but I think that we can all comprehend it if we really try.

 

A couple of things to keep in mind:

When you copy files over to another machine (or share them using AirDrop, or e-mail them, or put them up on a file-sharing site), none of the versions go with them. Only the final documents you’re sending are included. Whew! 

If you send your files to the trash, pulling them out before you empty it means that the versions will be retained. But it appears that if you delete a file and then empty your trash, all of your versions go with it. Permanently. Even if you grab the file out of Time Machine, it doesn’t bring any of your older versions back. No can undo on this one, my friends, so you’ll want to be careful.

 

So now you’re up to speed on the practical aspects of Auto Save and Versions in Lion. Don’t you feel better now? I know I do. We can all go forward with our lives, secure in the fact that our documents will be saved regardless of whether we actually remember to do it ourselves. It’s a brave new world.

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Comments

Lee Dronick

Thanks Melissa, now I need to do some ‘sperimenting.

Melissa Holt

You’re welcome, Sir Harry! Let me know if you find anything cool. smile

Lee Dronick

Let me know if you find anything cool

I will.

My Little Pony

What I can’t figure out is how to keep Preview from always opning a bunch of documents every time it starts up. I guess this isn’t an auto-save/version question though…

Ben

Thanks for the article which uncovered interesting aspects of Versions. 

Could you please explain how regularly saving docs which reside on my NAS works?  Things seem to fall over once you are not using an attached Hard Drive.

Lee Dronick

What I can?t figure out is how to keep Preview from always opning a bunch of documents every time it starts up. I guess this isn?t an auto-save/version question though?

I am thinking that you quit Preview without first closing the files.

_Stefano_

Interesting. But the most interesting question for me is “can autosave/versions be disabled”?
I simply DON’T need it and DON’T want it. Any way to get rid of it (except moving to Acrobat Reader, OpenOffice/NeoOffice and another text editor)?

Melissa Holt

What I can?t figure out is how to keep Preview from always opning a bunch of documents every time it starts up. I guess this isn?t an auto-save/version question though?

Hi there My Little Pony,

Sir Harry is right. You’ll need to actually close the document windows before you quit Preview if you don’t want that to happen. Alternatively, you can turn off the checkbox mentioned in the article (in System Preferences > General), and then none of your already saved documents will re-open when you start Preview. Make sense?

Thanks,
Melissa

Lee Dronick

Make sense?

No! I am still trying to figure out why Apple made this change without making the proedure clearer and giving us options. I am an old dog and these are new tricks. smile

Melissa Holt

Any way to get rid of it (except moving to Acrobat Reader, OpenOffice/NeoOffice and another text editor)?

Hi Stefano,

As far as I know, there’s no way to turn it off. :(

?Melissa

Melissa Holt

Could you please explain how regularly saving docs which reside on my NAS works?? Things seem to fall over once you are not using an attached Hard Drive.

Hello Ben,

What problems are you having?

I’m not anywhere that an NAS drive is, so I can’t test it, but maybe someone else has had some experience and will chime in.

?Melissa

My Little Pony

Hi there My Little Pony,

Sir Harry is right. You?ll need to actually close the document windows before you quit Preview if you don?t want that to happen. Alternatively, you can turn off the checkbox mentioned in the article (in System Preferences > General), and then none of your already saved documents will re-open when you start Preview. Make sense?

Thanks,
Melissa

Thanks to Sir Harry and Melissa for pointing out my non-Lion expectations grin  I now get that Lion tries to make everything just the way it was when you previously quit the app, so of course if one doesn’t close a window it’ll come back. Duh. My confusion also stemmed from the fact that Preview is not normally used to save anything. At any rate, I do want the new behavior so I will leave the box checked. If I long for Snow Leopard I can just boot into its partition on my iMac - love how Disk Utility can now shrink an existing partition. It just works! So painless compared to trying to shrink a Windoze partition in order to install Linux…

doneck

I write papers in LaTeX with TeXShop 3.04 (which has 10.7 AutoServe} with a co-author on the other side of the ocean.  As we mutually update versions of the same paper, it is now difficult to keep track of our progress.  I can see my earlier versions and he can see his earlier versions, but we can’t see each other’s.  The Save As (labeled with a date) command worked so well for that.  Now it’s a mess.

Melissa Holt

I am an old dog and these are new tricks.

Based on what I know of you, Sir Harry, I think you’ll do just fine. smile

Melissa Holt

Now it?s a mess.

Hey doneck,

What’s taken the place of “Save As” is File > Duplicate. It’s not quite as intuitive, but using that, you could save out a “version” of your own for your co-author with the date appended. Assuming LaTeX has that command, of course!

?Melissa

doneck

Yes, Melissa, I tried that, but then I couldn’t figure how to do a ?save as? of the duplicate.  It turns out that if I then try to compile the duplicated .tex file, it gives me the ?save as? command before the compilation proceeds, so all is well - thank you.

_Stefano_

The Save As (labeled with a date) command worked so well for that.

That’s exactly what I use to do. And I am not going to change to the new autosave workflow. I’d rather move back to Linux.

_Stefano_

I am posting here a comment I already posted on Apple Support (and I got no answer there). I hope somebody could comment…

Hello,

I borrowed a friend’s external drive with Lion on it because I wanted to test Keynote after reading some scaring stuff on the net.

I created a Keynote presentation: 100 slides with hi-res photos. Total file size around 1.22GB. The autosaved/versioned stuff takes up to around 3.2GB, although I just added slides and never removed/changed existing ones.

I understood autosave/version was differential/incremental so I expected the saved stuff to take a little mre than 1.22GB but not more than 2.5 times the original size.

Any idea?

PS when Keynote decides to save it takes more than a minute, so I can’t work 25% of the time, but that’s probably because I use an external drive? In any case I can’t imagine how to manage a 300-400 slide presentation. That’s scaring… 

 

I also tried with a 200 slide presentation with hi-res graphics and… it is simply impossible to work on it.

Melissa Holt

Yes, Melissa, I tried that, but then I couldn?t figure how to do a ?save as? of the duplicate.

Hey again doneck,

It sounds like you’re fine with your workflow the way it is, but I thought I’d post this here for anyone who’s curious?to save the duplicate, follow the instructions in the article for closing an unsaved file:

...you can do so by clicking on the red button at the top-left of your window or by hitting Command-W. You?ll then be taken to the oh-so-familiar ?Save As? dialog box.

Hope that helps, anyway.

?Melissa

rwahrens

“to save the duplicate, follow the instructions in the article for closing an unsaved file:”

No, it’s simper than that.  To do the same thing as “Save As”, from your original file, go to File > Duplicate.  A new copy of the file will open.  Go back to File and hit Save and the familiar Save As dialog box will open.  From here, the action is exactly the same as Save As!

In other words, the first time you hit Save on a duplicated file, the system will ask you where you want it saved.  One additional step from the old Save As command, but it works identically to the old work flow.

wab95

Many thanks, Melissa. Your posts are always practical and enjoyable to read. I nearly always learn something new.

One can hope that when Office adopts autosave and versioning, it will not end in blood, sweat and tears.

Melissa Holt

You’re welcome, wab95! Thanks for reading.

And rwahrens?that, too. smile

My Little Pony

Regarding what _Stefano_ said about versions being near useless when dealing with “real world” size projects, it saddens me to see how Apple is seemingly deserting people who use their Mac to do actual work. Other examples include the demise of Xserve (whatever it was called - a rack mount Mac), the Final Cut X disaster, the general dumbing down of the Finder such as hiding the Library folder, etc. I too looked at the discussion on this on the apple site. I then went back and re-read the stuff about versions in John Siracusa’s review of Lion on Ars Technica, hoping to find some way to turn it off. Nada. What are they thinking?

_Stefano_

I am very angry towards Apple after having tried Lion and from the comment of “My Little Pony”  I see I am not the only one. Can I be bad and write what I think?
Lion itself is a piece of junk. And the guys at Apple know it since they refunded my 24 euros even if sales on the App Store are theoretically final.
It is embarrassing that Apple offers an amazing OS X Lion Server and then they expect me to run it on… a MAC MINI?????
I call “a server” a computer with redundant power/disk array/network card etc.
Apple is not producing servers anymore, Lion introduced 250 new things (useless for me) and removed a few things I heavily used (3 fingers up/down to go to begin/end of page/doc, arrows in scrollbars, FrontRow, Expose+Spaces, left bar in iCal, groups contacts and details together in Address Book, etc).
Why is Library hidden? Who needs Launchpad? What actual control does Mission Control provide?
And, to get back to topic, why can’t we disable autosave? I usually check dozens of documents created by other people that I DO NOT want to save in multiple copies. And I also read/study/research a lot of PDF and Office docs that I DO NOT need to save in multiple copies. 
Lion turned my iMac into an over-sized iPhone (before I rolled back to Snow Leopard). It removed useful stuff, but now you can buy a lot of games for your Mac on the App Store. WOW!!!
This is simply unacceptable for a pro user, IMHO.
Sorry for the flames…

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