OS X Lion: Is Auto Save a Savior or Nightmare?

| Editorial

Apple is a company that moves us relentlessly into the future. Sometimes those advances are seen as long overdue, and sometimes they’re perceived as an abuse of the customers. Auto Save in Lion is one of those technologies that outrages the experts, but is a boon for the average user. Deciding how to react is really a question about who’s in a better position to react, learn and adapt.

From what I’m seeing on the Web, those people who are technical and who are getting published, either in blogs or the forums, are fairly upset about Auto Save. I think this is a normal reaction by experienced users who are accustomed to working a certain way. After all, from time to time, we all use Linux and Windows, and those OSes carry on with the old way of doing things. Isn’t that good enough?

What we have to remember is that Apple is collecting a boatload of information about how we use our computers. Little Snitch shows me every upload of information about how I configure and use my apps.

Little Snitch

Apple Analyzes your App usage

Also, there are pull down menus in Apple’s apps that allow customers to rant about problems.

Feedback to Apple

Apple solicits feedback

As a result, Apple has learned a lot about how customers use their Macs. One thing we know for sure is that average Mac customers love their iPhones, iPods and iPads, they don’t like having to worry about whether their work on the Mac side gets saved, they’re human and make mistakes, they overwrite important work from time to time, and they sometime lose work in a hurried shutdown or a crash.

Auto Save is designed to make life better for the average user. What about us geeks? What about the IT managers in the enterprise? What about extremely savvy and technical uses who use their Macs to make a living? All those people, from time to time, come to the various Mac sites, like The Mac Observer, and learn the ins-and-outs of their new OS. They can be expected to be fussy and hyper-critical, but they can also be expected to learn and change.

As a result, it’s a lot easier to educate technical users about new ways of doing things than it is to change the human nature of millions of every day Macintosh customers.

Auto Save Complaints

I have seen several complaints about Auto Save that appear, at first, critical. One is that the versioning feature doesn’t work when you’re connected to a server and working with a document there. This is indeed a problem because it forces the user to work in two different ways, depending on where the document is. That can lead to disaster. I think it’s a problem that needs to be addressed more formally by Apple.

Another complaint I’ve seen is about the destruction of templates with an experimental change that overwrites the original template. That complaint is easily addressed by looking at Get Info (CMD+I) for the file and checking the “Template” check box. The next time you double-click the template, a working copy will be made and the template remains protected, unaltered.

The Trade-Off

So which is easier? Teach a mildly technical user to mark the document as a template? Or try to change the behavior of millions of Apple customers who complain daily about lost work?

I think we go through several phases when Apple introduces a new technology.

  1. Fear, uncertainty, doubt
  2. Disdain, thoughts of leaving the platform
  3. Learning to cope, discovery
  4. Grudging acceptance
  5. Praise

Right now, many are in phase 1 and phase 2 with Auto Save. In time, we’ll all learn how to deal with these new technologies. Developers will provide their customers with the option to turn it on and off, as their expertise requires. Technical articles, of the kind we publish here at The Mac Observer, will provide tips and guidance. We’ll get through phase 3 and move on from there.

One of themes we’re seeing in OS X Lion is that, to first order, it caters to new and inexperience users and also sets the stage for the future. But all the UNIX underpinnings remain intact, and fairly experienced users can still make Lion behave the way they wish. And there are always ad-on apps, like Path Finder, to fill in the gaps.

In the end, it’s all about whether you’re committed to the ride into the future with Apple. That requires a steadiness of purpose, a curious, adaptable mind, and a learning mentality. I predict that, a year from now, we’ll all take Auto Save for granted and end up loving it. We just need to get through the first four phases.

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34 Comments Leave Your Own

Lee Dronick

I didn’t have a nightmare, but I did have a bad dream with AutoSave. Fortunately I was able to feel better with some backup therapy.

I opened a group photo so that I could crop out a headshot of one individual to put in his Address Book listing. AutoSave saved the cropped photo. I had a copy of the file in another location so all’s well that ends well.

Speaking of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, there is a quote from the play “The hind that would be mated with the Lion must die of love.”

furbies

John, Apple could have simply added a preference option somewhere in System Preferences: “Do you want to use our nifty new beaut idiot proof, works most of the time that way you expect Auto-Save (Pat Pend) feature ?

daemon

John, auto-save as implemented in OS X Lion is horrible.

Mac users are the bane of my existence currently. If only they were literate. Course then they wouldn’t be Mac users as they would know how to actually use software than wasn’t designed like a Fisher-Price toy!

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

With all due respect John, you could not come off as more condescending if you intended to. In the end, most of us don’t use computers to go on some magical carpet ride with Apple into the future. We use them to get stuff done.

So, since we can “still make Lion behave the way we wish”, how about a tutorial on turning this brain-dead feature off?

John Martellaro

Brad! Welcome back. Really.

Lee Dronick

Apple could have simply added a preference option somewhere in System Preferences

Yes, or even in the preferences of individual apps.

If there is one thing I learned in the last 30 years of using computers it is to periodically manual save. But yeah, I will learn to live with and use Autosave.

Lee Dronick

how about a tutorial on turning this brain-dead feature off?

There is probably a command line entry that can change it and or turn it off. If so then it probably won’t be long before the word gets out.

John Martellaro

I just updated to Graphic Converter 7.3.1, and it has the option to turn Auto Save on/off.  BBEdit 9 and 10 don’t even support it, so far as I know. These developers understand their customers.

Misha

You can turn off Auto Save by going to: System Preferences -> General and unchecking “Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps”. This disables saved states (versioning, auto-save) across the board. There’s no way to selectively exclude apps.

You can turn off the equally annoying “All documents older than 2 weeks are automatically locked” by going to: System Preferences -> Time Machinea, then click Options and adjust the setting. Why it’s hidden there, I don’t know. I don’t use Time Machine, why would I think to look in Time Machine options for a way to disable that “feature”?

John Martellaro

Sir Harry. As I understand it, and I could be wrong, there is a framework that a developer can use for Auto Save.  If it’s rolled into the app, it can be enabled or disabled. That would suggest there’s no global OS switch to turn it off.

Lancashire-Witch

I like the reference to commitment in the last paragraph, John.
All too often, I guess, we think of ourselves as free-thinking consumers; free to pick and choose what we buy; sometimes influenced by brand loyalty, and sometimes not. We know what we like and what we don’t like.

But, should we buy and use a computer the same way we buy and use (say) a car or a toaster? How much commitment does it take to make a car work the way you want it to?

I think it does take commitment to make a computer work the way you want. Without commitment you could run into real problems when you want to get stuff done.

The problem is commitment is a little like pregnancy. You can’t be a little bit committed. Maybe we underestimate how much effort it takes to be committed, especially in the early days.

As always, I could be wrong.

Lee Dronick

You can turn off Auto Save by going to: System Preferences -> General and unchecking ?Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps?. This disables saved states (versioning, auto-save) across the board. There?s no way to selectively exclude apps.

I had that box unchecked and just tried my cropping bad dream, on a duplicate of a graphicfile, and it autosaved my change. Now when I went to make a change in the file I got this dialog which I have yet to outwit.

The file ?Hamlet copy.jpeg? is locked because you haven?t made any changes to it recently.

If you want to make changes to this document, click Unlock. To keep the file unchanged and work with a copy, click Duplicate.

Unlock   Cancel     Duplicate

Not wanting to over populate my hard drive with unnecessary duplicates I chose Unlock. I choose poorly, but I am learning.

In the future I may change my work flow from closing a file without saving changes to copy the selected change and Create new from clipboard under the File menu

Mike Howard

You’re wrong.

It’s really simple: no computer program should ever do anything destructive without being explicitly told to do so or prompting the user to see if it what the user wants.

Period.

As I understand Auto Save, it violates this basic user interface guideline.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@Mike Howard: That is past thinking. We’re talking about the future. Now drink. (Yes, I’m playing now too, you all know the rules.)

dhp

It?s really simple: no computer program should ever do anything destructive without being explicitly told to do so or prompting the user to see if it what the user wants.

I thought the whole point of Autosave was that it isn’t destructive. Can’t Sir Harry go back to the previous version of his photo?

Mike Howard

Well, Apple has a nice article on Auto Save and Versions: http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4753.

I called Apple Tech to clarify a few points and found:

1. Auto Save and Versions are OS features
2. They are application specific in that applications must chose to use them.
3. To the best of the tech’s knowledge (he did not have an authoritative list) the only apps using Auto Save and Versions are the iWork suite, TextEdit and Preview.
4. Auto Save/Versions enabled apps have a drop down list in the title bar (see figure 2 of the article) accessible by clicking a ‘little triangle’.
5. iPhoto does not use Auto Save. It uses the same versioning that it always did: keeping an original version of the photo which can then be reverted to (I don’t use iPhoto, so ymmv)

At this point, I don’t see it as a problem: looks like something I want to have for my limited use of iWork and not something I’ll have to deal with when working with Adobe products, TextMate, terminal sessions, emacs, etc etc etc

Lee Dronick

I thought the whole point of Autosave was that it isn?t destructive. Can?t Sir Harry go back to the previous version of his photo?

Well I learned my lesson.  Don’t close a changed file that you don’t want saved in that condition. It used to be you could open a file and do some experimenting then close without saving and your original would be fine.  Now under Lion this is a concern with an existing file. If I create something new then autosaving is probably a good thing.

It is one of those new tricks that I need to learn.

Books about Lion are starting to appear in the iBook Store. I am anxious to read some reviews of them before making a purchase.

Lee Dronick

To the best of the tech?s knowledge (he did not have an authoritative list) the only apps using Auto Save and Versions are the iWork suite, TextEdit and Preview

I was using Preview which I find handier for simple jobs than opening Photoshop or Aperture. 

Note that a change, say a crop or level adjustment, in Aperture is not permanent. It is autosaved, but you can remove or hide it when the file is open or reopened.

Ross Edwards

Also, if you’re paranoid like me and aren’t sure the “versions” will really be there for you, aren’t the autosave-enabled apps providing an option on the menu to save a version?  Then you can keep working on your open file knowing that a snapshot of it sits safely on your HDD.

Lancashire-Witch

My phases through MobileMe:

1. Fear, uncertainty, doubt
2. Disdain, thoughts of leaving the platform
3. Learning to cope, discovery
4. More fear, uncertainty, doubt
5. More disdain

So Apple does not always get it right.  I’ve upgraded one of my SL machines to Lion. Strange things happen, not disastrous, but enough for a little fear, uncertainty and doubt to creep in. For example, my magic (yes, it’s magic) trackpad regularly suffers from a lost connection.

On the subject of Auto Save and Versions, maybe the fear uncertainty and doubt could be mitigated by adequate documentation. I know Apple likes its customers to discover new magical features for themselves; but the process can be frustrating.

Lee Dronick

On the subject of Auto Save and Versions, maybe the fear uncertainty and doubt could be mitigated by adequate documentation. I know Apple likes its customers to discover new magical features for themselves; but the process can be frustrating.

Yeah, there wasn’t much in the way of documentation when it came out and usually The Missing Manual book is ready shortly after an OS is released.

I won’t install Lion on my wife’s MacBook Pro until I am more familiar with it and it is more stable. In the meantime I am enjoying Lion even with its foibles.

LTMacMan

John,

I like your assessment of the situation.  The main thing that I would like to see changed is having the manually saved versions specially marked, and I think the comparisons of the versions (Time Machine like interface) could be better.  I don’t like Launch Pad… but I just ignore it.

I think a more appropriate description of an ideal operating system is to make the computer as easy as possible to use and to protect the user from doing harmful things.  I think auto save is a step in the right direction.  I know it made my life simpler twice so far.  And, I still use command-S.

Sir Harry did bring up one scenario where it can be an issue when you open an existing file and play with it and not expecting to change it.  Duplicating the file would be a good idea as he says.  I will also say, that I would duplicate it under previous OS versions as well.  Hitting Command S was a common habit… so I had to protect myself from my auto reflex action of command s.

AlanInMadrid

I am very familiar with autosave, and have found it useful since about 1990.  Normally it is a save of a journal files of all edits made since the last save, or is a periodic save of the work in progress to a different file.

I am also familiar with versions.  In VMS each time you save the file, it creates a new one with a number at the end (like ;19).  When you open a file it opens the latest, but if you want you can select an older one.  With Windows file server you get a similar but slightly different feature where the system makes regular on-line backups.

I like the way both of these work.  I’m not sure I like the new autosave.  Versions should be the things I decide to save, autosaves should be different.  Also “Save as” is a must.

Also, since all my work is on a network, does that mean autosave doesn’t work?  Or does it mean it works, but overwrites the original?  God help me if this feature ever makes it into photoshop or lightroom.

Stefano

So which is easier? Teach a mildly technical user to mark the document as a template? Or try to change the behavior of millions of Apple customers who complain daily about lost work?

Still easier is to migrate towards applications that not use autosave (e.g., OpenOffice/NeoOffice)

Stefano

In VMS each time you save the file, it creates a new one with a number at the end

You are perfectly right. The problem is that Lion creates versions even if we DON’T save the file.

AlanInMadrid

So which is easier? Teach a mildly technical user to mark the document as a template? Or try to change the behavior of millions of Apple customers who complain daily about lost work?

I think the easiest is for the application to create autosave files (like other applications do), not to overwrite the original file.  That way if the application crashes, or you close it without saving, when you start it again, it recovers the autosave file and asks you if you want to keep it.

davidneale

I thought the whole point of Autosave was that it isn?t destructive. Can?t Sir Harry go back to the previous version of his photo?

If he was using Preview, as he has indicated, then this should be no problem. The problem is, however, knowing how to do it, as this is very poorly executed and not at all obvious: move the pointer up to the window title and a small downward-pointing triangle appears to the right of the title; click on this triangle and you get the option to Browse All Versions? Selecting this takes you into a sort of Time Machine view of the saved versions, allowing any one of them to be retrieved.

Lee Dronick

The problem is, however, knowing how to do it, as this is very poorly executed and not at all obvious: move the pointer up to the window title and a small downward-pointing triangle appears to the right of the title; click on this triangle and you get the option to Browse All Versions? Selecting this takes you into a sort of Time Machine view of the saved versions, allowing any one of them to be retrieved.

Yes a big part of it was user error, but another part is the Lion documentation, the manual,  which currently is sparse.

I have learned my lesson with AutoSave, and should have no problem with it from now on.

birdchucker

I lecture at Universities globally.  I use Keynote files as large as 400 slides.  they are unusable under Lion because of AutoSave.  What happens is that I open the file, I move one slide to customize the presentation for that particular audience, I immediately get the spinning beach ball of death for 3 minutes (i’ve times it), then the “saving” dialog box comes up for 1.5 minutes, then the spinning beach ball for a minute or so, then I can work on the file again for maybe 30 seconds before AutoSave kicks in (every 5 minutes or so) and locks up my computer for another 4 minutes.  So I get be3tween 30 seconds and one minute OUT OF EVERY FIVE MINUTES to actually edit my file.  I never thought I’d say this, but Powerpoint is looking good at this point….

A buried, hard-to-find option to turn off AutoSave for experienced users would be a life-saver!

matt_s

We have a not-so-unique issue with Auto-Save inasmuch as it violates every Non Disclosure Agreement we have with every one of our customers. Each NDA prohibits copies of specifications other than the original, allowing only for uploading to a secure web folder for exchanging versions for comments & approvals.

Auto-Save & Versions in Lion continue to replicate copies each time the spec is open. It’s a living hell.

So, I did something that made me just shake my head to myself: I bought Microsoft Office 2011 because it did not support these 10.7 “features.” Later, we spent an entire weekend moving all specs and contracts from the new Pages back to Word, and fixing all the formatting issues (there were a lot of hiccups).

In order to eliminate copies of what Pages hath wrought, we were forced to delete Pages from all local systems. It’s a shame, I really like that application. We’re still not 100% sure that all extraneous copies the OS created have been eliminated. Could some be hiding in invisible folders somewhere?

Many of our customers use Macs as well, so we’re all in the same boat, struggling with Auto-Save & Versions. This helped a little, as our customers had a little more patience and knew what our challenges were.

Apple needs to give users the ability to turn this off. It would also help to inject a bit more regard and respect into the Lion system, which I think is by and large very disrespectful to the Mac user.

Karel Segers

Still getting over my anger about losing “Save As”.

I’m not the only one… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZksFkF4S4qI

davidneale

Still getting over my anger about losing ?Save As?.

It has not been lost, but is now called, “Duplicate.”

graxspoo

From working with our customers I know that auto-save can be a big problem for professionals. For example, it is common to want to browse through documents looking for material or inspiration. You don’t really want the modification date of each document you open to suddenly jump to ‘now’ just because you wanted to take a peek at it.

Apple wants to put a layer between users and the file system, and this is just the first step. There are a lot of bumps in the road between here and there. For example, without access to the file system, how do you integrate media from different applications?

jzolee from Hungary

Hi everyone.
It looks like I just joined a club, of frustrated, unhappy customer. It started with installation of osx. I just got a brand new MBP, and to be on a safe side, I ordered a Snow install dvd. (Never had one). Unpacking the beauty and by the first power up, it installed lion to it. I didn?t want it, but after 20 years of experience of MacOS, I didn?t panic. Popped in the the snow install disc to get rid of Lion. Kernel panic. Holding C at boot up, Kernel panic. Selecting start up disc, from Lion?s recovery console KERNEL PANIC!! This fukin beast doesn?t let me go back. I said ok, let?s give it a try to Lion. Big mistake. crashing mail, crashing system prefs, getting new apps for lion etc. I spent a week of nightmare getting used to this cat, when I ran into the biggest joke in computer history. It?s bigger than windows vista, it?s bigger than anything ever happened to me in the last 20 years of computing. IT?S AUTOSAVE & VERSIONS. The idiot who came up with this idea is probably never used a computer other than his fukin dumbphone. THIS IS NOT HOW PEOPLE USE COMPUTERS FOR WORK. I spent the last week searching of how to get rid of this bullshit, or at least get around, but so far no luck. The only solution to prevent my originals right now, is to set ?Lock Documents? to one day instead of default 2 weeks, in the time machine preferences. You should ask of course, why not going back to Snow, by formatting my HD. I?m planning to. But before I do it, I wanna make sure that solution is on the way. I don?t want to spend the next two weeks to installing everything again onto my computer. You could also ask why not using time machine backups. Well I tried it. Time machine was failed at 77% on full system restore, 4 times in a row. That was a full 24 hour procedure. GO TO HELL APPLE

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