Deciphering OS X Mountain Lion’s Save Document Features

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View

A paradox: Some of the most attention-grabbing new features in Mountain Lion are ones that you may use only rarely. Dictation, AirPlay — to name two.

On the other hand, many of the “smaller” changes in the just-released 10.8 version of OS X are ones that will impact your work multiple times a day. One such example is how you save and open documents. Although you may view opening and saving as mundane tasks, Mountain Lion offers enough new wrinkles in how it all works to justify a closer look.

In the examples that follow, I use Apple’s TextEdit as the prototypical application. Other applications may need to be updated to take advantage of all the new features described here.

Documents in the Cloud

Probably the biggest change to opening and saving documents in Mountain Lion is the addition of “Documents in the Cloud.” For the first time, Open dialogs offer two main choices for where to save and locate files: “iCloud” and “On My Mac” (in some sense, that should be “On Your Mac;” you won’t be opening files on my Mac).

TextEdit Open dialog

A TextEdit Open dialog in Mountain Lion, showing the new iCloud option

The On My Mac option works the same way opening has done in prior versions of OS X. Essentially, you navigate via the dialog to the Finder location where you want to be. With the iCloud option selected, you access documents previously stored in the cloud. To get documents to iCloud in the first place, you can save them via the iCloud item in Save dialogs.

The main advantage of using iCloud here is that you can access the same document from any Mac running Mountain Lion that is logged into the same iCloud account. If there is a matching iOS app for your Mac app (there is not one for TextEdit), you will similarly be able to access iCloud-stored documents from your iOS devices. Any change you make to a document on one device will be immediately reflected on all your other synced devices.

From the iCloud display of your files in Open dialogs, you can organize iCloud-stored files into folders. To create a folder, just drag one document on top of another. You can also delete files from here.

One type of Save dialog in Mountain Lion

To make sure you’re set to use Documents in the iCloud, first go to the iCloud System Preferences pane. From here, sign up for (if you haven’t done so already) and log in to your iCloud account. Next, enable the Documents and Data selection. [Note: If you later disable Documents and Data, all your iCloud-stored documents will be removed from your Mac. However, they remain in iCloud and will return if and when you later re-enable the option.]

While there are obvious upsides to this iCloud feature, there are some significant drawbacks as well:

• Documents stored in iCloud are only available to the app that created them. This can become a problem for files that can be opened by more than one application. For example, although Microsoft Word can open .rtf files created by TextEdit, Word will not be able to access the files if you store them in TextEdit’s cloud. If you need to have a document available to multiple apps, don’t store it in iCloud.

• If you want one folder to contain documents of multiple different types (such as .rtf, .pdf and .jpg files), you can’t do this via iCloud.

• Accessing iCloud-stored documents directly from the Finder, rather than via an Open dialog, can be a hassle — and Apple recommends not doing this anyway. To do so, you need to use the same method supported in OS X 10.7 Lion: Go to the Mobile Documents folder in your (normally invisible) Home directory Library folder and scroll until you find a folder with the name of the desired app (for TextEdit, look for “com~apple~TextEdit”). Inside this folder will be a Documents folder; inside Documents will be local copies of the files you have saved to iCloud via the specified app.

If you are offline and try to open an iCloud-stored document, the local copy in Mobile Documents is what opens. Presumably, any edits you make while offline will be copied to iCloud and synced the next time you are back online. [Note: To avoid trouble with sync conflicts, I would avoid editing a document from more than one device while offline.]

• For an app to access iCloud, it must be updated to support the feature. Only third-party apps sold through the Mac App Store can add iCloud support. This means you may not be able to use Documents in the Cloud with some of your favorite apps.

To avoid these downsides, you can use something like Dropbox instead. The main (perhaps only) advantage of iCloud over Dropbox is its direct integration into OS X.

Save As…

When OS X 10.7 Lion was released, one of the biggest complaints from users was that the Save As command had vanished from apps updated for the new OS. In its stead was a Duplicate command. While you could use Duplicate to get to the same end point as Save As, doing so required several steps. Using Save As was simpler and (for most people) preferred. 

Apple listened to these complaints: the Save As command is back in Mountain Lion. It’s a “hidden” option. To access it, go to an app’s File menu while holding down the Option key; the Duplicate command changes to Save As. Alternatively, you can hold down Option-Shift-Command-S.


Another new Lion feature that was largely unwelcome by users was “auto-lock” for documents. This is how it worked: If you did not open/edit a document for a period of time (the default setting was two weeks, as I recall), the document automatically locked. The next time you opened the document, you would have to manually “unlock” it before you could edit it. Apple claimed this would help prevent accidental changes to a document.

Many users (including me!) found auto-lock to be an intrusive and unwanted annoyance. Fortunately, you could disable the feature — if you knew the secret location of the relevant setting: System Preferences > Time Machine > Options. From here, disable “Lock Documents…after last edit.”

In Mountain Lion, Apple appears to have eliminated auto-lock altogether. The setting in Time Machine is gone and I could not find it in any other location. However, if you still want to lock a document in Mountain Lion, you can do so manually (via the command in the title-bar menu, as noted next).

Title-bar menu 

In Mountain Lion, if you move the trackpad/mouse arrow to the right of the name of a document in its window’s title bar, a downward pointing triangle appears. Click this and a title-bar menu drops down. This feature exists in Lion as well. However, the specific items in the menus of the two OS versions are different.

In Lion, the menu typically looks like this:

Title Bar in Lion

In Mountain Lion, it instead looks like this:

Title Bar in Mountain Lion

The major change, aside from a somewhat different layout, is that Mountain Lion includes two new commands: Rename and Move To. [Note: If you prefer to skip the title-bar menu altogether, the same new commands are available from the application’s File menu.]

The Rename command allows you to change the name of a document directly at the document’s title-bar — something you would otherwise have to do via locating the file in the Finder.

Move To allows you to relocate where a file is stored, again without involving the Finder. “Move to iCloud” is a separate command specifically to move a document from your Mac to iCloud. You can also make such moves (in either direction) by dragging a document icon to or from the iCloud section of an Open dialog.


In Lion, if you navigate to System Preferences > General, you’ll find an option to “Restore windows when quitting and re-opening apps.” It’s enabled by default. Often referred to as the Resume option, it means that, when you quit and re-launch an app, all the document windows that were open when you last quit re-appear.

Personally, I love this option. It makes it easy to pick up where I left off, even after restarting my Mac. If I don’t want certain windows to open anymore on re-launch, I just close them before quitting the app. No problem. However, if you truly want no part of this option, you can disable it via the System Preferences setting.

What if you want to turn the option off for some apps but not others? Apple offers no way to do this, but you can do it via RestoreMeNot, a third-party System Preferences pane.

In Mountain Lion, the “Restore windows…” setting choice is gone. Instead, there is a “Close windows when quitting an application.” This does exactly the same thing as the Lion setting, except in reverse. To enable the Resume feature, you now disable the setting. I’m not sure why Apple thinks this is a better approach, but there it is. On my Mac, this option was enabled by default, meaning I had to go and uncheck it to get my desired Resume feature back. 

In a related minor change, if there are no documents to resume, TextEdit opens with a new “Untitled” document on launch in Lion. In Mountain Lion, an Open dialog appears instead.

General System Preferences

System Preferences > General with new save-related options highlighted

Auto Save

Via Auto Save in Lion, a document is saved every five minutes or less — even if you do not specifically select to Save. There is no way to fully disable this feature. [Note: You can disable Auto Save for a specific app via a Terminal command hack — although not without some caveats. There is no way, as far as I know, to turn off the feature for all apps at once.] 

Auto Save (including the ability to Browse prior saved versions) appears to work similarly in Lion and Mountain Lion. However, there are a couple of minor but notable differences.  

In Mountain Lion, in the same System Preferences > General location cited previously, there is another new option: “Ask to keep changes when closing documents.” With this option enabled, if you have changes in a document not specifically saved via a Save command, you will automatically have the chance to override the changes when you attempt to close the document (or quit the application).

Revert dialog on close

In particular, a dialog pops up from which you can select to “Revert Changes,” thereby eliminating any unsaved or auto-saved changes. You can accomplish the same net effect in Lion, but you would have to remember to select the “Revert Document” command in the File menu (or the Revert command in the title-bar menu) before closing the document. From here, you can typically revert to the last saved version and/or the last opened version — or select to Browse for other versions. These same alternative options still exist in Mountain Lion.

If the Mountain Lion “Ask to keep changes…” setting is not enabled, things work pretty much as they have in Lion: previously saved documents are automatically saved when closed, with no warning or prompt.

When you select to close an “Untitled” (or otherwise never-saved document), a dialog appears — whether you are using Lion or Mountain Lion and whether or not the relevant System Preferences setting is enabled. In Lion, the dialog offers a “Don’t Save” option; in Mountain Lion, it’s “Delete.” The result of the two options is the same.

Bottom Line. Overall, the Open and Save changes in Mountain Lion are changes for the better. They add useful new functions or rein in excesses from Lion.

Popular TMO Stories



I’ve been using computers, mostly Macs for over two decades, but I could never quite manage Lion’s new save features. What a pain. Fortunately, I only faced the new “upgrade” when using Keynote and Preview. (I work on multi-gigabyte files, so accidentally pressing “save” caused my system to stall as it created a whole new multi-gig file!) I stopped recommending Macs to friends and family because of this feature. The learning curve in Lion made the effort to change over from a PC too costly. Even in my own office, I purchased a PC for a new employee because I didn’t want to spend time having her learn a new system, especially when I could barely work some of the newest, and most basic, features.


I stopped recommending Macs to friends and family because of this feature.

I recommend Macs to my father-in-law specifically because of this feature.  He knows that the X button gets out of a program on Windows, and he knows to quickly dismiss all dialogs So he ends up losing changes to documents he writes in OpenOffice but forgot to explicitly save.  Of course, it’s likely a problem with the OpenOffice user experience, but an auto-save feature like Lion’s is exactly what he needs.

Anyway, the larger issue is that things change and if you can’t adapt you’ll be left behind.  There must be some balance to make sure new things work better, and here we see Apple trying to find that balance.  Dumping Macs because of one feature is, in my opinion, a poor decision.  If it’s really that bad then it will have to change, so waiting for the next version of the OS is advisable.  If it’s not really that bad, then you can adapt to it.

Doug Moul

I do like the synching of contacts.  However, my use of the IPAD was based on my being able to conveniently read PDF files in the form of scientific literature reports.  I’ve looked around a bit, and it seems that GoodReader has been legally prevented by Apple for doing this.  I cannot get Pages to do this.  OK, so can I use IBooks?  Apparently not, or if I can it is a very complicated process.  The point is that there is no way I can view PDF files with my IPAD right now using the ICloud, even using Apple’s own software, through using Mountain Lion.  Add to which now I cannot now access work files throughout Citrix.  I am waiting in the fullness of time for workarounds.  I’m all in favor of innovation, but this does not appear to be a good innovation path if I cannot do basic work functions.  It seems that Steven Jobs has left, and so has common sense.  I have liked using the MAC, but this situation is getting to be again like it was in the ‘90’s without Jobs, where the marketing was about “cool stuff” that did not speak well to normal work needs.  But please let me know if there are work arounds.  Otherwise I’m liable to migrate to the PC again, as I did in the mid-90’s.


(you guys do know that your comment system is broken on ios, right? I can’t select text to quote, nor can I paste in copied text to quote it. )

I don’t have a good iCloud-based PDF iPad app, but I can stash PDFs in Dropbox and then open them in iBooks or Kindle app for a better book reading experience.

Ted Landau

Update: It turns out that the new Save As… command is not really a return to the old way of Saving As. When you select Save As in Mountain Lion, both the original and the new document are saved in its present state. That is, they are identical at that point. In the past, the original document would be saved as it was at the point of your last manual Save command. With Auto Save, this is not what happens. You would have to follow Save As by going to the original document and selecting Revert to mimic the effect of the old Save As.

If this is still not clear, check out this article (where I first got the heads up).

Tokyo J

This is a major step back. I’m sticking with Leopard until they fix this. I tried for hours to figure out how the new saving feature works on my friends new macbook pro.  It’s idiotic and counter-intuitive.

Never thought I’d be jumping off the OSX bandwagon but this is a MAJOR os flaw.

Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.


Steve Davies

There’s a really irritating side-effect of this.

1) I double-click on a .doc file, MyStuff.doc, sent to me by a friend.
2) The file opens in Pages since that’s the default association for .doc.
3) I make no changes but close the file immediately
4) I now have 3 choices which are to save MyStuff to iCloud, Cancel or Delete. But I don’t want to do any of these, I want to keep the original file unchanged. What to select?

It turns out the correct option is to select Delete because it’s not talking about the file I think I’ve opened, it’s talking about a temporary file. And it does this even though the checkbox for “Ask to keep changes” is not checked (because it’s a new file that just happens to have the same filename as the file I opened).


Versions files are fine. I still want “save as” back. Couldn’t they offer a preference setting for us “power” users who have some understanding of a hierarchical file system?


I loved auto-lock. It was the first sensible addition to the file system in decades. It brought a little bit of source-control to the desktop environment.

I want the option back.

Log in to comment (TMO, Twitter or Facebook) or Register for a TMO account