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

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.