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Apple Mac OS X tips and tweaks

Date: 28th July 2011

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OS X Lion: The problem with Auto Save

One of the brand new features in OS X Lion for the Apple Mac is Auto Save. The idea is that you will never have to save a document again. You just load a file, work on it, and quit. Lion automatically saves the changes as a new version and you never need to select File, Save or hit Command+S ever again. That's fine in theory, but there are some unexpected side effects that you need to be aware of and they could catch you out.

The first thing that you need to be aware of is that Lion's Auto Save feature can only be used by applications that have been designed to use it. No apps released before Lion use it because it wasn't available in Leopard and Snow Leopard. You'll have lots of apps on your Mac that don't have Auto Save and only a handful that do - mainly Apple apps like Preview that come bundled with Lion.

Before you quit any application you should go to the File menu and see if there is a Save option. If there is then use it otherwise your work will be lost when you exit.

Here's an example, use Preview to view an image, PDF or anything else and look at the File menu. Notice that there isn't a Save or Save as. This is because it uses Auto Save. If you make any changes to the file, such as adding annotations or drawing on it, you can simply quit Preview and everything is automatically saved.

This presents a problem though. Suppose you want to load a file, change something and save it as a new file with a new name so you have both the original and the modified version. There's no Save or Save As! What you have to do is to use File, Export instead and then you can export it as a different file. However, when you quit the app, Preview in this case, your changes are saved, so you end up with two files the same - both are the modified version. You can't keep the original and the modfied version you exported.

What you must do is to load the original file back into Preview and select File, Revert to Saved. You can then choose the previous version - the original file - and select Restore. Then you can quit and the file original file is saved. You now have the original and modified versions on disk. It's a bit of a hassle, but is there any alternative?

Suppose you have a file created by a Lion app with Auto Save and you open it with a non-Lion app without Auto Save. What happens? The file and app behaves like it used to with previous versions of OS X. You have to manually save and no versions are saved. However, if you load it into a Lion app with Auto Save you can see the versions saved by Auto Save, but versions saved by the non-Lion app are missing and only the last one is available.

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