To save or not to save

Back in 2011, right after the introduction of OSX Lion, I wrote:

Resume, Versions and Auto Save are features so needed, they should have been built in modern operating systems years ago.

Indeed, it would have been better Auto Save (incl. Versions) were the standard for years. Then I wouldn’t face the problem I’ll explain to you in a second.

I still brace Apple for their efforts to get rid of saving altogether and try to brake with the old, archaic concept of hitting that save button every 2 minutes, just in case.

But what I didn’t foresaw back then, were all the problems this concept brings. If you want to know the details, go and read this in-depth review from Matt Neuburg. To sum it up, a lot of problems occur because every PC/Mac user with the tiniest amount of knowledge has already internalized the mental model of “only when I hit the floppy disk symbol, my work is preserved.” E.g. people have the habit of experimenting with existing documents with the fall-back mechanism of not saving the changes they made when closing the document. This is not possible with the new way.

Now it’s 2012, the year of Mountain Lion, and I am still struggling how to handle my document-saving-model-system: The old fashioned-way or the way Apple intends it to be. It comes down to two choices.

Go the Apple way (leave Mountain Lion on its default settings):

  • Applications that support the new model will save document states without additional action, at frequent intervals the OS creates “versions” to which one can return to in case something went wrong. Opening a document will bring you the exact state you left it in the last time. (good)
  • As noted in the article, you need to think about saving before you do changes to your document, reversing the mental model you are used to. (not good)
  • Developers need to built support for Auto Save right into their apps. The most-popular office suite from Microsoft has still not followed the lead. (potential dealbreaker)
  • It works only on HFS+ formatted hard drives. (bad)

This all means, to be sure that your files are save, you need to understand how the system works. The fact that Neuburg’s article is over 3,000 words long should give you a hint about the learning curve involved.

Try the more-or-less traditional way (by flipping two checkboxes):

  • You can’t turn off Auto Save completely, there is no way to go to a Microsoft Windows-like state. (bad)
  • Closing an altered document brings up the familiar dialog “Do you want to save changes?” (good)
  • Documents will not be opened again (resumed) automatically the next time the application launches. (neither good or bad, just less confusing)
  • Despite that, the common “Save As”-command does not work like “expected” — changes in the original document are saved, too. (bad)
  • Behind the scenes, OSX still creates versions. (good)

The last point is important. It gives me some of the advantages from the new model without all the traps. And there you have my decision.

Probably you noticed that both ways don’t satisfy me, but at least Apple has backtracked some of the worst parts of Lion and showed a will of “correcting” itself, which gives hope that one day we will live all the benefits which were promised in the first place.

This article was first published on August 13, 2012.