Learning to work with Auto Save

One thing most of us—from novices to seasoned vets—have in common is a story, the one about the time we were working on a file but forgot to hit Save and then something happened and we lost all our changes. Eventually, it happens to everyone.

That’s what makes Lion’s Auto Save feature (along with its companion, Versions) such a swell addition to Mac OS X. If you’re using an app that’s been tweaked to work with Auto Save, no power outage or momentary distraction will ever rob you of hours of hard work again.

That said, the new feature does take some getting used to. For many of us, hitting Command-S once in a while as we work has become second nature. And many of us have developed workflows built around the Save As command—to create new files based on old ones, to preserve specific versions of files (Proposal v1.0 saved as Proposal v1.1), or to quickly copy file to new locations.

Fortunately, you can use Lion’s Auto Save and its associated commands to do all of that. You just have to get used to the new nomenclature.

Save is gone

To take advantage of Auto Save, you obviously need to use an app that supports it. Of course, Apple’s own programs—including the iWork suite, iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, and TextEdit—do. Many third-party apps do, too, including Acorn ( ), Omnigraffle ( ), MindNode Pro ( ), and Soulver ( ). (Check out the Mac App Store’s Enhanced for OS X Lion page for a list of others.) Microsoft says it will add Auto Save in a forthcoming update of Microsoft Office 2011. But many other popular Mac apps don’t yet support it.

Assuming that you are working in an Auto Save-compatible app, you’ll notice that the Save command is still around, but only when you’re working on a new, unsaved document. When you create one, you’ll still see Save up there in the File menu. But as soon as you save that file and give it a name, the Save command disappears. At that point, Auto Save kicks in. It will save a new version of your file whenever you pause or every five minutes if you’re working continuously.

Duplicate menu
Bye-bye Save As, hello Duplicate

The new Save a Version command replaces Save in the File menu. If you want to take a snapshot of your document at a particular time (right before you start really hacking at it, for instance), you can select File -> Save a Version. (The old, familiar Command-S also works.) If you still feel the Pavlovian impulse to save every few minutes, go nuts. You’re just creating more versions of your document. (You can get at those in the Version menu, which is accessible from the document's title bar.)

Save As replaced

If you relied on Save As before, Lion’s Duplicate command is your new friend.

One problem with the old Save As workflow for creating new documents from old ones was that it all too easy to forget to hit Save As before you started making changes and, so, to wreck the original. The new Duplicate command helps avoid such carnage.

Selecting Duplicate creates a fresh copy of the original file, leaving that original in a separate window; you never overwrite it. A duplicate is a new document, which you can save wherever you want. Once you’ve saved the duplicate, Save a Version once again replaces Save.

Duplicate dialog
If you try to duplicate a file that's been changed, Lion asks you what you want to do with the original.

What if you decide to duplicate a document when you’ve already been editing it for a while? At that point, Lion’s Auto Save will have already saved your changes to the original file. Fortunately, Lion solves this problem, too: When you click Duplicate in a document that you’ve changed, Lion asks you whether you’d like to save the original document in its altered state or let it revert to the version you first opened. If you choose to revert, a duplicate copy is made, with all of your changes in it, and the original goes back to the way it was.

Adapting Duplicate to those old Save As workflows isn’t really that hard. If you want to create a new document based on an old one, if you want to use an incremented file name for versioning purposes, or you want to save a copy of a file somewhere new, you can use Duplicate to do it all.

One tricky bit about this transition to Auto Save: Not all app do it. As you get used to Auto Save, it is going to be really easy to forget to save in non-Auto Save apps. Pay attention to those apps in your workflows that have not adopted Auto Save and don't forget to save.

At a Glance

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