Mac OS X Lion: Auto-save or self-destruct?

Update: Read the 10.7.2 update here (sorry, doesn’t really fix the problem).

Update 2: Read the latest from Apple here.

Update 3: Apple has resolved the issue with the 10.7.3 update.

Mac OS X Lion includes a new feature called auto-save, coupled tightly with versions. This feature is designed to automatically save versions of your documents as you make changes. Doing so allows you to rollback changes you made if you decide you didn’t like something you added, modified or deleted. I like it, very nice feature. Auto-save also means you don’t need to click save on your document. Ever. Even if you want to discard the changes you are going to make, you can’t just click don’t save anymore.

For a home user, this isn’t that big a deal. Home users don’t often do destructive editing that they intend to throw away. Home users are writing school papers, letters to friends, editing pictures to be printed, etc. Yes they do sometimes want to make changes and discard them, but far less often than they are going to want everything they do saved every step of the way.

Business users often do destructive editing that they don’t want saved. Form letter templates? Logos that need to be resized depending on what you are printing on? Keynote templates for how the message in the series should look? Some of these (such as the keynote example) by nature you will duplicate and start editing because you intend to keep it.  But not always. Suppose you want to open this current series’ Keynote template and see how an image you want to use will look on it. You drop the image in and you go “nah, don’t like it” and close the window. You have just saved that image into the central template. Yes people can go back a version but now there is confusion, “huh, is this really the template? what happened, is anything else changed I need to fix?”

We have all kinds of standard form letter templates that we use for various things. People open them all the time, put in a person’s name, change a few lines of text, add a personalized goodbye, hit print and then close the window. They have just modified that letter template for every other user on the network and they don’t even realize it because it didn’t ask them to save. What if they added something pretty harsh to the letter and then another person opens it up, changes out the name and just hits print because they know that template is perfect for this letter from the last time they had used it. They just printed out a letter with a really harsh statement intended for somebody else entirely.

The recipe for self-destruct comes from the fact that, while this by itself is just annoying for business users, the fact that Lion does not support versioned files on network volumes (even an AFP share on a Lion Server) creates disaster. Currently, when you make changes to a file that resides on a server and close it, the original file is modified but no previous version is saved that you can revert to when you open it up next and realize your mistake. Want to test this out for yourself?

  1. Take a screenshot with Command-Shift-4 and move that beautiful image over to your file server.
  2. Open the image up in Preview.
  3. Select an area of the image and hit Command-K to crop it.
  4. Print the image (this step really doesn’t matter, but it’s here to give you an idea of why you would do this in the first place).
  5. Close the image.
  6. Open the image again and try to find a way to get your original image back. Buh-bye, no more pretty screen-shot.
  7. Cry.

Version information seems to be stored in the root folder of the volume in a folder called “/.DocumentRevisions-V100″. My guess is that a bug (or maybe an oversight?) in Lion means that clients do not have access to this folder to store and retrieve version information. Or maybe it is storing the version information on the local hard drive but then looking it back up on the remote hard drive (or vice-versa).

Either way, it means that due to auto-save and the lack of versions, anytime you open a document you are forced into doing destructive editing that will be saved when you close the window without thinking about it. What this means for us we cannot and will not roll out Lion to our desktop users until this bug is fixed. I normally try to give Apple the benefit of the doubt. When they change something core I normally try to force myself to try it for a month before deciding wether or not I will hate it or like it. Most of the time I end up liking it. The rest of the time I generally don’t hate it but just live with it. This is one of those times that Apple really dropped the ball and blew it. I’m not sure how you release an OS with such a gaping data loss hole in it. I have already contacted our business rep at Apple to inform them of this issue so we’ll see what happens.

What I would like to see (and told our rep) is the ability to disable the auto-save feature via MCX or some other method. Versions would still work and it would still save versions automatically in the background as I go, but somehow flag them as temporary (in case of a crash). When I close the document I would then be greeted with my old friend the “do you wish to save” dialog. If I click “Don’t Save” then those temporary versions are discarded and the document remains unchanged on the hard drive. If I click “Save” then those temporary versions are re-flagged as permanent and the document on the hard drive (or server) is updated to my latest changes.

What happens in case of an application crash? That is what those temporary flags are for. When the application re-launches, or even another user opens the same document, it would detect those temporary versions and prompt the user about it. “Do you want to continue editing or discard changes?”

To be honest though, what I expect is that Apple will simply fix the server-related bug and leave auto-save on without any way to turn it off.  That will mean some major headaches for me in I.T.  Our users can probably learn to adjust to the new auto-save functionality, but they will be forced into a very annoying work-flow:

  1. Open template letter
  2. Be prompted with the “document is locked” dialog and click the “duplicate” button.
  3. Enter a new filename for the document (presumably, I haven’t done this yet).
  4. Make the changes to the template.
  5. Print those temporary changes.
  6. Close the file.
  7. Remember to delete this new file that was created.

Sorry Apple, but that’s just not going to happen. We’re going to be littered with all kinds of temporary files if thats the case. Or worse, somebody accidentally hits unlock and edits the original.  Or somebody intentionally unlocks the original to make some changes and then before it is auto-locked again somebody else opens it to print off a custom copy again and those changes are saved permanently.

25 comments for “Mac OS X Lion: Auto-save or self-destruct?

  1. Stefano
    August 2, 2011 at 12:09 am

    Simply scaring. I hate this way of working. I know Save/Save As/Don’t Save looks old, but it is sooo efficient to me.
    I hope Apple will provide a way to shut autosave off permanently. Or I will go back to Linux.

  2. August 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    For me the choice is simple: If Apple does not fix this within 1 month, I will go back to SL. And if it’s not fixed in 3 months, it never will be fixed, which means I’ll sell my macs (I have a few…) and convert my entire network to various flavors of Linux.

    They Auto-save is simply a dealbreaker for me.

  3. Allan
    August 6, 2011 at 9:35 am

    It’s just amazing that Apple apps are now dangerous to even open. The temporary workaround I’ve been using is to stop using the apps that support these new “features”. My word processing files are stored as .doc files so I’m using OpenOffice instead of Pages. PDF files are now viewed with Adobe Reader instead of Preview and jpeg’s are viewed with Firefox. Text files are edited with Jedit, a free Java text editor, or with emacs. Kind of sad that we have to abandon Apple software but they have left us no choice?

  4. matt_s
    August 7, 2011 at 6:38 pm

    The ability to OPT OUT would be a wonderful thing to receive from Apple but I truly doubt this will ever be forthcoming.

    I think Auto-Save, Versions & iCloud are part and parcel of a strategic revenue plan by Apple – Auto-Save & Versions create the demand, iCloud fulfills it.

    Kind of like selling fire insurance while you’re holding a flame thrower

  5. August 9, 2011 at 10:16 am

    I’d like to see a preference setting, either for the application or individual documents, to turn off AutoSave. And Resume, for that matter — it’s creepy to open an app and have it automatically reopen the docs that were open when you quit.

  6. Soci
    August 26, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Another example of the disaster….

    If you use Preview to open an image you have in your camera’s SD card (by default is a Time Machine’s excluded item, and cannot be added…) and resize it, same disaster will happen; the original image will be lost forever.

    Apple made a huge mistake here. I lost my original pictures because of this. If you open your camera pictures with Preview potential loss is very likely to happen !

  7. September 8, 2011 at 7:32 am

    You’re absolutely right about the bug with Auto Save, but I think you’re off track with the workflow problem with templates stored on a server.

    You can either lock the document or make a stationery pad in Get Info. If the latter, opening it creates a copy right away and opens that copy; it would leave files all over.

    But the locked document, as soon as the user clicks Duplicate, creates a working copy of the document that they can modify and print, but it doesn’t save it automatically; they must do so manually. So if your goal is to have people open the template, make changes that shouldn’t be saved, print, and then close, the process is only slightly different in Lion.

  8. September 9, 2011 at 7:45 am

    Hi everyone.
    It looks like I just joined a club, of frustrated, unhappy customer. It started with installation of osx. I just got a brand new MBP, and to be on a safe side, I ordered a Snow install dvd. (Never had one). Unpacking the beauty and by the first power up, it installed lion to it. I didn’t want it, but after 20 years of experience of MacOS, I didn’t panic. Popped in the the snow install disc to get rid of Lion. Kernel panic. Holding C at boot up, Kernel panic. Selecting start up disc, from Lion’s recovery console KERNEL PANIC!! This fukin beast doesn’t let me go back. I said ok, let’s give it a try to Lion. Big mistake. crashing mail, crashing system prefs, getting new apps for lion etc. I spent a week of nightmare getting used to this cat, when I ran into the biggest joke in computer history. It’s bigger than windows vista, it’s bigger than anything ever happened to me in the last 20 years of computing. IT’S AUTOSAVE & VERSIONS. The idiot who came up with this idea is probably never used a computer other than his fukin dumbphone. THIS IS NOT HOW PEOPLE USE COMPUTERS FOR WORK. I spent the last week searching of how to get rid of this bullshit, or at least get around, but so far no luck. The only solution to prevent my originals right now, is to set “Lock Documents” to one day instead of default 2 weeks, in the time machine preferences. You should ask of course, why not going back to Snow, by formatting my HD. I’m planning to. But before I do it, I wanna make sure that solution is on the way. I don’t want to spend the next two weeks to installing everything again onto my computer. You could also ask why not using time machine backups. Well I tried it. Time machine was failed at 77% on full system restore, 4 times in a row. That was a full 24 hour procedure. GO TO HELL APPLE

  9. September 9, 2011 at 9:24 am

    I obviously can’t help with the Lion issues, but I can tell you what we did to get Snow Leopard installed. We bought 4 iMac’s a few weeks ago as part of our computer cycle/upgrade process, each came with Lion which we knew we didn’t want to give to our staff yet. Dealing with the problem of the Snow Leopard disc kernel panic’ing during boot is a simple solution as long as you have a spare computer. Put your new MBP in target disc mode and install to it via a machine that can successfully boot off of the 10.6.0/10.6.3 disc. Have it install to that “external” hard drive and then run all the software updates to get up to 10.6.8, once that is done your new MBP should boot Snow Leopard just fine.

    We actually did a slightly different method because we were going to do this with 4 machines; we installed Snow Leopard to an external hard drive, ran all the updates, and then used Disk Utility to “Restore” (i.e. disc copy) from the working Snow Leopard install onto the iMacs. This worked just fine. I wish Apple made it easier to get ahold of “current” versions of the OS, as in I would love to be able to buy a 10.6.8 Snow Leopard disc to install from. Hope this helps.

  10. Jzolee from Hungary
    September 9, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Thanks Daniel. I just booted from a different mac running 10.6.8 successfully while it was in target disc mode. Although it’s a good backup plan to go back Snow if Apple keeps implementing possible hazards in its operating systems, but I’d be more happy to have a solution to this autosave issue within Lion. Thx

  11. Ben
    September 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    @Jzolee: Re AUTOSAVE & VERSIONS
    You’re funny.
    I’ve been trying to come up with a similar solution for the past two years because of the inherent intelligence. (If i could program in Smalltalk I’d probably just use Squeak and make a useful environment.) This is the way computers should work, with our current methods being the unusual case.

  12. mick
    September 26, 2011 at 6:27 am

    I have rolled back to snow leopard . . .
    as we have work to do . . .
    no time for mucking about with this . . .

  13. Richard Graham
    October 13, 2011 at 4:29 am

    Despite having had Lion for a while now I haven’t actually done much productive with it. Realising one day that I’d done what I always have done (making a change that I never intended to save and hitting the ‘Don’t Save’ button) wrote the very destructive changes to the original file I was left wondering, why have Apple been so stupid as to have introduced this feature. Like yourself I try to give them time before deciding whether it’s me who needs to adapt or Apple have introduced something dumb, I continually came back to the latter conclusion. Dammit these ‘developments’ are slowing down our productivity rather than enhancing it. I remember making my first website and basically doing nothing more than playing with code to learn more, not adding any useful functionality and making any benevolent change. But you’d expect the software development at Apple, a company who have deservedly earned our respect for their long-demonstrated developmental wisdom would not suddenly start closing around making dumb changes in ‘our’ workflow just for the sheer ‘fun’ of it. Lion is full of gimmicks and, aside from startling improvements in laptop battery longevity, the nearest Apple have come in a long while to a ‘Windows OS’ update. I was wanting to complain and then I came across your post. It says far better than I could say because of the breadth of issues this development might cause for a much wider group of users than myself. It’s a brilliant post and I thank you for writing it. I just worry that someone like yourself writes something so well considered, informative and ultimately drawing an optimal conclusion but the words float off into the ether and the people culpable of this mess will continue to do so ad infinitum. They’re wasting our time. How do we get them to stop?

  14. nathan
    October 18, 2011 at 10:05 am

    there is a bigger issue with network storage and that is that editing a file on Lion can change the permissions to the file from snow leopard making it un-editable by other users.

    there are many optional solutions the problem.

    -apple could disable auto save on network drives
    -apple could create a local “pool” for files from network drives
    -would save user specific “versions” of network files
    (could be very powerful if implemented correctly)
    -you could actually create templets, for templets
    -pages,keynote,and numbers all have a save as templet option in the file menu. Just distribute the templets you need people to have.
    (I know the last one doesn’t work for everything)

    I agree apple has dropped the ball here, but I also think that they are on the right track. Auto-save isn’t some dumb feature, most tech experts agree that versioning is where all computing is going. Apple’s biggest issue was choosing to get rid of save as and call it duplicate (they are also trying to get rid of pop up dialogue boxes-another good thing) and not teaching (explaining) a few good document processes with the new system.

  15. October 18, 2011 at 10:38 am

    Nathan, Could you elaborate on the file permissions thing? I don’t remember seeing anything on that already and we haven’t done much with Lion on a network file server because of the data loss bug.

  16. nathan
    October 18, 2011 at 11:47 am

    sure, I give you a case we had
    print department is running lion, and someone in HR is running snow leopard.
    the person in HR creates a document saves it on the network and asks for it to be printed. Print department opens it up, prints it and closes the file. (Lion Auto Saved and Changed the owner of the file)

    Later the HR person goes back to get the file to email it as well, and can’t access the file. (Print department has user restricted access)

    I have a company that says this was an issue with their files.
    (Helped them figure out that it was a permissions issue with lion first)

    - my suggestion to them (for now) was to create a copy for documents submitted to print (a separately mounted drive so that duplicating is the default)
    -they are also running a lion server for their data/email (I recommended not upgrading but they wanted the push email/calendars)

  17. otto
    November 3, 2011 at 10:58 am

    If Apple is not going to kill this bloody feature, I will go my way without Apple.

  18. November 3, 2011 at 11:44 am

    I’m writing a book. The research consists of about fifteen thousand pictures taken with a digital camera. Open a batch of pictures, and for one or some need to command-R. What is this pop-up? No, I don’t want to change the original. No, I don’t want a duplicate. Just let me rotate the image.

    This is an MS-grade error. Please, no changes to my files except by my command.

  19. Chris87
    November 6, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Hey sorry guys, but this feature is not the problem. I used Apple some years ago but switched back to windows soon since the OS (I think tiger or leopard) was just no step forward in comparison to windows. I especially hated the way to handle all the windows it was just a nightmare I couldnt work with. Now I got a Mac Mini with Lion and it is just perfect for me… The Autosave feature should be OPTIONAL, at least as long as it is not generally accepted and mature, but it is the way to go. Clicking “Dont save” to discard changes is a joke in itself… Just select the previous version like you can right now, this is how it should be done. And especially the way you can intermix different versions is amazing. Just get used to it… Additionally the LOCK feature solves the template issues. Just lock these files and you cant change them anymore.

    The ONLY problem I see here is that apple made a big mistake by making this feature a “must have” instead of an “optional” one…

    BTW…. I like the mac but I hate this god damn apple keyboard. The guy who invented this should be fired. All my fingers already hurt and it makes strange sounds after just a few days of usage…

  20. Stefan
    November 24, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    hello apple,

    autosave sucks asses like lion. if this problem won´t be fixed in this year, i´ll go back 2 microsoft!

  21. Luke
    February 7, 2012 at 2:26 am

    I just updated to Lion from SL last week. This “feature” is driving me bonkers. I have lost work due to it.

    I have been using Pixelmator for a while for image editing, and it was great. But it has the autosave for Lion, and for doing edits and resizes for websites it has lost me work and time.

    This is a pull your hair out feature for professional users. But then Apple is fixated at the consumer market and is slowly driving the professional user to other platforms.

  22. Mike
    February 21, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Yea this is a pretty terrible feature if we don’t have control over it. That and the pop up window that always asks “Reopen windows when logging back in.” I once had to force restart the computer because it had too many apps open and was sluggish, and when it was rebooting and reopening up all those apps again.. i had to wait about 10 mins before i could get the cursor to respond and move. annoying. but more particularly annoying is this auto save crap.

    I had a document open in textedit that was modified and resaved in my bootcamp volume. I now can’t close the document because it can’t save as because of some “(GSLibraryErrorDomain error 1.)” and I can’t revert the document because it says the document can’t be reverted (and probably because its sitting on the windows partition)

    There’s no way out unless i force quit TextEdit. Lame.

    I’m not impressed with half of these features of Lion.

  23. steve
    June 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I agree with basically all of the comments before me…
    I also feel that this isn’t about ease of use for novice/IOS users. This is about tracking everything you do on your computer.
    Even if we accept that tracking “was” inevitably the way that computing had to go, Apple’s implementation is just plain sub-microsoft poor.
    Peformance is terrible, and inconsistent. I have trashed several files which I have NEVER done previous to this aberation that Apple is calling an OS.
    It was a sweet run while it lasted but all good things must end (wierd or whatever that it happened just as Steve Jobs left us.)
    My boss will be thrilled that I am no longer submitting budget justifications for more expensive Mac purchases. I can live without all those little things that really DID make the Mac a better home & work machine, but I can’t live with this OS.

  24. Bud
    November 14, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    I finally settled on this simple work-around. I did a GetInfo (cmd-I) on a text file and changed “Open With” to my current favorite text editor (Bean). Then I clicked “Change all” so that Bean will open all text files henceforth. I may have to repeat this with jpeg and/or other types of files as I discover that Text Edit or some similar Apple app is the default.

    With this simple change, I can now double click on any text file, edit and save it like we are used to doing. No need to switich to Linux or some other drastic change with such a simple work-around available.

    Text Edit never was my favorite text editor, so this isn’t much of an imposition.

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