Lion’s Auto Save: If it ain’t broke, fix it

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
March 27th, 2012 • 1:23 pm

I have nothing against the concept of Auto Save per se. Anything that can help avoid accidental data loss and avoid forcing people to develop unnatural, neurotic habits like hitting the command-S keyboard shortcut every few seconds is a good idea in my book.

I do have problems, however, with its implementation in Lion (Mac OS X 10.7). I have already talked about the totally unnecessary (in my view) elimination of the “Save As…” command in Apple applications, including the iWork suite. The “Duplicate” command that replaces it is simply not a good enough replacement, and the change irremediably breaks well-established workflows that cannot be adapted to the new command.

In addition to the questionable design choices and changes made by Apple’s engineers, however, there is also the very real and very problematic introduction of new bugs and new weaknesses.

For instance, in versions of OS X prior to Lion, if you saved a file under a given name in a given location, left that file open in its parent application, switched to the Finder, renamed the file in question, and went back to your application to continue working on it, OS X would automatically detect the name change and reflect it in the document window’s title bar, without complaint.

Now when you do the exact same thing, you get something like this:


Simply put, this is a change for the worse that takes us back 20 years in user interface design and brings OS X back to the level of brain-deadness usually demonstrated by Microsoft or Adobe software. We thought you were better than that, Apple. A simple name change and you can no longer find the file? Good grief. Don’t you have enough other metadata to keep track of the file?

(UPDATE: The problem does not occur with all applications. But I can reproduce it in iWork applications and in TextEdit on my machine. These are all Apple applications that fully embrace the Auto Save model in Lion.)

Then, there are outright bugs. If I leave a Photoshop file open in Photoshop CS5.1 open in the background, when I go back to Photoshop later on I inevitably get something like this:


Needless to say, I have not done a single thing to the file in question at any point since leaving it open in Photoshop. So what caused the change that caused Photoshop to freak out? Granted, it probably does not take much, but I am willing to bet that it has something to do with file version management in Lion, especially since the new features affect even applications such as Photoshop and Microsoft Word, which do not support Auto Save. (If you have document windows open in Photoshop or Word when you quit the application, OS X automatically reopens the documents in questions when you relaunch the application.)

(UPDATE: Since posting this, I have received reports of people experiencing the same problem in Snow Leopard and even in Windows. So in this particular case, the problem might not be linked to Auto Save. More testing would be required.)

And when you get a similar problem in one of Apple’s own applications, such as Numbers ’09, then this pretty much rules out any kind of accidental bugginess and demonstrates that there is something definitely wrong with Lion:


I got this “The document is on a volume that does not support permanent version storage” message out of the blue for a file that is on my default documents partition, which I use all the time, and for which version storage works perfectly fine, thank you very much, including for that particular Numbers file.

Of course, I do not know exactly what I did (or did not do) to trigger this particular alert, but that’s precisely my point: I shouldn’t have to deal with such problems. I shouldn’t have to waste time trying to investigate ways to reproduce bugs that should not exist in the first place, just so that Apple’s engineers will take them seriously enough and fix them.

I compare this with the situation with BBEdit. OK, it’s a single application and not an entire operating system. But they introduced an Auto Save feature a while back, without eliminating the “Save As…” command and disrupting workflows, and it has worked perfectly fine for me ever since. I don’t have to worry about saving files in the application. It keeps even unsaved and untitled documents for me, and it does not throw irritating alerts in my face.

That’s the kind of quality that Apple’s engineers should aspire to. Based on existing builds of Lion, they still have a long way to go.

2 Responses to “Lion’s Auto Save: If it ain’t broke, fix it”

  1. Michael Tsai - Blog - Lion’s Auto Save says:

    […] Pierre Igot: In addition to the questionable design choices and changes made by Apple’s engineers, however, there is also the very real and very problematic introduction of new bugs and new weaknesses. […]

  2. Betalogue » ‘Save As…’ in Mountain Lion says:

    […] brings back the “Save As…” command that was eliminated in Lion with the introduction of the Auto Save feature, it actually does so in a way that is completely misleading (at least to people used to the […]