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Archive for February 19th, 2019

by Tom Nelson

Auto Save and versions has been a feature of the Mac OS since OS X Lion was released, in the summer of 2011. That’s a long time for a very helpful file versioning system to be available in the Mac, but it remains largely overlooked.

If you’re wondering what file versioning is and what it does, you’re not alone. To understand its use, you need to go back to the earlier days of the Mac. Back when it was not uncommon to lose a great deal of work because an app crashed or the system crashed.

The Revert To command in the File menu of most apps allows you to access earlier versions of the currently open document. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

This fear of lost work convinced many Mac users to adopt a workflow that includes saving work often, and saving any work in progress before performing any type of system function, such as copying files, launching an app, or downloading files.

The bad old days of the Mac are pretty much ancient history, swept away by bug fixes, better development practices, and features like Auto Save and file versioning.

Auto Save and Versioning
Not all apps support file versioning. In some cases, it’s just because the app developer chose not to use the standard file API provided by Apple, and instead rolled their own, likely because they needed some capability not included in the native file manager. Or, the developer’s app wouldn’t work well with Auto Save and versioning because of the way it forces saves to occur without the user’s request. Think multimedia editing apps, where you don’t want the edits you’re working on to replace the original files until you’re ready to commit to the changes.

For just about every other type of app, Auto Save and versions can ensure you never lose a significant amount of work, and allows you to revert to earlier versions of a document.

How Auto Save and Versions Work
Auto Save and versions are two parts of the file versioning system; you need both for the process to work. If an app is designed to support versions, then it also supports Auto Save. File versioning is built into the file manager, and is part of the Document Architecture that Apple provides. It’s not part of Time Machine, nor is it reliant on any feature or service of Time Machine. The two are often confused because the Version History viewer looks almost the same as the Time Machine interface. And while they both allow access to earlier versions of a file, that’s where their similarities diverge.

Versioning occurs when you create a new document in an app that supports the Auto Save and versioning feature. Once you perform the original save or save as, the saved copy is stored as the current version. At this point the app will automatically take periodic snapshots of the open document, saving them as a new current version. The older version isn’t lost; instead it becomes a previous version.

Apps have a second way to ensure your work is saved automatically. While actively working on a document, if you take a break by not performing any tasks with the document, or move focus away from the document, say to view a web site, the app will take another snapshot, creating another new version of the document. In this way, a failure, a freeze, or a crash of your Mac, or any of its apps, will likely result in no significant loss of work.

The last way an app can create a version is with the good old-fashioned Save command. You will still find Save in an app’s file menu, along with the usual keyboard shortcut (Command + S). The only difference is that now the app creates a new current version, adding to the version history.

All those previous versions of a document can be accessed from within the app, letting you return to a previous version of a document. Made a mistake in a document edit and need to go back to what was there a few hours ago? Auto Save and versions makes this an easy task. We’ll take a closer look at accessing version history in a bit, but first…

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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