Lion 10.7 Auto Save and Versions – New habits to learn

Version Browsing Window

Version Browsing Window

Lion – OS X 10.7 comes with some great new file features – Auto Save and Versions, however we need to learn new habits to use these properly as these changes may cause confusion to people who are used to using Save As to produce a new document from an older file. The purpose of the article is to explain how Auto Save and Versions work and how you get the most out of them.

Auto Save

Auto Save will automatically save the file that you are working on, without you having to manually having to go to the menu and click file > Save.

To use the new Auto Save and Versions features you need an App that supports it. TextEdit supports it, as well as the iWork Apps (Pages, Numbers,Keynote) and there is growing support from 3rd Party Apps like iA Writer and OmniGraffle. Microsoft has announced that is it be providing support in Office for Mac 2011 and will be releasing an update in the future. You don’t need to save a file for Auto Save to work, you could simply quit the App that supports Auto Save and your document will be in the same state as you left it when you next open the App. However to use Auto Save properly you should click File > Save. Once you have done this, Save is removed from the file menu and replaced with Save a version. Save a Version will create a snapshot or Version of the document.

Auto Save then saves your work when there is a gap in your editing, or every five minutes if longer.

Before Auto Save, my workflow for creating a new document, based on a previous document ‘template’ would have been something like this :

1. Open the File.

2. Update the file.

3 . Use File > Save As to save the amended file under a new name, preserving the original file.

This workflow was not ideal, because if you forgot to use the Save As command, and just used Save you would have lost your original file.

The workflow above no longer works under Lion because as soon as you start making changes, Lion will save those changes to the original file.

Under Lion the new work flow needs to be :

1. Open the File.

2 Duplicate the file by choosing File > Duplicate from the menu which will create a new copy of the file.

3 Update the duplicated file.

If you accidentally forget to duplicate the file at the start and you make changes to it, you can get back to the original by using Versions.


Versions works hand in hand with Auto Save as each time a save is made it will create a version. Versions brings Time Machine like power to supported Apps in Lion. At any time while in a document you can bring up a versions browsing window that looks like the Time Machine interface.

Versions Menu in Toolbar

Versions Menu in Toolbar

To get to your saved versions you can either click on File > Revert Document and select Browse Versions (Lion will automatically go to the browsing window if you have not made any changes to the file yet) or if you mouse over the filename at the top of the document toolbar you will see a disclosure triangle appear, click this and you will see a drop down menu. Select ‘Browse all versions’

The Versions window provides a side by side comparison of your current document on the left as well as the previous versions on the right. You can use the time line on the right to select an earlier version. You can then click Restore to restore the old version or Done to keep the current version. The Versions Browser window has additional functionality. You can go back and restore pieces of your document, not just the whole thing. If you’re working on a presentation and delete a section, then decide you did want to include that, you can just go pull those slides from a previous version. Same holds true for sections of text.

Version Browsing Window - Text Selection

Version Browsing Window – Text Selection

If you press the Alt key down the Restore button becomes Restore a Copy, so that you can actually create a new file from a previous version as well as keeping the current version. This is handy if you forget to duplicate the file when you started working on it and you want to preserve the original and keep the latest updated version.

Versions - Delete Version

Versions – Delete Version

While in the Versions Browsing window you can also delete older versions. To do this select the version that you want to delete and click the disclosure triangle at the top of the toolbar by the file name. You will get an option to Delete that version. If you press the Alt key down at the same time the option changes to Delete Old Versions – which will delete the version that you have selected and all older versions of the file.

Lion actually keeps all the changes to the documents in a separate hidden folder, not in the document itself, so when you send the file to someone they will not be able to see the version history. This is how it should be, but something to keep in mind if you are copying the file to say a Dropbox folder to work on a different machine later.

Also you don’t have to worry about Lion using up lots of disk space saving the changes to your documents, as Lion will reduce the number of snap shots as file gets older. Lion will keep hourly versions for a day, daily versions for a month, and weekly versions for all previous months.

The disclosure triangle by the file name has other options as well;

Duplicate – Allows you to create a duplicate of the file.

Revert to last Opened Version – Allows you to lose al the changes you have made and revert back to the file that you started with.

Lock – Locks the file so that no further changes can be made until you unlock the file

A locked file will have the word ‘Locked’ by the file name in the toolbar at the top, you can unlock the file by clicking the disclosure triangle by the file name and selecting ‘Unlock’

Lion will automatically lock all files after 2 weeks. You can stop this for happening automatically or change the period of time after which it locks the file by going into Time Machine Preferences > Options.


Auto Save and Versions is a great new feature in Lion and hopefully will banish the sinking feeling that you get when the Application crashes and you realise you forgot to save the file, but people will need to embrace the changes and get used to the new system. It also provides some great new functionality to be able to compare versions as well as copy back selections of your document that you may have inadvertently deleted.





  1. McAllen Apartments  February 9, 2012

    Excellent post! Keep up the informative work!

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