Versions, Autosave and Resume: The Unsung Heroes of Lion

There are a few new features in Lion that you might not have heard about or used yet: Versions, Autosave and Resume. Versions aims to bring the functionality of Time Machine to your documents. This means that you can view several versions of your documents with the changes that happen over time even if you have deleted or added new things to the document.

Autosave is a feature that makes certain apps save your documents automatically after a certain period of time, to avoid losing important changes that you may have made after your previous save. Additionally, Resume, is a feature that allows you to open apps and find them to be in the state that they were in before you closed them. Want to learn more about them?




In order for Autosave and Versions to work with your apps, they need to be updated to work with these new features of Lion. So far, there aren’t many apps that have compatibility with these two features. TextEdit, Preview, and the iWork apps have all been updated to work with them and they are the “flagship” apps for how these features are supposed to work.

As far as third party support goes, it will likely be a while before all developers update their apps to work with these features. Ideally, they would work better with text-editing or office-like apps, but they could work well for anything, even image or video editing. Byword, a popular “distraction-free writing” app is one of the first to adopt the new features. Omnigraffle, a diagram-making app, is also said to have updated to include Versions and Autosave, although I didn’t try it out for myself.

There are several rumors about other apps that are working on updating and adding support for these features. Microsoft is said to be working on an Office update that will add both Versions and Autosave support.


Autosave and Resume



Autosave is a bit confusing for me in that I don’t know how often it saves a document. Apple says that it “saves during pauses in your work and, if you work continuously, it will save after 5 minutes”, but I tried it myself several ways:

  • The first one was by typing a document and force quitting the app. In doing this I simulated a crash that the app may experience with a non-saved document. When I reopened the app, the document popped up just like I had left it. However, I assume this is the new “Resume” feature and not “Autosave”.
  • The second one was by saving a document, adding something else and then quitting the app without saving again. This is the ideal use for Autosave, and it worked. When I opened the document again, the changes I’d done after I had saved were still there.
  • The third way, was by closing an unsaved document that had information in it. Since the document hadn’t been previously saved, Pages asked me if I wanted to save the document in a certain location.

So, technically you can forget about losing documents. Even if it’s due to an app crashing, you’re covered by Lion. Now, the ideal use for autosave is, when you start a new document, save it in the location you’d like it to be in, and then forget everything about it; you can close it, change it, reopen it and do whatever you want to it without having to worry about saving the document again. That is, unless you want to work with Versions on the document.




The first thing you need to know about Versions is that your documents will autosave a new version every hour, so if you want to have your document changes saved more often than that (and believe me, you do if you are writing), you’ll have to keep saving new versions by using Cmd+S, or going into the File menu and using the “Save a Version” button.

Each version that you save will by default go into the Time Machine-like Versions interface, where you can view the current version of the document, go back to the older ones and restore them, or just copy and paste whatever it is that you are missing to the current document.

Now, to go into the Versions interface, you need to click the title of the document on the title bar. A small sub-menu will come up with the button to “Browse All Versions…”, but here you also have a “Revert to Last Saved Version” button and a “Lock” and “Duplicate” button. “Lock” is used when you are done with a document and don’t want any other changes to be made to it. A document will lock itself after two weeks to prevent changes made to it. “Duplicate”, will make a clone of the current document in the same location where the original is, while adding “copy” to the name of the file.

Byword and other third-party apps



You may be asking, how are these features going to work with other apps that aren’t made by Apple? I tried out the Versions and Autosave support in Byword to see how it would function. Unsurprisingly, it worked in exactly the same way as iWork. The autosave works automatically when you start saving a document, and the Versions support is also saved every hour, with the possibility of being saved manually by using the Cmd+S shortcut. This means the only real problem is waiting for developers to update their apps in order for them to work with these features, which shouldn’t be hard considering that Apple has made the feature universally the same.

Although when I tried it, manually saving a version by using the shortcut Cmd+S didn’t work, the developer told me that the problem had already been fixed and the update was awaiting Apple’s approval.


I’m excited about these new features, especially because I have unfortunately had a few problems with document crashes the past. In fact, these new features are so important to me that I have officially switched from Office for Mac, back to iWork, which I hadn’t used in a while. This has also made me more excited to use an app like Byword, as it now feels more complete and secure.

What do you think about these new features? Will you use them anytime soon, or are you going to wait for your favorite apps to be updated to work with them?


Add Yours
  • I really can’t wait for Office for Mac to be updated with these features. I bought Office, and can’t afford both that and iWork. C’mon Microsoft, can’t you update the one thing you made well?

  • iA Writer and Macchiato both have the Autosave and Versions feature already. Work pretty good from my use.

  • Until these features come to _every_ app, I won’t use them. I simply don’t use enough Apple apps to take advantage of this. I don’t even use TextEdit anymore.

    Many Mac users are working with powerful tools from Adobe, et al., and if there was a nice way to do seamless backup and versioning in the OS, we’d welcome it. But at the same time, don’t even try to disrupt our workflow, we’re likely very set in our ways … and busy!

  • Well, these features seem very good at a first glance, but there are scenarios where these solutions are less good. For example, when you wish to make “lets-see-what-happens”-changes in a dokument (usually a spreadsheet). In such scenarios, I do *not* want my changes to be autosaved! Since the dawn of the computer era, one is accustomed to the thinking: If you do not save it, the changes is discarded by simply closing the document. It’s a habit of thinking that’s quite hard to break..

    • This is what “Revert to Saved” is all about. Autosave only saves once an hour, and I’m not entirely sure, but I think if you do revert to saved, it will revert to the last manual save.

  • Do you need to have your Time machine HD permanently connected for Versions and Autosave to work? I don’t normally have my backup disk running all day.

    • Not necessarily. If you have TM connected, it will bring in extra Versions data from your backups, which is great for looking at versions of files from before Lion. However any real versions data is saved locally in the file, meaning you can access it any time.

  • These may be the only features of Lion I don’t like. Sure, the idea of backing up every revision of a file automatically is great, as is the idea of apps which save state when they close. However, neither idea makes a successful migration from iOS to OS X.

    Versions has no off switch, and modifying a file even slightly causes an Autosave. If I make a few lines of changes and don’t want to save them, I now have to wait a few seconds for a Time Machine style browser to open and scroll back to the version I opened, or revert back to the last saved version of the document the next time I open it. What did I have to do before? Close without saving. It should be obvious which is simpler. Yes, never having to worry about a crash is a blessing, but crash protection doesn’t mean that the operating system should guess when I do or don’t want to save. If anything, these to-the-character saves should only be offered on the start of a program after a crash.

    Resume is nice on a mobile device, where switching to a new application means closing the first. Switching between apps on iOS or Android would be incredibly inconvenient if apps don’t save state (Netflix on both mobile platforms doesn’t, meaning checking a text causes you to lose your place in a movie). On a desktop however, the way we interact with applications is different. Quitting an application is only something the user does when finished working. I don’t want Word/Pages to open all the documents I had open last time, because I could just as easily be opening it to work on something completely different.

    I’ve always loved Apple devices for their beautiful simplicity and powerful, robust cores, but it bothers me more and more that Apple is actively discouraging its users from thinking about their data, its organization, and from understanding the technology they use. That discouragement is the essence of Versions and Resume.

  • Thanks a lot for writing an article just on these features. I knew about each of them, but I really needed each to be spelt out for what did what and how.

    I guess technically i’m using this stuff every day. The one problem I have is that when I jump from writing something on my MacBook Air, then switch over to my other computer, that usually resume’s to something else I was writing, so I have to close and open up the document I want every time. The same sort of thing happens when I switch between using iA Writer and ByWord.

    I think for my own sake I need to settle down on my workflow and make it easier on myself.

  • Seth has nailed it. These features are so very annoying. I need to be able to control this. And these features work against my workflow. Example: how does everybody write a letter? You look for the last letter you wrote or the one that fits most. You do a save as. Now this isn’t possible anymore. In Lion Apple is in charge and not I anymore, which I strongly dislike.

  • I find Versions very useful, specially with Pages, because I can bring back a sentence or a paragraph that I modified or deleted at any time. Compared to other version control systems, Versions is very easy to use.

    Of course I would like the same feature in all third party apps, but in certain cases, I’d prefer to have more control.

  • Lovely new functions but i wish all apps could support the full screen mode!

  • Is it at all possible to have resume turned on for only certain applications? I can see it being useful at times, but for web browsing and a few other apps, it’s kind of annoying.

  • I’m a big fan of versions in iWork products. Great for treating it like a code project with version control, where I can save a version every time I make major changes.

    Autosave and Resume are also pretty nice all over, although it would be good to have a closing option that wouldn’t reopen all the windows previously open. Can become a bit tedious when you open an app ready to start something fresh and have other windows open up.

    I’d love to see an implementation of versions in programs like Xcode or Coda. Sure, they both already have version control systems in place, but having the option to use Lion Versions for simpler local projects would be fantastic.

  • Are you sure that Autosave protects documents from app crash or power loss? So app saves a document on every keystroke? I seriously doubt that.

  • Autosave is a time bomb waiting for Microsoft Office support to explode. Few people realize exactly what it does because not many people use apps that support it right now. Get this:

    You open a spreadsheet to play a few what-if scenarios, not intending to save it. You change a bunch of things around and then close the window. The app doesn’t ask or give any notification at all, but it SAVES all your changes, and has been saving them as you make them. If you realize you’ve done this, you can Revert to Saved before you close, or you can re-open it and use Versions to go back to the last real “saved” version (if you happen to know exactly what time it was saved)

    But wait, it gets worse!

    Suppose that document is on a server… VERY common in an office environment. Well, Versions doesn’t work on server-hosted file. But Autosave does! So now, Autosave has done its thing, overwriting your original file with all your temporary what-if changes… AND THERE IS NO WAY BACK! You’d have to restore the original file from the server’s backups.

    As of 10.7.1, there is no way to disable autosave or versions at the system level, though at least one app that supports them (Graphic Converter) gives you the option of using Autosave/Versions or the old way, with the old way being the default.

    • That sounds awfully broken. Hope Apple does something about that before I get my new Mac.

  • Apple continues in its task: spoiling the user from any decision, and not allowing a power user to have his own workflow.

    The whole thing about modern times, is pushing us far from reality, and fooling us to live in a dreamworld of brands and consumerism.
    Apple is the flagship of all this.

    No competition.
    No thinking.
    Don’t worry about your documents, we will save them for you.
    Don’t worry about HD space, we decide how to manage it, and eventually force you to buy a bigger HD.

    After switching from windows to mac a few years ago, maybe times are mature enough to switch back from mac to windows.
    I already work with a virtual machine with windows on my mac, but if also as home appliance, Apple becomes more and more Big Brother, they can forget my $.

    Apple products:
    Hello user, welcome to a whole world of happiness, but give us your credit card details first! (oh, and forget to use app store in english, if your credit card is from a chinese bank)

    This is not about quality of products, but we have to open our eyes. Apple is a big corporation, as big and as mean as Monsanto and Nestle.

    They only want to control our lifestyle, and use us to generate profit. Making us dumber and dumber in the use of technology, is another technique of mind control.

    Yes, safety is a public right, but paranoia is a private pleasure :)