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?