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OS X Mountain Lion: Data Loss via 'Save As'

Last updated August 04, 2012 - Send Feedback

Update Dec 20, 2012: Apple appears to have fixed this in a way by adding a “Keep changes in original document” checkbox in the save dialog. Bandaids are better than nothing. It is also possible to add a keyboard shortcut for Save As, which is partially hidden (option key).

OS X Lion 10.7 removed the Save As command; see Save As Command Forces Multi-Step Workaround, Data Destruction.

But use of Save As is not recommended in general, see below.

NOTE: my comments are made assuming that the Ask to keep changes when closing documents preference is enabled (checked) in System Preferences => General. Otherwise, things are always saved anyway, anytime, another related headache.

Goodbye to your original version

If one edits a document, then chooses Save As, then BOTH the edited original document and the copy are saved, thus not only saving a new copy, but silently saving the original with the same changes, thus overwriting the original.

If you notice this auto-whack, you can “Revert To” the older version*** (manually), but if you don’t notice, then at some later date you’ll be in for a confusing surprise. And maybe an OMG-what-happened (consider a customer invoice that was overwritten).

And recovery of the prior version is an 'if': IF the older file versions are still secreted away somewhere. (I dislike auto-versioning as I have no control over the process or even an understanding of the space used or how long the versions will be kept, etc).

To take what was perfect functionality for decades and corrupt it in this way shows a disturbing disregard for the needs of serious users. Being cool with new underlying features (versioning) is not an excuse for wrecking highly useful features. It is not just weak sauce, it is E. Coli sauce.

*** Also known as “unfucking”.

Reader comments

Dave W writes:

It doesn't surprise me that "Save As" doesn't work "as advertised". After all "Save" doesn't work "as advertised".

In Apple's brave new world, there is no "Save" or "Save As". Everything you do is recorded, and you can always go back to previous versions of your work. There is no real destruction. It's just not working the way we want it to work.

Apple shifted the paradigm out from under our feet. I too find myself lost. In software support, this is known as a "problem occurring in the first half of the 'user interface'". For over 50 years, computer users have had to explicitly save their work. You didn't save it, it was lost. We even got into the habit of saving our work every so often in case the computer crashed, and hours of work was lost. The original Mac's big contribution: It reminded us to save our work when we quit the program. Now, there is no more save, and we can't wrap our minds around it.

As I said before, I find it confusing - especially since only Apple's software works this way and no one else has adopted it yet. However, my kids think its great and that its a big improvement over the old way. After all, it works the same way the iPhone, the iPad, and even most Android applications work. They'll grow up in a world without dial tones and paper money. We will reminisce about the good old days when you had to get up from the couch to change the television channel, we actually talked on our telephones, and we use to have to save documents on our computer. And we liked it!

In a certain sense, Apple has solved the "Save" icon problem. In Microsoft Office, the Saved Icon is a floppy disk -- an artifact unknown to most computer users. Many proposals have been submitted for a new Save icon. Apple's solution: Get rid of the Save command, and there's no need for an icon.

I've been working in the computer industry since the late 1970s, and have seen changes over and over again. Someone once asked me how many computer languages I knew over the course of my career, and I counted over 15. Of those, almost all of them are obsolete. I was once one of the best Cadol programmers in the country. That and a subway token won't even get me across town. The subway no longer takes tokens.

The way forward is to forget about Save As, and go back to "Duplicate" which works with Apple's new saveless paradigm. After all, there are two times I use Save As.

* One is when I am not sure I want to keep what I wrote. In that case, I should simply quit. If I change my mind, I can revert to my last saved.
* The other is I am modifying a document for another client. I should hit Duplicate as soon as I open the document, then do my modifications. This is safer than the old "Save As" route where I have to remember not to "Save".

I've been through these changes in user interfaces designs many times over, and the best thing to do is get use to it. The end of Save and Save As is nigh, and we'll just have to pretend to get use to it.

DIGLLOYD: Sheep in a fenced pasture will eat whatever is growing.

The basic problem here is violation of longstanding assumptions. The Apple mindset, now a what-sells-mass-market heavily consumer oriented “we know better, take your medicine, wait 3 years for your stupid Mac Pro we’d rather not bother with. Because we build shiny stuff for teenagers for music and videos, for people with time on their hands”. Well, that’s an exaggeration in part, but not too far off the mark.

And so the sheep will munch away. The truth is that the new way is much more confusing than the old way— the old way required no special dialogs or explanations— which is “better” then? Simple elegance or something provoking confusion and discussion? As evidence I'll point to my own confusion, and the emails I’ve received, which show a variety of understanding and misunderstanding and lack of awareness of how to control the behavior! And why does Apple even offer the “Ask to keep changes when closing documents” setting if it all smells so rosy? Evidence enough that something is rotten. Well, I agree it will settle in over time, just as a bad stomach-ache finally goes away.

“There is no real destruction”. This is true (at least until the drive fills up?) But tell that to confused users who don’t understand and have never used Time Machine and who have no concept of the feature or capability. Technical arguments have no weight when a user doesn’t have any idea of what is going on, and won’t use a feature they don’t know exists. Or who have longstanding experience whose assumptions are not thrown away.

To "get used to it” might be the only answer, but I am not a “kid who thinks its great” with time to waste. But Dave W is certainly right that there is and will be no choice. It's like the weather, except that in this case, someone at Apple just knows what is best for me. iNanny.


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