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The Problem with Lion’s Duplicate Command

Mac OS X 10.7 Lion’s new Auto Save feature is one of the highlights of the operating system revision, especially for inexperienced users. It removes the need to remember to press Command-S (or take a mouse trip to choose File > Save) in applications that support the feature. Lion automatically and continuously saves every change to disk. Auto Save works alongside Versions, which provides the means to restore part or all of an earlier draft of a document.

However, one casualty of the feature is the age-old “Save As” command, used to create and then work on a new file with the same contents as the original. Save As has been replaced by a cumbersome duplicate-and-then-save behavior. I posted an annoyed message on Twitter that read, “Apple, really, ‘Save As’ worked perfectly well. This whole Lion make-a-duplicate-and-then-save model is a pain in the ass.”

I heard from many people agreeing with me (some even noting that it’s one reason they’re not yet upgrading to Lion), and from several who took me to task because I’m a “power user” and not in touch with regular Mac users who don’t know the difference between Save and Save As. In broad strokes, Lion’s Auto Save is a great feature, and will prevent people from losing work because they forget to save regularly. But, as I’ll describe here, the new behavior makes the outcome of what you’re trying to accomplish just as confusing — and sometimes more so — than sticking with the tried-and-true Save As command.

Programs must be revised for Lion to offer Auto Save instead of Save As, and, thus, you won’t see Auto Save in all the software you use. All of Apple’s software that manage documents and that has been updated for Lion features Auto Save.

How Auto Save Works — The idea behind Auto Save is that the user doesn’t have to worry at all about saving a document. In iOS, your expectation is that any work you perform in an app will be retained no matter if you switch to another program or put the device to sleep. You trust that your document will be exactly as you left it when you return. That’s what Auto Save offers: If a program crashes, you quit a program, or you shut the computer down, when you return to the application, documents are in precisely the state in which you left them.

Whenever a document in a supported application is opened, a new version is stored. A new version is also created every hour, and when you quit the program with open documents containing changes. (The version is stored in lieu of asking you to save, though saves happen much more frequently.) You can also manually create a new version by choosing File > Save a Version, which I’ll talk about more in the next section, as it relates to making a duplicate.

If you realize you want to use a paragraph that you deleted earlier or undo some other changes you made, the Versions feature can pull up a previous draft.

Select File > Revert Document and click the Browse All Versions button. You can also hover over the document title to get a small downward-facing triangle, click it, and then chose Browse All Versions from the drop-down menu. This lets you use Versions to see all earlier drafts and copy and paste what you want — or revert to an earlier version in its entirety.


In Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and earlier, and in most applications that do not yet support Lion’s Auto Save feature, a common way to achieve this same sort of version management is to choose File > Save As, which brought up a Save dialog box where you could choose a new filename and, in many cases, optionally change the file’s format. Once saved, you would be working on the new document you created, leaving the prior version of the file untouched back to the point at which it was last saved.

The advantage to the Save As approach is that it’s easy to keep track of revisions by name, and even if the current document becomes corrupted, there’s still another one, or five, or ten, to fall back on. The downside is that a folder can quickly become cluttered with many revised files.

(I’ve long relied on Dropbox, too, which automatically stores changes to files without any intervention on every manual save, and lets you download older versions via its Web interface.)

Lion’s Versions feature collapses everything into one neat collection. You’re working in just one document, and you can access all saved versions in a Time Machine-style interface. But that neatness gets subverted when you want to save a separate version to create a new starting point.

The Duplicate Confusion — The Auto Save/Versions approach works well when you’re intending to keep one master document, but there are also situations where you need discrete files. Suppose you’re job hunting and want several versions of your resumé, each highlighting a particular skill or past employer. It’s not practical to jump between revisions using Versions, so instead you want to create a new document based on an existing one.

If you’re working in an application that uses Lion’s new behavior, such as Pages or TextEdit, choose File > Duplicate. A new window appears with the contents of your document, named the same as the original file.

If you’ve been using computers for a while and are accustomed to saving often manually, you can press Command-S or choose File > Save to save the file. The program displays the Save dialog box in which you rename the file; or, you can keep the existing name, which appends “copy” to the end.

My first problem with this sequence is that it’s now two steps, duplicate and then save, where Save As was just one. For people accustomed to using Save As, it’s annoying extra work. It’s also not clear that after you duplicate a document, you then need to save it.

But the bigger issue is that, in an Auto Save world, why should anyone do this? It turns out you don’t need to; you can continue working on the new document. However, things get more confusing, especially for less-experienced users.

In Pages, I created a test document, made a duplicate, and started working in the copy without choosing File > Save. According to Apple, Lion saves “during pauses in your work and, if you work continuously, it will save after 5 minutes.” I added and edited text, inserted a photo, and occasionally paused and switched to other applications (Safari, Twitterrific, Mail) like normal.

During this time, I was never prompted to save and rename the document, and the Auto Save/Versions indicator in the document’s title bar never appeared to reveal the state as “Edited.” As far as I could tell, the document wasn’t being saved at all.

I next attempted a more dramatic test: I quit the application. If Lion wasn’t auto-saving, I would immediately lose all of my work. Apple wants users to not have to worry about saving at all, remember, and let the operating system and applications deal with that overhead.

When I restarted Pages, the duplicate reappeared — thanks to Lion’s Resume feature, since I didn’t first close the document before quitting — with all of my edits intact. Hooray! Still, Lion exhibited a few quirks.

I couldn’t revert any edits to before the time the duplicate was made. The Undo history was lost and there was no version created since the file wasn’t saved. That’s not unexpected: the Undo history is also lost if you quit with an open document that isn’t in this state of quantum uncertainty.

But here’s the kicker: What happens when I want to send the file to someone else, or upload it to iCloud so I can work on it on my iPad? In the Finder, the file does not exist. It hasn’t yet been formally saved, so the duplicate is apparently stored as a temporary copy somewhere inaccessible to most users.

The solution? Close the file or select File > Save to bring up the Save dialog box and choose a new name for the file and specify its destination folder — which is the same as if I had been able to choose Save As in the first place.

Of course, alternative approaches to duplicating and dealing with template-like files remain. You can select the file in the Finder and choose File > Duplicate (Command-D) to make a duplicate that you then rename manually before opening. Or, for files that you always want to duplicate, you can select the file in the Finder, choose File > Get Info (Command-I), and check the Stationery Pad checkbox. From then on, double-clicking the file in the Finder causes a duplicate to be created (with “copy” at the end of its filename) in the same folder as the original and then opened for editing.

And I will admit that, when working within a document, duplicating and then saving it later does make some conceptual sense. But why the delay between creating the duplicate and saving it to disk? Why doesn’t choosing Duplicate open the new window and automatically, quickly, let you choose how to save the document?

Well, I do know the answer: That’s not how it’s done on iOS, where filenames are afterthoughts. And, presumably, in a future version of Mac OS X with a single-application mode and possibly no Finder, we won’t need to deal with files at all. We’re not yet at that point — Mac OS X is too reliant on filesystem organization — but Lion is taking a big step in that direction with Auto Save.

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