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Do You Use It? Versions

In macOS 14.4.1 Sonoma, Apple fixed a bug introduced in 14.4 that caused iCloud Drive files evicted from the local drive to lose their version data (see “macOS 14.4.1 Sonoma and macOS 13.6.6 Ventura Fix Bugs and Vulnerabilities,” 25 March 2024). The bug was problematic in that it caused data loss, but I had trouble believing that many people were affected, given that you had to:

  • Run macOS 14.4
  • Use apps that support Apple’s versioning system
  • Store those files in iCloud Drive
  • Enable Optimize Mac Storage
  • Have files with versions evicted, either automatically or manually
  • Care that version data was lost

For that last requirement to be true, you would have to know that versioning exists and use it frequently enough to notice the loss of the version data. I turn to it a few times per year to recover from an undesirable edit in Preview because File > Revert To is easier than retaking a screenshot. But am I representative of TidBITS readers?

That triggers the question for this week’s Do You Use It? poll: How often do you use macOS’s versioning feature? Did you even know that macOS had built-in versioning? And if you use it frequently, tell us more in the comments.

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Comments About Do You Use It? Versions

Notable Replies

  1. I checked ‘Occaisionally’, but that means almost never (I.e,. maybe 1 or 2 times a year for Pages).

  2. No problem—Occasionally is the correct answer for you, then, because it shows that you know about the feature and do use it when it’s necessary. There’s no way to predict how often you’ll find yourself needing it, but it could be once a month or once a year.

    Frequently is for people who have somehow built versions into their workflow such that they’re regularly reverting to older versions.

  3. I selected Never. At least never intentionally.

    I have turned off Auto Save in the System Preferences (Mojave) but cannot turn off versioning. Onyx has a feature to remove versioned files and I use that from time to time.

    (Anyone remember versioning in VAX/VMS? Now that was really cool!)

  4. This one’s easy - never.

  5. I put in never as well, but I just used it for the first time a few weeks ago, just once, when I was trying to create a single jpeg of my license front and back from scanned copies of each, and I accidentally saved when I shouldn’t have.

    I have also, long in the past, once or twice restored an older version of a file from Dropbox’s web site.

    I’m glad the feature exists, though.

  6. I remember well VMS on a VAX and loved versioning since it was both useful and obvious (the version numbers were after the filename preceded by a “;”). I voted occasionally since I was aware of the feature and might have used it once or twice, but it was certainly less obvious than in VMS.

  7. When it first came out, you had to go out of your way to not use it. I did (go out of my way.) Fortunately, now I don’t have too. I just don’t.

  8. Out of interest, why would you want to turn it off or spend the time and hassle of removing versioned files? I can understand not using the versions, but why not just ignore the versioning system?

  9. It does? I can’t find it in the Monterey version. Is it in Ventura or newer?

  10. I turn versioning off because I don’t use it – and don’t want it to save versions. I use Onyx from time to time so I simply enable the check box for removing versions. No hassle at all.

    I’m still using Mojave. Here’s a screen shot.

  11. At work versioning doesn’t play nice with our servers or removable media, which precludes its use. At home its function is handled sufficiently by ‘undo’ or a backup

  12. Thanks, David,

    That option is no longer available in Monterey Onyx. The other five “Misc. options:” are still there. I was curious because as I understand the “System Preferences” Help, for Monterey, I have versioning turned off. I can certainly find no trace of the files. But the “Help” is vague, and never really even mentions “Versioning.” It just seems to be what they are talking about.

  13. I use it rarely because undo works for my purposes. Losing work just doesn’t seem to happen. I can happily do a system update without saving work, and files just reopen where they were.

    I know i shouldn’t do that, but i love that I can!

  14. The one place I want it is for Notes. And Notes does not support versioning.

  15. I have used versioning rarely (once or twice in 10 years maybe) in DropBox, I never knew Mac had this. I have also occasionally used the Microsoft OneDrive versioning on my work Mac (again, may be once or twice over years). I prefer to manually manage my versioning by saving the old copy with a date-time suffix if I think I might need the older version for something. The minor clutter this creates if worth the effort for occasional use.

  16. I think the last time I used versioning was on a Univac 1108 where it was built-in to the operating system, Exec 8 (that’s back in 1978 for you young folks). Haven’t used it since and haven’t missed it.

  17. Perhaps, a more useful response:

    Long before Apple put out versioning, I had developed my own, more subjective, but less resource wasteful, “versioning,” ironically, based around “File / Save As…” Basically, if I had made a significant deletion or reorganization that I wasn’t entirely convinced of, I did a “Save As” that tacked a description of the change on to the file name. Then rather than some meaningless version number in a difficult to find (root) folder, I knew why I had saved it, and whether I still wanted to save it. If Apple had actually removed “Save As” as originally planned, I would not be participating in an Apple forum.

  18. I checked “Never” because I use High Sierra.

  19. I like the way BBEdit has implemented versioning and I’ve occasionally found it very useful. In BBEdit: Search > Find Differences > Compare Against Previous Version…

  20. It’s been around since OS X 10.7 Lion, so you can give it a try!

  21. It’s handy when I make changes and want to revert some of them, but not others. I also use Time Machine too.

  22. I voted Frequently. I have, for more than 10 years, successfully used Numbers for “online collaborative spreadsheets which are fully editable” to allow all team members (40 to 50 players) to record their availability for each week’s competitions (with auto-colorising responses along with conditional highlighting) for players to choose from, from a drop-down menu. (or add other info in a notes cell, etc).
    Invariably, as many are non-computer savvy persons, and perhaps using Windows computers, or iPad or iPhone devices (Android devices can see, but can’t edit) to choose from the dropdown menu, and may mess things up including deleting a sheet totally.
    With Versioning and tracking changes (called Activity) I can use Versioning to go back in time to get the spreadsheet back to functioning correctly again.
    And I like the idea that one can just grab a section of the “in the past” data, copy it, and bring it into the “now” document and paste the old data into the new document.
    Highly recommended for all collaborative documents.

  23. Thanks, Adam. I thought you meant using it in Sonoma.

  24. I’m still soured from my experiences years ago. When trying to look at earlier versions, the Mac ended up corrupting EVERYTHING. After a while I started doing copy-paste of the files contents to another file, knowing that my actual file was going to end up corrupted. After a while longer I stopped trying to use versions entirely. I’m still not willing to take a gamble.

  25. I’ve used versioning once or twice in NisusWriter Pro. Never anywhere else. That’s once or twice in about five years. If it went away, I’d just be a little more careful. Never used it in iCloud, which I no longer trust after I did something that caused it to not just back up my files but start erasing them in their expected locations. (Yes, I must have done something that made it happen, but it should have warned me!)

  26. When I became aware of versioning’s existence, long time ago, I tried it once just to see how it works. Never used it since, I voted “never”.

  27. I didn’t know about versioning. The only versioning I’ve used is Time Machine.

    Also I don’t optimize disk storage because then you can’t do backups like Carbon Copy Cloner or Blackblaze, right? I don’t know about Time Machine in that case.

    That’s why I have 2 TB on my MBP M1 2021. I want to make sure I have one local place with everything on it in addition to my external and cloud backups.

  28. It’s the same with TM. Once something has been evicted it will no longer be backed up locally. I guess one could argue the iCloud version is the backup, but some of us prefer to have one unified local backup under own control. Personally, I would never turn on optimize disk storage and I always suggest getting so much disk capacity that users won’t have to resort to something like that. Apple’s config options are silly overpriced for sure, but I’d rather pay that than wrestle with eviction and the potential one-way road it becomes. And since resale value of Macs is usually excellent, I’d argue that if you run into capacity limits, it’s probably a good idea to consider a new Mac so you don’t have to deal with eviction.

  29. I have never had any issues with versioning and it can be quite helpful to fix edits.

  30. I voted Never. I know versioning exists, but have never felt the need to explore it as an option. Perhaps I am just set in my old-fashioned ways: I sometimes save a new copy of a file if I want to preserve the original in case I might need it later. Once that potential need is no longer relevant, I delete any earlier copies.

  31. When versioning was first introduced, it didn’t work for me. When I tried to browse the versions, I got an error “files of type http:// are not supported” or something like that. Others had it too, based on various discussions. Apple ignored that problem until sometime between Mojave and Monterey (I skipped the intervening releases), so I found it was fixed in Monterey. I figured if Apple didn’t care enough about versioning to make it work for everyone, why should I?

    Besides, as a senior citizen, either “Save As” or making a copy first is more intuitive than me.

    Finally, somewhere along the line, I found a bug in Preview that when I duplicated a file and then made a change to that duplicate and saved it, the change was also applied to my original. Not helpful.

    So “Never” for me.

  32. I know a lot of Pages and Numbers people who end up having to use Revert quite often. Why they are deleting or “losing” their working copy of their document so often I have never figured out. lol

  33. I responded “never”. I have a few recollections from the earliest incarnation of versioning in MacOS and found it abysmal. I can’t remember what I did about it anymore. But I’ve completely forgotten about it or turned it off (maybe?). I can’t say that I remember that option in Onyx to remove doc versions (on Monterey :smiling_face_with_tear: ). Maybe I’ve got a bunch of old versions … off to look.

  34. I’m familiar with versioning, but I did not know it was available in iCloud.

  35. I choose “Never”, because that’s closer to “Almost Never” than it is to “Occasionally”. :tongue:

  36. I suspect we’d have seen much greater adoption of the “Versions” feature if Apple had been successful at killing “Save As” back in Lion. The addition of Versions and the removal of “Save As” clearly were related to each other.

  37. If I remember correctly, versioning was introduced at the same time as Apple’s revised document model that did away with “Save As”. That same document model requires me to press “Delete” every time I want to close an unsaved document, which really doesn’t feel right to me. Why am I deleting if I never intended to save anything?

    Tinderbox is probably the only third party app I use that has adopted Apple’s new document model. It used to save copies in a special folder but switched to using versioning at the same time. Several years ago I had a document that got corrupted. No worries, I thought, I’ll go back in versions. But I couldn’t get to them. Every time I tried to open my corrupted document Tinderbox crashed. And versioning is only accessible if you are able to open the document. Arghh.

    I can see a couple of ideological flaws in Apple’s versioning model. It’s already been mentioned above that versioning doesn’t work when you transfer documents between macs, or store them on a server. But for me, the bigger worry now is that I don’t know exactly where all my documents might be stored. Imagine for example that I need to travel to a country where I need to take seriously the possibility that the secret polic might want to examine my computer. I could think that I’ve deleted all my sensitive files, but Apple have very kindly made a stash of them (including their editing history) that I can’t access (and may not even know about). Of course I know that Howard Oakley is my friend (thanks, by the way), but I can imagine most people in that situation wouldn’t.

  38. Just in case this wasn’t sarcasm, it’s because the act of creating a new document automatically creates a file in some temporary location, to which your edits are auto-saved.

    When you close the file, you then need to specify where you want to keep it for real, or delete that temporary file without moving it anywhere.

  39. Yes, so the fact that I rely on autosave and Resume to always open and reopen an “unsaved” document or three in TextEdit across restarts is genuinely awesome. But that doesn’t really require versions and the parallel universe of UI and storage required to support them, it just requires a distinction between a document that is intentionally saved, or not. The problems really start, in my opinion, when there’s a disconnect between an already-saved file that hasn’t had changes since, and the same file where changes have been made but no indication exists in the file system and closing the app doesn’t prompt you (either because windows are configured not to reopen when you quit and relaunch, or you explicitly close and aren’t prompted, both of which preferences I always habitually change). I think autosaved versions need to correspond with the on-disk file, or otherwise you risk operating on or transferring a file that’s not actually canonical in the way you may be mislead into thinking it is.

    And yes, I fully accept that this is a difficult thing to do right in a way that would be pleasing to everyone, but as it stands I’d rather just do without versioning at all, and have robust Resume and autosaving. I think Apple overegged the pudding here.

  40. Agreed, adding complexity to make life simple isn’t logical. Life was so much easier when Apple trusted people to manage their own files and systems. I’ve never understood the reasoning behind the removal of Save As (which I’ve re-instated) and the entire Duplicate process has never made sense to me - I hate to think what new users would think.

    My elderly mother (may she RIP) could barely manage a save; the duplicate process would have been enough to have her giving up altogether.

  41. I only use it in Preview because it has no “Save As” function. I prefer “Save As” and use it in any program that still supports it, because the concept is so much clearer. I have a doc, I want a variation of the doc, I make some changes, “Save As…” and the doc is untouched, while the file I “Saved As…” becomes something new. Without the “Save As” I make changes, export the result, then revert to the last version before the changes. I find this Apple improvement to be be insane. I repeat, I only need versions because they took away “Save As”.

  42. Or you could just make a copy of the original at the start and make your changes to the new copy.

  43. ‘Save As…’ has not disappeared as a possible menu command, but ‘Duplicate’ took its place in the File Menu. If you option-tap Duplicate, it will change to ‘Save As…’.

    By the way, I made the change back when Apple introduced the menu change back in OSX Lion, and Iit has survived through Sonoma.

  44. You’re in luck! I wrote about how to bring back Save As many years ago. :-)

    Howard Oakley has a nice piece on versions this morning.

  45. I have one device where “optimize disk storage” is off, and that’s the one hooked up to Time Machine. The others, I turn it on and try not to save anything that isn’t backed up to the cloud.

  46. Hm. If “Revert to Last Saved” counts, then I use it a lot more than I thought.

  47. I can understand how it is useful for Howard, who does extensive coding, even considering the time he has spent understanding how it works and dealing with its vagaries and bugs (like the one in 14.4). For many of us, though, good old Save As… is much simpler to understand and control. Apple should have made the new document model an option, as it is when we put Save As… back on the menu and Duplicate remains there as well.

  48. I didn’t know that versioning existed. When I checked my Microsoft Word documents it is not available—apparently with Microsoft 365 you must be using OneDrive which I’m not. I really wish that I had known about this when using Preview to edit images!

  49. I can’t speak for Howard’s workflow, but for my own extensive software development, I’d never rely on something like Versions, which acts automatically on a per-file basis.

    When I’m developing software, I may save a file dozens or hundreds of times while I’m working on it, to protect against my editor crashing or a power outage or something similar. But I don’t want the system to retain all of those saves (or auto-saves) as versions of the file, because none of those changes are useful until the work has progressed to a functional milestone. And even then, they usually only make sense in conjunction with many other files that are all being modified in order to implement a feature or fix a bug.

    Instead, I use a version control system (today I’m using Git, but I’ve used many different packages in the past). This lets me track my changes over time, but in a way that works for software development:

    • When I “commit” files to a new revision, I name all the files that must go together for the logical revision. They are all associated together, so when I try to roll-back changes, I will either get them all or none of them.

    • There is a system of “branching”. For instance, maybe I’m working on version 3 of my app. But I’m still supporting version 2. So I can make a branch of the code, starting with the version I released as version 2. I can make changes to the version 2 branch without those changes affecting version 3.

      I can switch between the version 2 branch and the version 3 branch at will, and the revision control system will automatically add/remove/change all the files needed to change my development environment between the most recent files on each branch.

    • There is a robust system of “merging”. So if I make a change to version 3, I can use tools to automatically apply that change (which may involve changes to dozens of files) to the version 2 branch without forcing everything to be copied over. Along with a system of conflict resolution so I can jump in and tell the system what to do when it can’t figure out how to automatically apply one or more of the changes.

    Apple’s version system may be useful for working on single documents, especially in the presence of an auto-save mechanism, but I can’t imagine it being particularly useful in a professional software development environment or in a publishing environment (where changes to multiple files may need to be tracked and managed as a group).

  50. Yes. Microsoft Office doesn’t use Apple’s versions. Instead it relies on a cloud storage system that has version-tracking capability (e.g. OneDrive and SharePoint). If your document isn’t stored on such a cloud-based file system (or a local folder configured to sync with it), then you don’t get version control.

  51. YES, recently this function saved my bacon on several files that accidentally had things changed on both a laptop (MBP16 M1Max) and a desktop (Studio), for which the main Time Machine backups hadn’t had time to notice in between their backups.

    This is a VERY good feature Apple have implemented here, is can quite literally cover you between main backups, when edits have been made in files.

    EDIT: Separately I use the Save As option-FILE menu as well, to quickly save off a copy, BTW. So both are not mutually exclusive features.

  52. Ken

    Yes, I’m using Git because I’m preparing lecture notes with some other academics. We are using quarto with R and Stata code included and it produces the output. The only trouble I’ve had is getting it to ignore certain files. At some stage I will probably setup the programs that I’ve written to be on Git.

  53. You can specify filenames and wildcard patterns for files that Git is supposed to ignore.

    The simplest way to use this is to add one or more .gitignore files to your repository. You can place it in any directory managed by Git and it will affect all files in that directory and its subdirectories.

    See also Git - gitignore Documentation

  54. I have loved Versions since the day it was released. For me it’s not how much or how often I use it. It’s the security of having it there to use when I need it.

  55. I use it once or twice a year for Pages and Keynote files.

  56. First said NO, but here learned I have used it without knowing — reverting a Preview image.

    I don’t use Time Machine for save-your-day’s-work, so that limits its practicality.

  57. Yeah, there are LOTS of things I liked about VMS. I was system administrator for our lab system, it was the easiest system to manage.

    But when I was using VMS, it was for software development or for editing documents, etc. Versions were quite useful there. These days, I’m not doing any software and not much document editing. And if I am doing serious text construction, I’ll use EMACS (Aquamacs) because of 40 years of muscle memory :slight_smile: EMACS does its own versioning.

    Of course, simple file versioning is no replacement for source code control. If I were doing serious software, I’d want a LOCAL version control system that can manage collections of file versions together. (I don’t trust cloud-anything, including cloud software repositories like GitHub, for critical data.)

    (And a true story about VMS: Another guy was the original sysadmin for our R&D lab system. The Vax was brand new, and he was still learning VMS when he queued up a batch job to run overnight. His account had EXQUOTA enabled, and there was an error/loop in his batch job. When we came in the next day, the entire disk was filled up by the logfile from that batch job. Cleaning that up was an experience. And then I told him, “Lesson learned: Always run a job with least privilege.” He was very embarrassed. But fortunately that was just an R&D lab resource so no real time was lost on anything important.)

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