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OS X Lion Version control, the File menu, and me


I love Lion's idea of consumer-grade version control, which Apple calls Auto Save and Versions. I'm just not particularly happy with its GUI. That's because it relies on a new vocabulary of menu choices and on users understanding what's going on under the hood.

Take the save options for example. You can "save a version," "duplicate," etc. These are very good tasks to do. My question though is if these are the right tasks and the right names for the typical Lion user.

If you go out and ask a bunch of people what the "save a version" menu item means, you're going to get a lot of answers, many of which don't agree. In Lion, this menu option creates a new revision point for your document, committing your changes into the version control system for your file.

After saving a version, you can later revert to that save by browsing versions or by reverting to the most recent commit point. It's like Time Machine for document edits, and it's very, very handy.

As a developer, that's familiar ground. We've been doing this stuff for aeons.

For consumers, it's new. It's somewhat ground breaking. It's really putting the consumer's needs first. This is what Apple should be doing, where it should be innovating.

The problem is this. That "save a version" description doesn't really communicate what's going on. This is why you get all those diverging and conflicting "explanations" of what the menu option does. It's not expressing itself well.

I personally think Apple should have left the menu item as "Save." Save describes what's going on with the file, and communicates that in just four characters. "If I click Save, the computer will save this file." If Lion passively creates versioned backups, all the better. Not only am I using a simple 4-character command, Lion's adding value to that 4-character command for me.


Engineers shouldn't feel obliged to differentiate new features when people can keep on using them as if they were the old ones. Apple could have just used the original name and added value to it behind the scenes.

The old save was good. The new save is better. But Apple really should reconsider that menu option.

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