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autosave os xWhen Apple introduced its backup utility, Time Machine, most Mac users couldn’t help from being awed by its time capsule-like interface and animation effects. Time Machine 4 Resources to Become a Backup Master with Time Machine [Mac] 4 Resources to Become a Backup Master with Time Machine [Mac] Read More is, for most Mac users, the perfect and easy-to-set-up, automatic solution for backing up all hard drive content on a regular basis. It works in the background so you barely notice it’s there.

Time Machine though has some limitations. It only performs backups about every hour that your Mac is awake, and it only takes responsibility for archiving previously saved documents. But in the new OS X release of Lion, Apple integrates a Time Machine-like feature called AutoSave, which automatically saves and backs up versions of documents in supporting applications like TextEdit, Pages, and Preview. It is fairly easy to use, but it has some hidden options you should know about.

autosave os x

Automatic Command+S

The first productivity aspect of AutoSave is that it is supposed to automatically save a document, say in TextEdit, that you have been continuously working on for five minutes. However, that didn’t work for me, after trying twice. I had to manually save the documents using Command+S.  After I performed a manual save though, AutoSave kicked in as I worked.

mac autosave

AutoSave automatically saves documents in supporting applications when you open and close them, make any changes to your existing work, and any time there’s a pause in your typing. If you accidentally quit a supported application, AutoSave also has you covered.


Apple introduced an automatic save feature in the previous version of TextEdit, but that feature just made a copy of the original and saved it in the hard drive next to the original one. With AutoSave, all the saved versions of your document are saved in the background, where you can review and retrieve them like you do with documents and files in Time Machine.

AutoSave currently works in the TextEdit, Preview, and the Pages versions of Lion. Down the road, 3rd party developers will add the feature to their document applications.

AutoSave Options

Now let’s see how to use AutoSave in TextEdit. Nearly all the options associated with AutoSave can be found in the title bar of a saved document. When you put your cursor to the right of the title, a little triangle icon appears giving you a drop-down menu of options: Lock, Duplicate, Revert to Last Opened/Last Saved, and Browse All Versions.

mac autosave

Different from Time Machine, AutoSave saves document versions within the application itself. You don’t have to open Time Machine to retrieve your saved versions, although the document itself will still be backed up there.


Locking a document prevents inadvertent changes to it. This means that after the document has been saved for two weeks, Lion will automatically lock the document, similar to how you can select to make a document a Read-only file. You can change this Lock time in Preferences in the Lion version of Time Machine.

mac autosave


Duplicating a document does just that. It’s works sort of like the “Save As…” option you get in most content-producing applications. When you choose Duplicate, AutoSave will make a copy of your current document version and open that copy alongside your original document. You can of course give the copied version a completely new title.

autosave on mac

Revert To Last Saved

If you’re writing a story or essay, and at some point you’re not happy with the additions or changes you have made, you can select “Revert to Last Saved” to take you back to your previous version.

autosave on mac

Revert To Last Opened

If you reopen a document and work on it some more, but you decide you don’t like what you came up with, you can select the “Revert to Last Opened” option to get you back to your original version. This option disappears if you manually save the document. It will reappear when you open the document again.

Browse All Versions

The Browse All Versions option is the awe factor of AutoSave. When you select it, a Time Machine-like interface opens and presents you with a cascade of all the saved versions of your document. You can use the timeline to scroll back through your versions, the same way you do in Time Machine.

autosave os x

You can choose to restore a copy of a selected version, which replaces your most current version, or you can simply copy and paste snippets of text from any of the saved versions.

Save A Version

With AutoSave in effect, you might not notice at first that in the applications, TextEdit and Preview, the “Save” option has been replaced with a “Save a Version,” which is basically is the same thing, but in this case Apple is reminding you that you’re now saving versions of your document instead of saving over the original.

AutoSave works in the background, so you really don’t have to think about it until you actually need it. But it is useful to understand its options and how they can be incorporated into your workflow.

For other MUO articles about Lion, start with these posts:

Let us know what you think of AutoSave and how it works for you. I’m personally looking forward to it finding its way into a few third party Mac applications.

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  1. Oliver Taylor-Griffiths
    August 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm

    Thanks for the info. Very helpful.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 5, 2011 at 10:00 pm

      Appreciate the feedback. 

  2. James
    August 1, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    So the Auto Save Feature right now it seems is just for Mac safe apps ex iWork's or text edit and preview...correct? I was trying to see if I had those same functions for my creative suite it wasn't there...

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 5, 2011 at 10:00 pm

      Yes, James, the particular type of Auto Save described in the article are particular to Apple software. I'm not if the feature has been added to iWork documents yet.

  3. michal G
    July 30, 2011 at 11:51 am

    try it over the network... but first do a backup ; )

  4. Anonymous
    July 30, 2011 at 2:50 am

    In the article, you say, "With AutoSave, all the saved versions of your document are saved in the
    background, where you can review and retrieve them like you do with
    documents and files in Time Machine."

    Not exactly! Autosave just saves the changes in each file. This allows it to be more efficient and save HUGE amounts of space. If multiple versions of files were saved, I can't imagine how people would cope. Not just double the space required for each document, but several times the space, for EVERY DOCUMENT. It saves the changes in an invisible folder called, ".DocumentRevisions-V100", similar to Spotlight's ".Spotlight-V100".

    • Bakari
      September 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm

      Nutz, thanks for that clarification.