Do You Use It? macOS Versioning Sees Low Awareness and Adoption

Originally published at: Do You Use It? macOS Versioning Sees Low Awareness and Adoption - TidBITS

The results of our poll asking how often you use macOS’s versioning feature show that nearly three-quarters of TidBITS readers either never use versioning or don’t even know what it is. But versioning could save you from losing work—it’s worth trying.

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Thanks for this! I was completely unaware of the feature! But your use-case:

When you close an edited image in Preview, it flattens all your changes into pixels in the image, preventing you from using Undo to revert them. Occasionally, after saving and closing an image, I decide that I put a box in the wrong place or made it the wrong size. Rather than retaking the screenshot, editing it, renaming it, and deleting the undesirable copy of the file, I use the version browser to revert to a version of the image just before adding the box, saving a few minutes of work.

sounds exactly like the sort of thing I might use it for. I just tested it (never noticed that item in the File menu!) and it’s quite cool!


I have used versioning, but I’m no longer using Time Machine for backups (now using Carbon Copy Cloner) so it does not work. I work a lot with professional writers and versioning is always a problem, even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing (they call them "drafts and usually organize by date). I tried explaining Versioning on the Mac but they can’t wrap their minds around it. So I just tell them to save new versions occasionally and append their own version numbers to the file name.
My favorite universal Versioning command: “Revert to Previously Opened Version.”

I don’t use it frequently, but I do use it in various apps, and when I do it’s very useful. I was very happy when it was announced, and continue to b glad it’s there - much as I’m glad to have Time Machine.

I use Versioning for recovering files on family members Macs. Total life saver when TM doesn’t have the file.

I still use Save As …, which remains as a menu option in both Nisus Writer and MS Word. I just give the file a new date every now and then. It’s primitive, but I hardly ever lose data anyway.


Thank you! My awareness was: Your article reminded me of that thing I dismissed once. But the Preview example got my attention. I’ll check it out. I feel reminded to stay curious and poke around my Mac’s bellybutton more often.

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Does auto-save not save if there have been no changes? It would make sense not to save an unchanged version, but sometimes programs do not behave in ways that make sense to me.

In another thread, I asked about combining PDFs in Preview.

The whole operation took only a couple of minutes and I did not have any intermediate Save operations. I assume versioning is not responsible for the growth in file size. Can someone confirm this? (I’m not asking what else might be responsible; there was some discussion about that in the other thread.)

Than you for an interesting article, I’ll certainly test out Revisionist and Versatility to find out if I’ll be able to cope with versioning - from now on.

Because until now - to me - this is just a feature that eats disc space. In fact - I really don’t like it.

I don’t feel like I’m in control when my disc space is being filled up with unidentifiable hidden files.
I wonder:

  1. If you delete a file: Is the hidden version file still left as an orphan occupying space?
  2. Why can’t we choose to turn it off? If we have a small disc - for instance.
  3. Why do you have to be a nerd to delete old versions?

I’m not a developer, but my understanding is that a file would have to be marked as “dirty” (and no, I don’t know why I think that’s the right term) to trigger an autosave. There’s no reason to save an unchanged file.

Yes, because versions don’t exist in the file—they’re in the hidden folder at the top level of the volume.

You’re not in control, but you never have been. Modern operating systems like macOS take and relinquish drive space all the time. It’s not worth wasting your personal CPU cycles thinking about. If you get low, I wrote an article about the most effective ways of clearing space.

No, versions are deleted if you delete the original. So if you were really exercised about a large file with lots of very large versions, you could duplicate it and trash the original. Or use Revisionist to delete the versions.

I suspect because it’s unlikely to consume a significant percentage of your disk space, so it’s not worth the engineering to add the feature, the confusion from users who don’t understand the option, and the support from people who turn it off and then can’t recover data with support’s help. Apple also sees it as a core feature of macOS, so it falls into the same category as virtual memory and logging, both of which also consume space without user control.

Because only nerds care about such things. :slight_smile:

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As a regular user of this feature, there were aspects new to me here, thanks Adam. Especially the Oakley apps. They’ll be useful.

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Thanks, @ace, for the responses.

I can’t help there, but I had heard that the well-written program would ask if the user wanted to save changes when the user tried to close a window that had the “dirty bit” set, and the dirty bit was set at the first modification to the file in the window.

You said that in the article and I failed to connect the dots. Duh.

In the other thread that I linked, I asked about disk space and said, “I also welcome gentle observations that no one realistically worries about file size any more”. I’ll take this to be a gentle observation that no one (other than nerds) realistically worries about file size any more.

bravo for an excellent article ! 2 gold nuggets: Restore→ press option key to make a copy instead of overwriting the original and ability to copy text from within the different versions directly.

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Yeah, it’s important to make sure you buy Macs with sufficient free space to start, but after that, paying too much attention to file size will just make you crazy. Computers need to work for you, not you for them. :slight_smile: