the days of save are done

File. Save. File. Save. File. Save.

How many times do you do this every day?

Too many.

Because, really, the save feature that we all use in pretty much every software application is both frivolous and dangerous.

It’s frivolous because, well, of course you want to save what you’re doing. Why else would you do it?

And it’s dangerous because, if you forget to save, you lose work, time, and probably money.

Maybe once upon a time, before every piece of software in the world could “undo” something, the manual “save” made sense.

But nowadays, it’s basically the appendix of the software world: still hanging in there, but biologically unnecessary.

I mean, imagine you’re out gardening one day and you plant a few rows of seeds.

You go inside for a drink of water. When you come back, all your work is gone.

Oops! You forgot to save your garden!

Or you’re grocery shopping. After an hour of gruelling labour collecting your required foodstuffs, your 4-year-old throws a spaz in the frozen foods section.

He’s pretty insistent that you pick up some ice-cream today. (This never happens to me, by the way.)

You work through the situation and even manage to agree on a flavour you both can stomach.

You turn back to your cart and — damn! You forgot to save your groceries!

Situations like this in the real world are a bit far fetched.

Yet they are commonplace with software.

Just last week, over the course of a 6-hour word processing session, Microsoft Word crashed on me no less than 15 times.

Now, I was saving regularly. Roughly every four minutes, I figure.

Still, a few minutes lost here and there can add up. I figure I lost a little more than an hour of work that day.

Is that my fault? Sure, a bit.

But, come on. It’s 2008. Haven’t software designers figured out that, by default, we want to preserve our efforts?

Google has.

The company’s web-based word processor, Docs, saves everything you do automatically.

Just like in the real world.

So when your browser crashes, you lose nothing.

But wait: what if you didn’t want to save something?

Google Docs has you covered. A version trail is automatically created, so you can backtrack to any point in time in your document’s life and either replace your work or generate a second copy.

(Sometimes, when the cart is clearly too full, I wish I could do that with grocery shopping.)

Unfortunately, Google’s versioning system is not very human-friendly. Figuring out “when” was the last version you actually liked can be a tad cumbersome.

That’s why I like the “snapshot” feature in Scrivener, an independent desktop software product that I use for writing.

Scrivener lets you capture a specific moment in the life of your document as a “snapshot.”

Like Google Docs, Scrivener auto-saves my work as I write, so I don’t have to worry about losing anything in a crash (and it never crashes, anyway; Microsoft, you could learn something from this app).

So if I’m about to embark on a major revision to a piece, I grab a snapshot before I head off.

Then I can remain confident that, should this new direction lead to a dead end, I can always back-track to a place I liked once before.

The days of save are done.

Many of us older folk have developed a nervous twitch. It involves the involuntary flicking of the thumb and forefinger on our left hand at regular intervals.

Let’s spare future generations this unnecessary embarrassment.

Software developers, please. Kill save.

Think of the children.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, April 25, 2008.

3 thoughts on “the days of save are done

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Like you, I have been trained by crashtastic software to save every few minutes, perhaps in the hope that the program will drop me a peanut for my efforts.Similarly, programmers have been trained by the operating systems’ APIs to write the save function. If there were system calls that better supported a versioned history approach to file maintenance, we’d have had Google Docs on the desktop a long time ago.(And how long will the floppy-disk icon for the save button last? That symbol is shortly due to pass into obscurity.)Regardless of how and when a document is persisted, the bigger question today is: where is my document? In teaching basic computer skills, I’ve found that most students really don’t care to know which folder holds a particular file. They just want access to the thing they were working on, from any location, and from any device. Folders, files, extensions, and URLs be damned.Now to preview this comment for mistakes before I save it. Whoops, there goes my internet connec…

  2. Oooh, this makes so much sense, especially with the versioning. It would also address the accidental clicking of "No" when you X out and are asked "Do you want to save?" Wait! I thought I was closing that OTHER document!To address Dave’s point about "where is my document?" I know you’re not the number 1 fan for Gmail, Andrew, but one of the things I really appreciate it is how easy it is to find old messages. I am pretty good about filing my e-mails in Outlook at work, but sometimes it sucks that you can’t put it in more than one place. And I know folks at work who get way more e-mail than me and are far less organized… A truly functioning search function like Gmail has would make life so much better.

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