A Plea for Better Software: Provide Auto-Save
So far, applications rarely automatically and periodically save users’ work. They therefore fail to prevent unnecessary, frustrating, expensive loss of work and information. Since this isn’t just a but a critical problem, we need to encourage application vendors and developers to change that. More:
While the problem’s surely much older, I may cite Bruce Tognazzini’s excellent article on interaction design (2004):
Ensure that users never lose their work as a result of error on their part, the vagaries of Internet transmission, or any other reason other than the completely unavoidable, such as sudden loss of power to the client computer.
[…]it has become completely inexcusable that today’s computers and operating systems do not support and encourage continuous-save. That, coupled with a small amount of power-protected memory could eliminate the embarrassment of $ 5,000 machines offering the reliability of 10-cent toys.)
Apple appears to have incorporated auto-save many years ago, and so did several Mac OS software producers. Although on Mac OS, auto-save is relatively broadly supported now (system settings, for example, are saved without requiring you to hit “Save”), some applications (like TextEdit) leave you out in the rain once they crash.
My favorite IDE IntelliJ IDEA knows auto-save for at least five years, if not since its inception. This is one of the reasons why I love it so much—I’ve never lost my work with it (unless I decided to search through several GB of data using half-baked regular expressions).
Figure: IntelliJ file menu with never needed “Save All” button.
Google and Mozilla are two other great examples for auto-save in action: While Google has integrated auto-save in several web applications (like Google Reader) for quite a while now, the Mozilla Foundation added “emergency save” functionality for cases when Firefox crashes—next time you open the browser, you can restore the last session. This is exactly what we need in more applications.
This became another guerrilla post, but it should be clear that we benefit from applications to save continuously. So when there’s a web app that doesn’t have auto-save magic, let’s add it. And when there’s an important application that could use some of that magic too, let’s add it there as well.
I’m Jens Oliver Meiert, and I’m an engineering manager and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to the W3C and the WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. Other than that, I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
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That’s something which irritated me when I switched to a mac: no apply and save buttons in preferences. I use Textmate a lot which saves your files when switching to another window which is quite good.
On June 25, 2007, 19:08 CEST, Duluoz said:
Every now and then, out of curiosity, I’ll try out new versions of design software such as Corel Draw. Corel’s products have had auto-save for years. You can also customize the frequency of saving if you like. However, I and many others have had this feature crash the application when triggered! How wonderful and counter productive is that!? Hahaha.
In general I agree with your reasoning, but if it comes to the details I have to add an aspect. AUTOSAVE is fighting the symptoms of an application centered model. Users tend to forget to SAVE their documents until it is too late due to system crashes. A better solution would be a document centered model and CONTINUOUS SAVE TO A SUSPEND FILE. Thus, the file on the disk is not automatically overwritten and can be used as an important milestone during the course of the work.
If some applications provide AUTOSAVE (and I do not refer to the pref panel), some other applications don’t then the situation for the user might be worse than before. She needs to keep in mind yet another mode of the machine, ie. whether the app offers AUTOSAVE or not.
Apple Lisa did it right and for example OpenOffice.org as well.
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