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Emulate Lion's Versions in Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word does not support Lion's "Versions" feature yet, but there's no reason to panic. There are a few options that you can use to cobble together a work- around until the Mac BU team updates the Office suite.

Also worth mentioning: although I am focusing on Microsoft Word, the same technique can be used in just about any word processing or text editing application.

"Does the app provide any auto-save settings?"

The first thing to check is whether the application that you are using offers any auto-save or auto-recover options, even if it doesn't support Versions specifically. Microsoft Word offers two auto-save options.

To find them, launch Word, then go to Preferences -> Save and check the options shown below:

The middle underlined option is the most important: it says to save auto-recover information every minute. I think the default is every 10 minutes, but a lot can change in 10 minutes.

The top checkbox is optional, but creating a backup means that you have another way to recover if something goes wrong. Options never hurt. These backups are stored in the same directory as the original, and the filenames end in "~" which is a long-standing convention for backup file names.

The third is also optional, but personally I prefer the older .doc format simply because it's more compatible with other non-Microsoft applications. The XML-based .docx format also got a bad rap previously for compatibility issues with Dropbox, although if you're running the current version of the cloud storage utility you shouldn't have any problems.

(That said, .docx is the better format, not to mention the more modern format. I think of the ".doc or .docx?" choice sort of like choosing between .mp3 or .m4a: the newer formats have technical advantages, but not as many applications support them. The difference, of course, is that it's usually pretty simple to convert between .doc and .docx.)

"Where does the app store files?"

Some applications automatically store files in a certain folder structure, and you can't move them (at least not without getting into creating links, which may or may not work well). Text editors and word processors, however, generally let you choose where to store files you create; Office also has settings for default folders for saving and auto-recovery under Preferences -> File Locations:

Note that setting the default for "Documents" does not mean that you can't change it for individual files later, it just tells Microsoft Office where to start when opening or saving new files.

You can also change the location of the AutoRecover files. I put mine into ~/Dropbox/Backups/Microsoft Office/ because if the computer I'm on dies completely, I can access the data from any other Dropbox-connected account. Is this an unlikely scenario/edge case? Absolutely. Does it hurt to set it anyway? Nope.

"But my application doesn't have those settings!"

Check out Default Folder X which, as the name implies, can set the default folder for just about any application (plus other things).

Dropbox

No doubt you noticed that I suggested using Dropbox to save the files. That's not just because they are available online or on any iOS device. Dropbox also keeps every revision for the past 30 days. That means that every time you hit "Save," a separate version is saved on Dropbox.

Browsing Dropbox revisions isn't as visually slick as using Versions on Lion. To view them, select the file in Finder, and then use the Dropbox icon on your Finder toolbar, or Control-click (right-click, or two-finger click) on the file and use the Dropbox contextual menu.

That will launch the Dropbox website and show you a listing of all the versions, and give you a chance to download them (some file formats can even be previewed online). While Dropbox only saves 30 days' worth of revisions, Dropbox Pro users also have the option to add the Pack-Rat feature which will keep revisions indefinitely.

With every save, you are creating an off-site backup of your latest work, so even if you only use one computer, Dropbox is the place to save your most important and most often changed files.

"But what if I forget to press save? My app doesn't have any sort of auto-save functionality!"

Don't fret if your app doesn't have auto-save; you can add it to any application very simply by using Keyboard Maestro. It's as simple as creating a macro which says "If I am using {insert application name here}, and there is a 'Save' button, press it every X seconds or minutes." I've created just such a rule for Microsoft Word here:

This rule will only run when Microsoft Word is active and there is a menu option for "Save" (which will be disabled if you don't have any files open). If it does find the Save menu item, it will select it. (You could also tell it to press "⌘ + S" but I prefer selecting menu items to keyboard shortcuts.)

With this rule you never have to worry about spending an hour on a Word document only to lose it all when the app crashed and you realized that you had forgotten to save it. If the file isn't saved when the Keyboard Maestro macro runs, it will prompt you to name the file.

(There are other applications like Keyboard Maestro which support the same kind of features, but Keyboard Maestro is the one that I know and use. If you would recommend others, let us know in the comments.)

Versions is great, but there's no need to wait for your app to support it

Versions is a great addition to OS X, and I love not having to remember to save, but only a handful of applications support it at the present time. If you want to (or are required to) use another application, take a few minutes to check out your auto-save options. There are few things more frustrating than losing unsaved work, but the good news is that there are fewer and fewer reasons for that to ever happen.



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Software How-tos Mac

There are few things more frustrating than losing unsaved work, but the good news is that there are fewer and fewer reasons for that to ever happen.