How to use OS X Lion Versions with iWork

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By the end of the WWDC keynote, it was clear that, for the bulk of my writing, I would be forsaking Word and moving to Pages. That’s because Apple showed off Versions, a new Mac OS X Lion feature that keeps track of changes made to your documents automatically. It’s not that I don’t like Word — quite the opposite; I’m a big fan of Word 2011 — but, iCloud and Versions together makes Pages very appealing. Maybe Microsoft will soon add support for Versions, but I’m not holding my breath.

While this article uses iWork as an example, any app that supports Versions, like OmniGraffle, should work the same way.

What is Versions?

Every hour — if the program supports it — a Version will be created. If you’re at all familiar with Time Machine, the concept is the same: a version of a document you can revert back to is created within the “sandbox” of that app and data file. It’s like doing a save-as every hour, but all the versions are contained within a single data file. However, if you send the file to another person, that person won’t see the previous versions.

This is completely separate from the new Auto Save feature.┬áLogic would dictate an auto-save would create a new version, but it doesn’t.

How do I view my Versions?

First, a bit of warning: If you open a document created before you upgraded your app, you are likely to see it say “Locked” in the title bar. Don’t fret. Just click on the arrow next to the title and choose Unlock. A document unedited for two weeks will automatically become locked. You can change this timer in the Time Machine preferences. You can also force a lock if you don’t want to version a document.

To access your past history, from that same pop-down, choose “Browse All Versions.” This will bring you to a Time Machine-inspired view. On the left you’ll see the current document. On the right, you’ll see all the old versions.

The great thing is, you can go back in time and restore pieces of your document; not just the whole thing. If you’re working on a presentation and delete a section, then decide you did want to include that, you can just go pull those slides from a previous version. Same holds true for sections of text.

The “Save As…” command is gone from iWork now as well. You can duplicate the document from the File menu which does pretty much the same thing. It’ll be treated a virgin document until you save it, however, so you won’t be able to see past versions of the duplicate’s original source.

Recommendations

I think Auto Save is a fantastic, long-needed addition. Even documents with no save history at all still get restored. Relying on the one-hour versioning is a fool’s game, though. My recommendation is to manually save early, and save often. The reason for this is because I found it very easy to have a Version not be created. If I opened a Pages document, added some text, quit the app, re-opened it, added more text and then quit the app, the next time I opened the only version I saw was from a while ago. I’d like to see a version get created every time I quit a document, too. So, if you think you’ll be going back to previous versions a lot, save on your own.

In my limited testing, sending Pages documents to another user stripped the version history. That’s how it should work. You don’t want the sordid history of a project to follow it along. That said, if the document contains some sensitive material you’ve redacted, it’s worth duplicating or exporting the document to create a fresh copy just to ensure all the info is scrubbed.

So that’s Versions in a nutshell. Even if you aren’t using it yet, you likely will be soon as more apps add the feature. Feel free to let us know in the comments which ones you think will benefit most from the addition.

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