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How Apple's Lion won't let you trash documents

The operating system for the nanny state?

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Comment Apple's Mac OS X 10.7 is branded Lion. The Lion may be king of the jungle, but from where we sit, it's the king of bungles.

A case in point. Someone emails you a document, and you open it in, say, Apple's Pages app for a look. You read it through then, having done with it, you quit Pages.

You no longer require the document so you chuck it in the wastebasket. Doubly sure you never want it to darken your desktop again, you empty the trash.

You have a second document you want to look at, so you double-click on it, a process that, as you expect, fires up Pages and loads the file.

What you don't expect - but what you get - is a copy of the file you no only threw away but thought you'd zapped for good.

This is, of course, in classic Microsoft parlance, "a feature not a bug". Lion saves document changes in a hidden file .DocumentRevisions-V100, though only on drives formatted with the HFS+ file system. For an in-depth exploration of Lion's versioning, see blog Tech, TeX and Theory.

Smartly, .DocumentRevisions-V100 only contains an initial copy of the file and changes, so it won't fill up your hard drive with unwanted versions of the same document. Well, it shouldn't - we'll have to wait and see how it manages over time.

But clearly it does retain copies of files that have been subsequently deleted. Not a problem, perhaps, with RTF files, but an issue if you're used to throwing big graphics files around.

Then again, even RTFs may contain confidential information you thought you had deleted for good. Well, you haven't.

All this is part of Apple's attempt, through Lion, to get rid of files altogether, or at least abstract them away from the notion of discrete blocks of data on the hard drive. Yes, there's a file you can move around, but in Lion it's accompanied by a version databased with all the changes you've made.

Move the file to a non-HFS+ volume and any changes made there but the last one will not be retained. Copy the file back, not unreasonably replacing the one you had originally, and you'll be able to revert to the last version saved on HFS+ but nothing later than that other than the most recent incarnation.

Open up a file you keep as a template, make some changes but don't save the file - or 'save a version', as Lion calls the venerable Command-S - and you'll still end up with the modified file not the original.

Yes, you can use Lion's 'Browse all versions' command - found not in the File menu but in an easily missed, and sometimes invisible until you put the pointer nearby, arrow icon by the filename in the document's window header - but since you never saved the file, you shouldn't have to recover unwanted changes.

Not all apps currently support Lion's versioning system, but most eventually will.

The fundamental issue here is Lion's assumption that you don't know what you're doing, and it's going to ensure you're protected from cock-ups that, in your ignorance, you may make.

That's fine for novice users. There are a lot of folk I know who could really benefit from this, the one who usually create a new document everytime they make a change, and end up with dozens of copies of what is essentially the same file.

But there's no way those of us who know what we're doing - and are happy to live with the consequences of our mistakes - can disable it.

Or, at least not consistently. Lion by default locks files that haven't been touched for two weeks. Generally, you don't track that time, so you open an old file, start typing only to find that Lion is asking to unlock the file or create a duplicate.

But not before one or two characters have gotten from the buffer onto the page, into the field or whatever, so it's not like the locking system leaves an old document entirely protected.

You can disable locking, but only by navigating first to the Time Machine preferences panel, and then to its Options… section.

In other words, not a location most folk are likely to check. So Apple doesn't really want you to touch it.

Nanny knows best.

Nanny knows you really don't want to open that JPEG you downloaded a week ago but didn't get round to looking at then, so will give you a dire warning about opening it now, something she doesn't do at the time.

Lion is, alas, the future of the Mac OS, so Mac users have to get used to it, or change operating systems. Those of us at Vulture Central who made the mistake of upgrading quickly wonder if Lion is the biggest boon Windows has ever had.

At least we can, with a bit of jiggery pokery, go back to Snow Leopard, which was a joy to use. Not so owners of Apple's latest and future kit, which have been tied to Lion, blocking what might be called a downgrade but really isn't.

So, we call on the Hackintosh community, not only to continue enabling Mac OS X to run on non-Apple kit, but to make the real Mac OS X, Snow Leopard, to run on Apple kit. ®

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