Should the venerable ‘Save button’ in Microsoft Word take a hike?

Farhad Manjoo writes on Slate, “Delete the Save Button. Computers are smart enough to preserve everything I type without me hitting a stupid disk icon.” In the article Manjoo makes a case for why he thinks the ‘Save button’ on applications like Microsoft Word should no longer exist. He believes computers have gotten fast enough and sophisticated enough to do away with a “feature” that we’ve all lived with for a very long time, and I agree.

Computers are smart enough to be able to figure out pretty much everything on their own—where you are, where your friends are, how long it will take for your chronically late pal to show up for your lunch appointment. So why, at this late date, do these otherwise hyperintelligent machines still need us to tell them to commit what’s on the screen to permanent storage? If my computer does not require hand-holding when it manages its memory and figures out daylight saving time and automatically reconnects to wireless networks, why does Word need me to press a button for it to understand that I really, truly do want to keep everything I’ve typed up to this point?

We know the Save button is no longer necessary because of products like Google Docs. If you type something in Google Docs it gets saved without any user intervention. So why do we still have the Save button on most of the programs we use? I think tradition is the most logical answer. The technology industry moves at lightning speed but most human beings who use technology do not. There’s no question getting rid of the Save button would be an improvement. It would allow for a seamless implementation of file versioning so that multiple versions of the same file (a history record) would be available if you wanted to return to an older version of a file. It would also (nearly) eliminate the possibility of losing minutes or hours worth of work if you forget to save a file (shame on you) and the power goes out or your computer freezes. But the resistance to change is strong with many novice computer users, and I think that is the biggest reason the Save button is still with us in 2012.

It’s time to delete Save. The whole business of saving is a blight on modern software—unnecessary, unfriendly, and completely out of step with our automatic, hands-free computing culture. Microsoft Office isn’t the sole offender, but it’s the most notable one. As other software makers have added various ways to do away with saving, Office has stubbornly stuck to its guns. Once you use one of these save-free apps, you’ll begin to look at Word, Excel, and PowerPoint as if they belong to an earlier technological era, a world before laundry machines, the internal combustion engine, and antibiotics. In the future (meaning, now), your computer should save everything you do, always, automatically, by default (unless you specify otherwise, which you would never really want to do).

For some novice users, removing the Save button would make using computers easier, others might find there is a bit of a learning curve on file versioning. Arguably this shouldn’t be a big issue if an eloquent software interface is constructed. A good place to start would be to mimic the functionality of Google Docs within a locally installed application like Microsoft Word. Microsoft, are you listening?

photo by Pelle Wessman


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