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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#application#computer#file versioning#Google Docs#Microsoft Office#Microsoft Word#Save button#software#software versioning

  • Krys

    I’ve never used one of these no-save programs so here are a few stupid questions for you. When do you name your document so you can find it later? When do you tell the computer in what folder you want that document? How would this work with a file management system in an office where you might have naming conventions and assign client identifications to your work? Not opposed to getting rid of the button, just wondering how this works for all the things you usually do when you “save” a document?

    • 1. That can be handled a couple of ways. One, name the file after the first first words or first sentence. Obviously this works better for a document, maybe not so well for a spreadsheet, and certainly not well at all for a photo editing program, or music editing program. Another way would be to have a field dedicated to the name of the file at the top of the program. Anyone who has used Evernote knows exactly what I’m talking about. And in any case, regardless of how this is handled, there would always be a way to rename the file.

      2. My take on folders is that they are highly overrated. 🙂 If you have a good file system that is more like a database, less like a file system then folders begin to matter much less. Then you use your computer like you use Google. Your files can be searched by filename and there could also be keywords either manually assigned or keywords could be automatically generated based on usage in the document.

      3. If you can control the filename, then naming conventions could still be used.

      I guess my big idea is that I think the file system should be more like a database. This could be “masked” by individual applications, to mimic this functionality but it would be best if it was done from the OS level.

      • Steve

        We already have the ability to search our files like a database. It’s far less fast/efficient than browsing directly to the file you know you’re looking for. There’s also something to be said for browsing. That’s why I never use those searches.

        • If it works nearly instantly it’s not less efficient. It’s quicker to type a word or two in an ever present search box then it is to open Windows Explorer (or equivalent) and browse to a folder/file location. With a robust and fast search, there would be no more misplacing files.

          Plus, I’m not saying there can’t be a logical structure, but I don’t think it matters where the actual file is. I think that structure could be a virtual representation based on categories/keywords/etc.

          Also remember, I’m hitting this from the perspective of the masses, not IT technicians. 🙂

          P.S. Are you a conservative? 🙂

          • Steve

            No, just the Devil’s Advocate. 😉

            What if I wrote a really interesting paper on diphtheria a few years ago. Now I want to pull it up to show somebody, but I’ve forgotten what that sickness I wrote about was called? I therefore wouldn’t know what to search for, so I’d be wishing I could just browse to the folder under documentscollegepapersillnesses, and then I’d see it sitting there. No need to know the name if you can browse a folder with only a few files in it! 😉

          • That’s assuming you put it in such a folder in the first place. 🙂 I mean, if you can’t remember the name of the illness or anything else that pertains to the document then “papers/illnesses” might not exactly be a common subject for you. 🙂

          • Besides, the keywords would still get you there just the same.

  • Steve

    I frequently open a file, make changes and then close without saving – on purpose. Sometimes I’m just tinkering with an idea, but other times I’m in important company files that I need to change temporarily for various reasons (printing, screen shots, etc.), but that I want to stay the way they were when I’m done. It seems like having to constantly revert to earlier versions would be cumbersome. Also, Office already has an “autosave”/”autorecover” feature built in. But the problem here is you can only go back to the version that happened to be saved 10 minutes ago or 5 minutes ago, etc. Not the version that you REALLY wanted from 3 minutes and 22 seconds ago. The only way around this that I can see is having an Adobe Photoshop-style “History” that you can step back through, in which EVERY action you make is recorded. But that’s a little ridiculous. So occasionally clicking a button to tell the program that it’s ok to save over a document I’m working on with my new changes is just fine with me. I can’t see how the alternative would be less cumbersome…. But maybe you have an example that you can point the uninitiated to..?

    • My example is Google Docs. I totally understand the open a file and play mentality. I do the same thing. That mentality would need to be changed. You would open a file and make a copy. Google Docs has that option in the File menu. It could be a button to make it even easier. The reality is that it’s a much better practice to start a new copy of an existing file and know that it’s saving in the background then to just screw around with making changes before you then go up and choose “Save As” assuming you don’t want to overwrite the original file. It’s really highlighting something that is kind of a bad practice. 🙂

      And as you said, the autorecovery feature in Office isn’t really a replacement. It’s a safety net at best.

      I really do think that we are so used to the save button and we’ve built entire work processes around that paradigm that it makes it hard to switch to something different. But ultimately getting rid of the save button and having the save action happen automatically in the background with file versioning is better. At least there’s no argument that it’s better if data retention is a top priority.

      • Steve

        So now you’re making more file copies to clutter up the works. Also, you still haven’t suggested an alternative that is less effort than the occasional clicking of an icon or pressing CTRL-S. Doing a Save As requires many more key presses & clicks. And having it save automatically either misses an important version of makes far more versions than you need, which wastes resources – both the computers in maintenance & storage, and yours, in having to sift through it all.

        • Clutter up what? 🙂 Behind the the scenes, where it doesn’t matter and the file system and/or application takes care of it for you? 🙂 Nope, it doesn’t really add that much overhead as you would be doing something functionally equivalent to de-duplication. It’s not like you would have 20 different versions of the same file take up space. See, this is my point, stop thing about it the way it currently works!!! 🙂

          What do you mean I haven’t suggested an alternative? Isn’t that exactly what I’ve suggested? I must have missed what you are asking.

  • Steve

    P.S. I do think it’s funny though that the icon on Save buttons is still a floppy disk! There is an entire generation of computer users who have never used these relics, and have no mental association between disks and saving. So that icon could potentially be updated, if nothing else. To what, I don’t know… 😉