Mac OS X: Make Snow Leopard (and Other Cats) Roar Like Lion

Auto-Save and Versions

Auto-save isn't a new concept, nor is it specific to iOS. Many applications offer an option to either automatically save files at a set interval or to auto-save a backup (without changing the original file) that can be accessed if the application crashes.

Lion taps into that auto-save functionality in a new feature called Versions, which lets you view all past iterations of a document or other file that you've made changes to. In a way, it's an extension of Apple's Time Machine, which allows you to locate and restore files from a backup. Time Machine comes in very handy when you want to get back a file you've deleted or find an earlier version of a file before you made modifications to it.

However, while Time Machine makes hourly backups of each document, it only keeps them for 24 hours; it permanently saves only one backup of each document per day. Versions, on the other hand, saves and keeps a version each time you open or save a file. If a document is open for an extended period of time, a new version is stored every hour that it's open.

There are a couple of ways to get similar features right now.

For applications that don't offer an auto-save feature, there's ForeverSave, a utility that can provide auto-save features systemwide to any Mac running OS X Leopard or later. You can select which applications can auto-save and when they auto-save (the default being anytime you switch applications).

Beyond simply auto-saving your work, ForeverSave can maintain multiple versions of your documents as you make changes to them, much as Lion's Versions does. You can even choose how many versions of auto-saved documents are maintained and when they are erased. ForeverSave also allows you to set multiple auto-save operations to serve as an extra backup.

While an iOS-like auto-resume function -- the ability to close an app and later pick up exactly where you left off when you closed it -- isn't built into ForeverSave, its one-click restore option comes close.

ForeverSave may be worth using even in Lion. Apple is making auto-save a priority and giving developers tools to implement the feature. But the company may not make it a requirement for all Mac software (particularly titles sold outside the Mac App Store), and it probably will not be added to previous applications that haven't been upgraded specifically for Lion. Likewise, it remains to be seen if Versions will automatically support all applications and document formats or if developers will need to explicitly choose to support it.

ForeverSave costs $15; a 30-day free trial version is also available.

Another option that offers some Versions-like features is the Dropbox online storage service. Although most commonly used to share and sync files across multiple computers and mobile devices, Dropbox does offer version tracking. That feature isn't included in the Mac Dropbox app but can be easily accessed by logging into your account at the Dropbox website.

There is very limited restore capability connected to a free Dropbox account, but a Pro account offers a feature called Pak-Rat that provides extensive restore or rewind capabilities. Pricing varies depending on the type of account you have and on the amount of space you use.

AirDrop

Apple has always aimed to make file sharing as simple as possible. Bonjour, Apple's no-configuration network protocol, makes it easy to locate Macs on a local network that have file sharing active -- they simply show up (along with any non-Mac computers or file servers) in the sidebar of Finder windows.

That's great, but to share a file with someone, you must know the name of their Mac, that Mac must have file sharing turned on, and you must have access to an account on that Mac (unless the other person has left guest access enabled, which is never a good idea for security reasons). Lion will include a feature called AirDrop that simplifies the process and offers a bit more security.

According to Apple, AirDrop will be listed in a Finder window sidebar. Click AirDrop and you'll see a list of Mac users with AirDrop enabled who are connected to your network. To send a file, simply drag it to a user's name. That user will see an alert that you are sending a file, with the option to accept or reject the transfer. If he accepts, the file will be added to his Downloads folder.

There aren't many third-party options that mimic AirDrop, but DropCopy is a free app available for Macs running Snow Leopard, Leopard or Tiger. (It's $4.99 if you need to install it on more than three Macs.) Its goal is essentially the same as AirDrop's.

When installed on two or more Macs on a local network, an icon called the Drop Zone appears on the desktop of each. Dragging files to the Drop Zone will display a list of available Macs with DropCopy running. Drag the file(s) onto a specific Mac and it will copy to that Mac. (Users specify where they want copied files to be placed when they install DropCopy.) DropCopy also allows you to transfer contents between the clipboards of two Macs.

One major difference between AirDrop and DropCopy is that AirDrop requires user confirmation before a transfer takes place (a big plus when connected to public or office networks), whereas DropCopy does not.

Note: A version of DropCopy for iOS is also available; it lets you send files on a Mac to an iPhone or iPad (or vice versa), or share files between two iOS devices.

More Multitouch Gestures

Apple has been bringing multitouch features into Macs for a long time now. The original MacBook Air pioneered the use of the trackpad for multitouch gestures -- pinching, swiping and the like -- in 2008. Apple has expanded these gestures in more recent MacBook models, as well as in its Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad peripherals.

In Lion, Apple has promised to bring even more iOS-style multitouch gestures and visual responses to Mac OS X. Among the new gestures demoed on Apple's Lion page are rubber-band-style scrolling, enhanced pinch and zoom functionality, and full-screen swiping. Whether Apple will offer even more advanced gesture support is an open question, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some more in the final release.

If you don't want to wait to get more gestures and capabilities, however, you don't have to: There are several utilities available for getting your multitouch groove on in Leopard and Snow Leopard (but not earlier Mac OS X releases).

First up are two tools that simply expand on Apple's existing multitouch features. MagicPrefs (free) and MouseWizard ($5) add support for multiple-clicking and augment the existing swipe/pinch/drag gestures; they also let you automate a wide variety of tasks, such as copying/pasting, switching Spaces and launching applications using the Magic Mouse.

As of this writing, both of these products work only with Apple's Magic Mouse. Support for Apple's Magic Trackpad is planned for MagicPrefs, but no timetable for that addition is currently available.

Next up are more ambitious multitouch extenders. BetterTouchTool (free/donationware, currently in alpha) offers the ability to assign a number of custom gestures to perform a wide range of system tasks, including opening and closing windows, invoking Mac OS X features like Dashboard or Exposé, launching applications or websites, adjusting preferences such as sound and brightness, controlling iTunes, and mimicking specific key combinations or mouse functions such as right-clicking.

It works with Apple trackpads, the Magic Mouse and traditional multibutton mice; it can also be used to assign custom keyboard shortcuts.

Jitouch ($6.99) functions with Apple trackpads and the Magic Mouse, and it includes a library of built-in multitouch gestures for each type of device. Both global and application-specific gestures are available to activate a variety of features and commands, such as switching applications, working with tabs in Safari, activating window controls (minimizing and moving window position, for example), switching Spaces and activating Exposé. Like BetterTouchTool, Jitouch also lets you assign custom gestures.

Another neat option is its support for character gestures; you can assign actions that are invoked by drawing a specific shape on the mouse or trackpad with your finger (similar to the stylus-based Grafitti input on older Palm OS devices). This allows for a lot of customization but is also something that can take a bit of getting used to (and thus isn't for everyone).

Keep in mind that while all of these tools are similar, each one has its own unique variations on what it does and how it functions. Choosing between them is generally a matter of individual taste and needs, including what devices you use. Therefore, you'll want to check out all these tools to find the one that works best for you.

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