iCloud and the new file storage model
Even before you get to the desktop, OS X now prompts you to sign in to iCloud. As a feature without a face, not many people know what iCloud actually is. You can skip the step, but this is the first sign you’ll see of the most fundamental changes to how you’re expected to use your computer. Apple’s catch-all online service allows you to synchronize apps and settings between your Macs and iOS devices, gives you access to your personal information from any web browser, and provides a limited amount of space for file storage. If you’re an existing iCloud user, you’ll immediately notice your contacts, email accounts, photos, calendars, reminders, notes and documents synced and available in their associated apps. If you’re going to be sharing your computer or have any privacy concerns, you’ll be able to turn each of these functions off in the System Preferences dialogue. iCloud also lets an application’s state persist between devices, which is how changes being made to documents on your laptop can reflect near-instantly on an iPad, and browser tabs open in Safari on your iPhone can be retrieved on your iMac if you want them.
When launching a program for the first time, you'll see this screen.
iCloud is now the default location where all files will be saved. Upon opening programs such as TextEdit and Preview for the first time (third-party apps will need to be updated), you’re presented with a brand new dialogue box asking you to drag and drop files already on your hard drive to iCloud. Even if you just want to type into a blank text document, it will be created in your iCloud space first. Then, as you go along, changes are saved on the fly and will be reflected in other instances of the file open anywhere else.
This makes the ‘Save’ dialogue box unnecessary. Since documents are saved and named from the outset, discarding changes actually means deleting the current version and reverting to an older one. An option in the ‘General’ System Preferences category will force programs to ask whether you want to save changes to documents, but the behaviour is to do so by default without any prompt to the user. A new ‘Duplicate’ command in the File menu gives you the option of manually saving different versions of a file, but OS X does retain older versions in the background, which you can pull up through the easy-to-miss ‘Revert To’ command in the File menu. This pops up a Time-Machine-inspired view of all previous versions for you to restore at any point. It’s pretty seamless, but you lose the security of being able to dabble with a file after saving a good version, for example changing formatting and rewriting sentences. Everything you do is saved, even accidental deletions, so the better way to work now is to explicitly create a duplicate. In this new universe, you also don’t see a “confirm changes” dialogue if you quit an application without explicitly closing the file you’re working on, which is typical Windows behaviour. OS X doesn’t consider the document closed, simply because it will pop up exactly as it was when you next open that application.
iCloud storage might seem convenient, but Apple has made some odd choices when it comes to making files accessible and it should be no surprise that this is inspired by iOS. First of all, you can’t browse through your iCloud space like you would a hard drive or other online services. The only way to see files is through the Open dialogue box of the program that created them. In a further twist, you can see only that app’s supported files. There just isn’t any way to see all your files at once, and there’s no way to create folders for a specific project or time period which can hold all the files of various types that you might create for that time or purpose. You get the feeling that files are stored within apps, which is how iOS likes to present things, but is completely at odds with the habits and conventions that millions of users have formed over the past few decades.
The iOS-inspired dialogue box becomes difficult to use when you're dealing with hundreds of documents.
Versions is by far the most useful feature, but many people won't even know it's there.
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