‘Save’ has all but been eliminated on the web; when will it die on the desktop?

We live in a ‘save’ less world online, but the humble desktop has yet to catch up with this, forcing me to think of when to save my process.

I have been spending most of my online life with my Chromebook, which puts me firmly inside the world of the browser with my two primary apps the humble email client (from FastMail) and Google Docs.    Neither of which have an explicit ‘Save’ button.  Instead they detect when a change has occurred and save either to the server or if the network is not available to local storage.   All wonderfully seamless.   This is particularly handy, as I have become accustom to simply closing my Chromebook lid, in mid operation, and have it pop back up instantly when I reopen it later.


This is computing usage how it looks in the movies!  (because we all know when we see the scene of a our protagonist slamming the lid shut in a coffee shop/kitchen and running, that they have just gone and lost a whole mornings worth of work – a little bit of me dies)

As I look around at the various other apps I find myself interacting with on the web, I have to do quite a bit of searching to find an explicit ‘Save’ operation.  The magic just happens.   That said, WordPress here, does have a ‘Save’ link in the top left hand corner; I suspect is more of a placebo for the older generation to make them feel in control as it auto-saves anyway.

All good – so “what is the problem?” Alan I hear you ask.

Well, this memo of removing the ‘Save’ action doesn’t seem to have reached those developing desktop applications – and I am particularly looking at the development community, where IDE’s are still explicitly demanding some hit CTRL-S every so often.  Classics such as the Microsoft Office suite still promote the save icon (which in of itself is a representation of a piece of hardware most people born after 1995 have never actually seen – the floppy disk!).

Now, we are starting to evolve away, for example Visual Studio has an ‘Auto Save’ option but it is not enabled by default.  We still have to consciously tell the desktop app that we are giving up our saving responsibilities.


Graphic editors are particularly guilty of demanding I save my work.  Why?  I get why I wouldn’t want to overwrite my cherished beach body photo in mid-edit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a working copy and use that instead.

The irony is that the desktop has far more resources available to it than a web browser app.  A desktop app does not have the network to worry about, it usually has more disk space than it knows what to do with and the CPU horsepower to monitor for the smallest of changes.   Some have tried with temporary files, but it is still a clunky affair, with the user not really knowing if it is really saving or not.

Why for example can’t apps steal/borrow from email clients and have a ‘Draft’ folder, that is automatically created as changes are detected.    I can then navigate that folder knowing these are files have not yet completed their destiny.

I will call out a notable exception – NotePad++.   I absolutely adore this text editing application.  It doesn’t even need you to name a file, it will always save the state of all newly created tabs and you can shut down the whole app at anytime, and everything is restored.  Perfect.

Yet, very few seem to replicate the seamless save-less world of the in-browser experience.   There is no excuse for this in 2017.

I dare not close my lid on my Windows laptop – hoping that Windows 10 will sleep gracefully that will in-turn keep my apps in the state I last left them.  A whole world of hurt lies down that road.

I am getting old.  I have too much to remember as it is without keeping an internal timer running in my head when the last time I reached instinctively for CTRL-S.

We need to rid ourselves of this outdated and quaint responsibility.

Thank you.

Author: Alan Williamson

CTO | Partner | Investor | Java Champion | Author | Podcaster | Speaker | Architect

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