Why does AutoSave in Office 365 only work on Microsoft OneDrive?!?

Recently I lost power in my home after working on a spreadsheet for over three hours. Even though Auto-save was turned on in preferences, I lost ALL the work-- Auto-recover did not capture any of the changes, either. I had to spend the rest of the day re-creating my changes.

Needless to say, I was pretty pissed off, and went to research how Microsoft had managed to lose all my data. I first went to confirm that AutoSave was turned on, and found "Turn on AutoSave by default" checked on the Preferences/Save panel. However, in the document title bar, AutoSave displayed as "OFF" and was grayed out to the point of imperceptibility. This is true not just of Excel, but Word and Powerpoint as well.

I licensed Office 365 from GoDaddy, so I called their tech support line, and they gave me the incredible story that AUTOSAVE ONLY WORKS WHEN YOU STORE YOUR DOCUMENTS ON MICROSOFT ONEDRIVE - not natively on the Mac or on DropBox, which I've used for years.

****, are you kidding me? According to the "Datanyze.com" website, OneDrive has less than 9% of the "File Sharing" market, well behind DropBox, Box, and GoogleDrive. Even assuming that all Google users are backed up to Google's servers, 2/3 of users out there aren't able to automatically back up their changes because they don't use OneDrive.

Even worse, most have probably been head-faked by Microsoft into thinking that they're safe because AutoSave displays as automatically turned on in Preferences. They don't notice the obscure label in the title bar and don't find out it's actually not turned on until they're hit with a disaster like I was, and then wonder **** happened. 

This policy is patently irresponsible, and anti-competitive to boot.  In order to have AutoSave, you not only have to store your documents on OneDrive, you have to start them up from OneDrive - not your Mac hard drive folder icon - or AutoSave is still turned off.

Now, I'm back to the pre-cloud days of having to constantly remember to save documents as I make important changes to them. Seriously?!?

And don't suggest that AutoRecover will keep me covered in the absence of AutoSave: I've lost countless hours of work when AutoRecover does not do its job. Its reliability on the Mac has always been spotty.

This is crazy. Is Microsoft really willing to callously risk the data integrity of the majority of its users just to coerce them to switch to OneDrive?!?

IMHO, what Microsoft needs to do is:

1. Display clearly in Preferences/Save that AutoSave is NOT turned on (and change the misleading "automatically as default" wording),

2. State the reason (i.e. OneDrive required) so that users like me don't waste hours trying to determine whether it's just one more Office 365 bug,

3. Add a local backup feature to Office 365 to automatically save to a hard-drive or competitive file sharing service (it can't be that hard),

4. Stop being evil by claiming that not enough people have complained about the missing feature to justify its renewed availability.

Really, Microsoft should be ashamed of having pulled a stunt like this. It's an irresponsible, blatantly anti-competitive move, straight out of the naughty 80s.

[NOTE - this post has been updated to reflect the fact that AutoSave was a more recent development by Microsoft, not a long-standing feature.]

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Hi LK Hill,

 

Really sorry to hear that, we apologize for all the inconvenience.

The auto-recover feature is built up to handling this kind of scenario, next time if your Office quit by accident, please double check the following path to find if you can retrieve your files:

/Users/<username>/Library/Containers/com.Microsoft.Excel/Data/Library/Preferences/AutoRecovery

 

We do understand your requirement on AutoSave files locally, but please allow me to explain on this, for the user whose files are stored in OneDrive or SharePoint Online, every few seconds, their changes to the files will be synced to the cloud. Meantime all the major vision of your file will be saved as a version history copy in the OneDrive, which allow you to retrieve an old version on this file easily.

This is only my opinion, but take a few seconds to think the following scenario: If you have enabled AutoSave locally, what if the Office App saved the content or format style you don't actually want to apply. And there is on version history to retrieve on a local environment.

 

We are deeply sorry for your data loss, we truly understand that some user might be misled by the AutoSave title and ignore the little label.

 

We would kindly suggest you feedback on this directly to the related resource by the following method:

How do I give feedback on Microsoft Office?

 

Best Regards,

Alex Chen

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Alex:

Thanks for your reply. I checked the folder that you suggested and it was empty. This is not the first time I've had problems with a faulty auto-recover feature. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. That's not a good enough track record to rely on for important documents.

I really don't care about the AutoSave experience on OneDrive, since I, along with 91% of the market, don't use it. Are you saying that Microsoft has disadvantaged 91% of its users in order to address a technical deficiency in OneDrive!?!?

In any case, the frequency setting in Preferences that allows you to choose the periodicity of the AutoSave addresses your issue of second-by-second updates. 

Microsoft needs to stop telling its users that AutoSave is turned on, and then re-enable the local AutoSave option. Anything less is irresponsible.

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Hi LK

Every once in a while someone comes along and posts a truly thought-provoking topic. Your is one of those and I thank you for it.

Cloud vs local file storage is an interesting topic in itself. What are the benefits? What are the risks? What is the right approach to take? What happens to your files when something unexpected goes wrong (power failure, you dropped the device, flood, internet goes down, etc.)? In particular, what happens to files that are open when something unexpected goes wrong?

Google solves the location problem by allowing only cloud locations. OpenOffice/LibreOffice allows local storage and OS supported file locations. Microsoft allows both cloud and local locations, which adds complexity.

I know less about how Microsoft and Google deal with the back-end handling of open documents in the cloud than I do about documents that are saved locally. I assume something similar is going on within the servers of cloud storage systems. This support article describes what happens with Word documents in Word for Windows. A similar set of temporary files is used on the Mac. This support article presumes that the document was saved locally:

Description of how Word creates temporary files

When you make a new document, workbook or PowerPoint presentation, that stays in RAM until you save the file somewhere. If you close the document without having saved it anywhere, it's simply lost forever.

Once it has been saved someplace (in the cloud or locally) what you see on your screen where you edit is a copy in memory of the file. There are a bunch of scratch files (as described in the previous link) that come into play. In Microsoft Office, it is heavily dependent on where you saved your file as to where the temporary files are located.

LOCAL SAVE and SAVE TO LOCAL NETWORK DIRECTORY

One of the temporary files that is saved periodically (assuming you have not turned this off in Preferences) is the AutoRECOVER file. In Word, you can specify a location for these AutoRECOVER files. In Excel and PowerPoint you cannot. Recently, someone posted an excellent discussion thread regarding detective work surrounding Excel and AutoRECOVER. I recommend it to you. Perhaps it will help you recover your lost work.

Excel autorecovery location finally found!

SAVE TO ONEDRIVE OR SHAREPOINT

Those temporary files are usually located on the same directory that was used to open the file. When saved to the cloud, those files are inaccessible to the end user. Microsoft seems confident that they can recover temporary files saved in the cloud using AutoSAVE. I have not seen any questions that suggest that there are times when AutoSAVE failed to recover work. I just saw an article this morning that Microsoft is changing the order in which temp files are handled so that files saved to OneDrive and SharePoint will open faster. This is an indication that Microsoft is actively working on cloud storage technologies.

SAVE TO OTHER CLOUD SERVICES

When opening and saving files on other services such as Google Drive, DropBox and Box, you are relying on that service knowing how to recover the temporary files made by Microsoft Office apps. These are beyond the control of Microsoft, but that doesn't mean that Microsoft can't do anything to help with recovery if they chose to do so. It would be extra work for Microsoft. The other services may not share with Microsoft technical information required to make such scenarios work and could make unexpected changes to their file systems that could impact Office files. Undertaking recovery support for these scenarios could be risky for Microsoft and Office users.

Your particular power loss scenario is one that may be more common in the future. Power outages are skyrocketing.

Trends in Power Outages

One way to protect yourself is to switch from desktop to laptop. Another more complete and environmentally friendly way, would be to install solar panels.

How does the Tesla solar roof compare to normal solar panels?

Regarding confusion between AutoSAVE and AutoRECOVER as well as the confusing wording in Office Preferences, I completely agree with you. Just yesterday, an MVP tried to explain the difference and the correspondent just didn't catch the nuance. And this was an experienced user.

Before I make this an official suggestion, I'd like to run this by you and get your take on it. I'm thinking there should be a RECOVER tab in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint preferences. This tab would allow the user to:

Choose a default save location for all files for the application

Choose a default AutoRecover location for locally saved files and provide a shortcut to the current AutoRecover location

It would also explain that unless the file was saved somewhere (anywhere) that nothing can be recovered.

I think the apps should have some sort of indicator showing when a recover file is available (regardless of whether the file is local or in the cloud) and it should be a caution when the file has not yet been saved or is saved to a location the Office does not have a recovery option.

I'm thinking there should be a single name for the feature. Get rid of the distinction between AutoSAVE and AutoRECOVER and just use one of those terms.

What do you say?

I am an unpaid volunteer and do not work for Microsoft. "Independent Advisors" work for contractors hired by Microsoft. "Microsoft Agents" work for Microsoft Support.

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The suggested location for the autorecovery files is wrong. At least for my version of Excel (16.21.1 - 365 version for Mac). The correct location is:

/Users/<username>/Library/Containers/com.microsoft.Excel/Data/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/<your filename><some number>

See here for more information on how to get to this folder. Good luck!

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Jim:

Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed response. I’ve been in technology for over 40 years, including a stint with Apple in the 90s. So I’m familiar with the concepts you’ve laid out on the nature and locations of recovering files.

re: “SAVE TO OTHER CLOUD SERVICES

When opening and saving files on other services such as Google Drive, DropBox and Box, you are relying on that service knowing how to recover the temporary files made by Microsoft Office apps. These are beyond the control of Microsoft, but that doesn't mean that Microsoft can't do anything to help with recovery if they chose to do so. It would be extra work for Microsoft. The other services may not share with Microsoft technical information required to make such scenarios work and could make unexpected changes to their file systems that could impact Office files. Undertaking recovery support for these scenarios could be risky for Microsoft and Office users.”

I just don’t buy into either the difficulty or risk to Microsoft of providing AutoSave on services other than OneDrive. With either Dropbox or iCloud Drive, the files are physically stored on my hard drive the same way they would be if I were not using a cloud service. The folder that contains them is merely synched to the cloud. Microsoft knew how to do AutoSave before moving to Office 365 four years ago. I’m confident that they could do it again if they wanted to. BUT THEY CLEARLY DON’T WANT TO. 

Sorry for yelling, but the brazenness of this coercive policy just astounds me. They just want to force Office 365 users to OneDrive, plain and simple. Classic anti-competitive behavior by one of the modern leaders in that field. (Recall that if Microsoft hadn’t so pissed off the judge in their anti-trust case in the early 90s that he made a public comment about their obvious guilt and had to recuse himself, we would have an independent MS Office company acting outside the interests of Microsoft the Operating System monopoly. Alas, we do not.)

RE: your idea about a single Recovery tab, it’s a good idea. But they need to make Auto-Recover less haphazard first: it just doesn’t always work.

I do recall seeing a setup option when I licensed Office 365 giving me the option of putting the files somewhere I could actually find them, instead of 8 layers deep in the semi-hidden Library section of the Mac OS. The crappy facility didn’t work anyway, so there was no Autorecover file in either my alternate location or the Library sub-folder. So I wasted a half day recovering, which is something no user of a modern, cloud-based app should have to endure in 2019.

Over all, I’d much rather see Mr Softie put the resources into restoring AutoSave for the vast majority of its users.

But to your suggestion about a single feature for both AutoSave and Auto-Recover, it could be an overarching “Backup” tab. This would make sense only if Microsoft did the right thing first and restored AutoSave to users outside of OneDrive. 

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Thanks, Hond, Unfortunately, no auto-recover file there either for my missing spreadsheet...

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Sorry for asking, but you never know...

Did you check the menu Excel > Preferences > Save to see if "Save AutoRecover info in every x minutes" has been checked?

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Yes, I usually set to "Every 5 minutes" just so I don't lose much work. 


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The MVPs will be meeting with Microsoft next month. I will take up this cause and present these suggestions. Sometimes I think the general public has more influence over the Microsoft decision making process than the MVPs have, but at least I can raise the issue.
I am an unpaid volunteer and do not work for Microsoft. "Independent Advisors" work for contractors hired by Microsoft. "Microsoft Agents" work for Microsoft Support.

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That would be great, Jim - thanks very much.

In the meantime, I've outlined this issue on a number of other websites, forums and periodicals. It will be interesting to see if it gains any traction in the Mac/Office 365 community.

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Last updated August 7, 2020 Views 7,148 Applies to: