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About Microsoft Office AutoSave, AutoRecover and other save options

Microsoft Office and Microsoft 365 have two features that are sometimes confused: AutoSave and AutoRecover. Here’s an explanation of both plus some other saving options, Background Saves and Make a backup copy.

Maybe you’ve seen these two options in Word Options | Save …  there’s a (deliberately crippled) AutoSave option plus AutoRecover choice that’s been in Office for many years.

AutoSave does more than save

As the name suggests, it saves the entire document automatically and regularly but AutoSave does more than that for collaborative documents with more than one person editing.

AutoSave to cloud storage (OneDrive or SharePoint) also gets any new changes made to the online version of the document.  In other words, ‘AutoSave’ is a two-way process of both uploading changes and downloading any new changes.

If you work on collaborative documents and wonder why recent edits haven’t appeared, hit Ctrl + S or the Save button to force Office to update from the cloud.

Autosave in its modern form is fairly new, only in Microsoft 365 and Office 2021.

“Automatic Saving” was an option back last century, for example in Office 95 but dropped after that.

AutoRecover is a limited ‘Save’

AutoRecover has been in Office for a long, long time in various forms as a limited form of save.

AutoRecover is NOT a full save, instead it saves a record of recent changes to a separate location.  When restarting the Office app (after an unexpected close), Office will try to restore open documents by combining the last saved version with the separate Autorecover information.  That’s NOT a fully reliable way to recover a document and anyone who has used Office long enough will know that AutoRecover isn’t guaranteed to work as you’d like.

Way back in Word 6 (1994) there was a ‘Fast Save’ option, from Office 97 onwards there’s been an AutoRecover option.

Background saves

Another long-standing option in Word is ‘Background Saves’. It’s been in Office for the last 20 years, now found in Options | Advanced | Save | Allow background saves.

Background saving simply saves the document while you keep working. There’s an indicator on the status bar when a background save occurs but with modern computers, it’s often not noticeable unless it’s a large document.

Chance are you’ve never noticed ‘Allow background saves’ because it defaults on. We can’t think of a good reason to turn it off.  If saving your documents is slow, perhaps ensure this option is still on.

Make Backup copy

Another Word option that’s a least 20 years old is “Always create a backup copy”, currently at Options | Advanced | Save | Allow background saves  .

The backup copy is made when you open the document. Word saves a copy of the file with a .WBK extension in the same folder as the original document. 

If you need one, Word will open .WBK files as Word documents.

This option defaults OFF.

It’s not needed for documents saved to Microsoft’s cloud because OneDrive and Sharepoint have their own backup and versioning features.
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