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Clipboard.Clear … oops

Bob Warfield is upset because he lost some work. He copied some text in Live Writer, deleted it, then opened Word and tried to paste. No go .. clipboard empty.

Frustrating, but is he right to call his post Microsoft: Bad User Experience Is Cultural, on the grounds that Word is designed to clear the clipboard every time it opens?

Here’s a bit more information. First, Word does not do that here. Second, if it weren’t that I do equally silly things I’d suggest that it is always risky to entrust the clipboard with your work without a backup.

That said, I can understand why Word might appear to clear the clipboard on start-up. It could be a bug, or it could be an add-in of some kind. The thing is, it is really easy to clear the clipboard in code. Just call EmptyClipboard and you’re done. There are ways to do it in VBA too, via a DataObject, or in .NET via Clipboard.Clear.

As Warfield’s case shows, clearing the clipboard in code can be deeply user-hostile. Should Windows prevent it? Difficult, because if your application or add-in implements clipboard functionality, it is the correct thing to do when the user selects Cut, Copy or Paste.

Lessons? A warning, I guess, not to use the clipboard for any purpose other than a user-initiated clipboard action – though I guess it can be tempting if you are hacking some sort of inter-process data exchange.

Second, when Windows lets you down it is not necessarily Microsoft culture to blame. There is an argument though … applications that don’t conform to Windows guidelines are a big problem and without them things like User Account Control might not need to exist; and that is Microsoft’s fault in a way, because of the history of Windows, its changing guidelines, and the inability of even Microsoft to stick to them in the past. Maybe Microsoft is partly to blame for the wild culture of third-party Windows apps.

This is a blog entry rather than a comment because Warfield’s blog needs registration to comment, and I am allergic.

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10 comments to Clipboard.Clear … oops

  • We are four it lecturers sharing an office. Whenever a problem like that arises I always say: “There’s medicine against that”.
    But then again I am the only non-Windows-user of the four 😉
    The medicine, well in the old days every IBM’er had a “Think” on the wall or on his desk.

  • George

    In this case the “bad user experience” was due to his own stupidity. Who would delete something before it had been pasted (and saved) in _any_ OS?

    Its like handing over your car before the cheque has cleared and then blaming the bank when it bounces.

  • I can understand his frustration but you can’t really blame the OS or even the application here (incidentally was it Word or Live Writer? It changed half way through the post)

    There are utils that allow you to keep multiple clipboard entries

    Clip collector is one of them

    http://gallery.live.com/liveItemDetail.aspx?li=973e928c-19e2-4bd0-a292-817674273d4b&bt=1&pl=1

  • Grant

    I agree it’s careless to delete something before pasting it, but users come to expect a certain experience in applications. Not every app conforms, but basic good design suggests menus / toolbars at the top, status bars at the bottom, close button in the upper-left, and NO CLEARING THE CLIPBOARD upon opening! lol

    I bet it’s a bug. For me, Word always clears the clipboard upon opening. This is particularly annoying when I hit “Print Screen” to take a screen shot and then open a technical document in Word to paste it. Excel also clears the clipboard. It doesn’t seem to happen if I already have one document open and then open a second document to paste into – only if Word or Excel were completely closed.

    Yes, it’s easy to clear the clipboard in code (Clipboard.Clear() is all it takes in C#) but why would an app do that, unless it is a bug?

  • I think this begs the question, if Word is doing this and he knows it does this – why did he not find an alternative for saving temporary work? Open Office while not having everything Word does would make a good enough alternative for simple spell check and formatting blog posts.

    It begs another question, does WordPress not have the ability to save a post but not publish it yet? Surely it does, and if so why didn’t he just download the post when he got home rather than deleting it?

    Quite frankly, Bob Warfield was in a hurry to leave and made a mistake, something we have all done. In that situation you normally would copy, paste it into Word, Save, THEN delete the source. I am sure he normally would take such precautions too, its common sense.

    I mean yes, if Word is doing this Microsoft were partly to blame here. But nobody is forcing you to use Word for this purpose. If it doesn’t work properly, find something that does. If this is something it has done for years you can only blame yourself for a lapse of judgement. It was Microsofts fault the first time you did it, after that its on your own head.

  • tim

    incidentally was it Word or Live Writer?

    It was Live Writer to Word. Maybe the copy failed, of course.

    Tim

  • balty

    I have this happening too. It is indeed annoying.
    I can’t find where to fix this bug (or whatever is happening). I repaired my PC awhile back, new HDD, and reloaded programs. It’s been this way ever since. Bad install? I recall having this issue once before… years ago. I can’t remember what fixed it then.
    Obviously, by seeing this post, I’m not the only one that has had this problem.
    I never delete prior to pasting, but sometime will leave the web page that I copied, or close out form a program. Most times, I remember and don’t bother copying until I open Word first. But I have 3 or 4 PCs and its hard to remember when you have habits and on-the-run all the time.

    I work with editing photos, text, managing two web sites, and other things that have me copying and pasting into this or that program. It only happens with Office stuff, which I only use 10% of the time while pasting, etc. It usually takes three or four times of disappointment before I remember that Word isn’t going to allow me to paste unless I have it open first.

    Now I just want to fix it. Anybody know how (short of uninstallating and starting over)?
    For instance,, , I don’t have Word open right now, but I want to check spelling and grammar. I just copied this text, but now realized “Word” needs to be open first or it will delete out my clipboard upon opening.
    Man, what a pain!!

    And YES, I could have the spellcheck plug-in for my browser… but you are missing the point of the problem if you were about to say that. The question is…”how does one fix this so-called clipboard clearing “bug”?

  • balty

    By-the-way, this is currently only happening on one PC of mine. It is on my “office” (place I work) PC. It has Office 2000 and XP for an OS.
    My prior issue when I had this exact problem (about 4 years ago), was my home PC (Office 97, XP). But it has been fine over the past 4 years now.
    At work I’m a bit handicapped since I don’t have access to the programs, and rights to do anything about it (but complain of course).

  • balty

    I deleted Word. Reinstalled. Still have this issue.
    Gee… no one reads this board anymore?
    Next I’ll completely remove OFFICE.

  • James Bond

    OK …finally figured out the solution….

    Need to uninstall the MS Works ADD-IN !!! Go to appwiz.cpl
    and find it in the list. Uninstall. Now MS Word 2003 will NOT blank out the clipboard upon startup. This problem appears to be specific to MS Word (other apps in the Office 2003 suite worked fine
    at startup). Took about 1.5 hours of searching and testing.
    Solution credit: “Jay Freedman” http://www.wordbanter.com/showthread.php?t=2337

    Hallelujah,
    – James Bond, Northern CA.