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Copy That

Volume Number: 23 (2007)
Issue Number: 06
Column Tag: Utilities

Copy That

Why you need a clipboard manager

By Allen Hancock

I am glad so many of you liked DropCopy; I have many clients who say they can't live without "the blackhole". This issue, I am going to address a piece of software I wouldn't do without.

Generically, it is a pasteboard buffer. It's an application that sits in the background, watching and recording the system's pasteboard. Specifically, I have been using PTHPasteboard (http://www.pth.com) for as long as I can remember.

How many times have you copied a piece of information to use somewhere else, only to accidentally copy something different before hitting paste? How many times do you switch back and forth between two applications because drag & dropping address information won't work (hello? Safari?) I got sick of that a long time ago and PTHPasteboard set me free.

On Your Mark

Let's take a quick look at installing PTHPasteboard. Installation is as simple as double-clicking the .prefpane from the installation .dmg file. Once installed, it is a matter of setting a few preferences and we are off.

Of course, we need PTHPasteboard to start at login, so let's push the Start PTHPasteboard button now. The next couple of options are a part of what makes having a clipboard manager so nice. Being able to go back to the last 100 copied items, even across logins/restarts, is possible! Amazing! There is a whole world of options that opens when you can go back to that piece of information you copied yesterday afternoon. I will touch on some of those later.

For now, move on over to the Pasteboards pane. We see the Main pasteboard listed, and by default that screen is hovering in the middle of the screen. Lets move that off to the side by choosing Autoshow Window: and choose a side of the screen. On my system, if I want to see the pasteboard, I just move my mouse to the lower left edge of my screen, and can see all my past clips. On the first pane, PTHPasteboard was set to store 100 clippings so let's also set the Display to show that many items (else why store them?). I still get a little smile when I realize I need a piece of information again, and can scroll back through my clipboard to get that email address, serial number etc., etc., etc. The only other change I would recommend making is "Move to top" when pasting. While the feature is useful when you had to scroll down twenty or thirty rows to find something, but for day-to-day use I prefer to know the order of the clippings.

Get Set

Before I get into more detail about PTHPasteboard, here are a few things to note. There are quite a few clipboard managers out there, and the concept is nowhere near new. CopyPaste, one of the old standbys, has been around for ages (1987?). Many of the products are shareware, but there are plenty of free clipboard utilities out there; the Freeware/Open Source readers might enjoy JumpCut as well. [Ed. Note - don't forget iSnip which, while not Universal, runs perfectly well under Intel 10.4.9.]

That said, everything I have mentioned in PTHPasteboard so far is available to everyone when using PTHPasteboard in its freeware mode. For myself, I donated to support Paul Haddad way back with PTHPasteboard 1.0, and today I enjoy many of the features that are available in the Pro version ($19.95 USD as of this writing).

So, what DO I use this for day-to-day?

First off, I use it to maintain my sanity. I no longer grumble in frustration any time I hit Copy knowing full well I meant to Paste some other bit of information I had left in my clipboard. Now I can copy at will, knowing that the last 100 items I copied will be there waiting for me should I need them again.

In fact, with the Hot Key feature, I can access my last ten clipboards with a simple key-command.


To access that clipboard information I recently copied over, I type Control - 1

Of course, you will setup your own hotkeys to suit your needs. For me, I couldn't give up Control 1-9. Of course, once you get past 9, remembering the order of your clips isn't realistic. In this case, I will whip my mouse over the Main window, and scroll through my history.


Put your pasteboard windows wherever they are convenient

This feature is most often used when needing to transfer a series of pieces of information. Most commonly, this will be an address needing transfer into another application's fields. For example, when you see someone's address in your email and you want to put it in Address Book.app. Start with the last piece of information - the zip code, then work your way through state, city, address, then name. Now Command - Tab to Address Book, and it is a matter of Control - 1, tab, Control - 2, tab, etc., etc. As you may know, I am one to take every shortcut I can in my computer usage. Having a pasteboard buffer is a great addition to my time saving arsenal.

There are so many uses for this; it would be tedious for me to even attempt to list them here. It will suffice to say that just knowing you can go back in time through your copies & pastes is liberating. I have been known to make a quick "save" of a document by Selecting All and Copy. I know it is saved, but never have to worry about cleaning up that old draft.

Go!

Ok, for all you that haven't drunk the Kool Aid, let's get on to some of PTHPasteboard's advanced (read: paid mode) features.

Filemaker Pro users: how tired are you of having to remember to deal with pasting formatted text into a non-formatted text field? PTHPasteboard can create a pasteboard just for you where you can set any keystroke you like to paste the current pasteboard in plain text automatically.

Users with multiple computers: PTHPasteboard's Sync feature is an incredibly efficient way to copying on one computer, then hitting paste on another one (perhaps controlled by Timbuktu, ARD or VNC) and having the text, etc., come through. I have used this feature extensively when controlling a server for adding users (taking advantage of the 30-day demo on the new server). A synchronized clipboard can make going back and forth between your main and test bed machines a breeze.

Editors: PTHPasteboard's Filter options are vast. Imagine copying text from a file, and just by pasting from a pop-out window, having the text cleaned, case changed, html tags stripped, any number of find/replaces, the list goes on; and I am sure I am not doing the filters justice. I am sure that with your creativity, you can create uses for this kind of copying & pasting that I haven't even dreamed of.

There is a screencast available on this topic: http://www.pth.com/products/pthpasteboard/screencasts/filter/. NB-I copied that URL three days ago, and just found it to paste it into my article, it was entry #58.

And for the rest of us: Under the Pasteboard pane, create a new pasteboard, call it "Frequently Used". Have it Auto-show from a side of the screen. Alternatively, give it its own menu icon, or set the auto-show to "None" and set a Hot Key to bring it to the front. By activating my Frequently Used pasteboard, I can quickly paste in directions to my office, steps to email to a client on how to send me their serial number, various other links or whatever else I find myself needing to "type" on a regular basis. And while I use mine for text snippets, let's not forget that these pasteboards are good for all sorts of information.

One last comment for us security-conscious folks: Version 4.1 brought us the ability to ignore a given application's copies. Now when I copy a password from my password manager, it isn't stored for days in my clipboard history. It's very nice to not have to go clear certain clipboard entries anymore.

Fin

There you have it folks, another secret to my computer usage. I am looking forward to see what else PTH comes out with next. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy being able to reference your clips as much as I do.


Allen Hancock has been providing on-site and remote based consulting, support and warranty services based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana since 1997. When not working, he spends his time with his wife and son. He can be reached through his website at www.hancockconsulting.net

 
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