The weirdness and inconvenience of Mac OS X text clippings

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
April 4th, 2003 • 10:35 pm

I find myself constantly puzzled by the fact that text clippings created in Mac OS X (by selecting a block of text in any application and dragging the block to the desktop) behave in a totally unconventional and non-intuitive way.

For starters, double-clicking on them opens a window that displays their contents within the Finder. Last I checked, the Finder is not an application for viewing content. It can give a preview of the contents of files (and it does in the case of text clippings when in Columns view), but it shouldn’t be used to actually view the contents of text clipping files. This makes no sense.

A clear indication of this senselessness is that when you open such a window in the Finder, most of its menu commands become disabled. And that’s where it becomes really inconvenient: you simply cannot use the Clipboard to copy the contents of a text clipping file! The “Copy” command is disabled in the “Edit” menu when viewing the contents of a text clipping file.

I realize that there are other options, i.e. you can drag and DROP the text clipping file itself onto the window of an open document in any given application, and, in all likelihood, it will properly INSERT the text contained in the clipping file INTO your document, provided that the application in question supports drag and drop. (Most do.)

You can also actually open the clipping file with a text editor such as BBEdit, which is smart enough to recognize it as a text clipping file and open a new document window containing the corresponding text. But you cannot do this with either TextEdit or a word processor such as MS Word X. In both cases, if you try to open a text clipping file, you’ll get an empty document window.

What this effectively means is that your options for accessing the contents of a text clipping file are unusually limited. One of the key elements of convenience in a computer system is the ability to do the same thing in several different ways, so that the user can choose the one that suits him/her best. The behaviour of text clipping files in Mac OS X is a dismal failure in that respect.

After all, I can think of several situations where using the Clipboard to transfer the text of a clipping file INTO a Word document is more convenient than drag-and-drop. Drag-and-drop is always a bit of an acrobatic proposition, because you have to move your pointer to the exact position where you want to INSERT your selection while holding the mouse button down. This is an error-prone process. Fingers get tired, mouse buttons get accidentally released before they should be, and all hell breaks loose.

The Clipboard, by comparison, is the old, trusted way of doing things. You SELECT your text, type cmd-C, switch to your intended destination, move your cursor to where you want to INSERT the text, and type cmd-V. No “Watch out! Don’t release the mouse button just yet!” No unnecessary tension.

In the age of repetitive stress injuries, the Clipboard spells sweet, quiet relief. I want to have the option to use it with text clipping files. The names even match! (Clipboard/clippings)

4 Responses to “The weirdness and inconvenience of Mac OS X text clippings”

  1. Stephen Barrante says:

    I completely agree! And, amazingly enough, if you do a search under the Apple – Support – Discussions for “Text clipping”, there aren’t any posts from anyone else experiencing this problem. How is that possible. It’s a conspiracy I tell you! Yeah, I miss that aspect of OS9… I’d think if I double-clicked on a text clipping to view it… I could at least copy it to the clipboard. At least BBEdit recognizes it. A few extra steps for a couple of sentences. What a pain. Hope they address this in Lion, or is it Cheetah, or ummmm Panther?… yeah that’s OS 10.3, right?

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I think most people don’t bother to report/post about all the problems that they experience. So Apple’s discussions (and other forums) are not an accurate reflection of the many problems that people are having. They are useful, but not comprehensive.

    10.3… That would be Panther, yes. And I do hope that they fix all these small problems before they run out of felines :).

  3. Durin says:

    Well, I’m trying to create text clippings but doesnt work , on my osx 10.2.8
    after i hilite text the cursor doesnt change to arrow and sometimes it does it still doesnt drag it hilights text again. is this a bug or im doin something wrong.

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    When dragging highlighted text in a Cocoa app, you need to click down and hold for a fraction of a second before moving the mouse pointer. If you click down and move right away, Mac OS X thinks you want to make a new selection.

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