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Why The Cut/Copy/Paste Buttons Are Not Dynamic

clipboard-states.pngRaymond Chen has a really interesting post on why the cut/copy/paste buttons in application toolbars do not have an active/inactive state, where the buttons that can’t be used dim, so you know not to click them. The reasons are several and make perfect sense, including that it would be a major performance hit and that there’s no way to notify the program that the state has changed, plus that the toolbar would have to figure out if it even accepts that type of data.

Still, I can think of a few solutions, including that the implementation does not need to be perfect. There’s no reason the clipboard can’t have an API that simply says if the clipboard has something in it or not, and notifies all applications that have registered with it when the state changes. The button would indicate a full clipboard, even if the data in the clipboard can’t be pasted into the program, but that’s better than the current system, which acts like you can paste all the time, even if the clipboard is completely empty.

I wonder if this feature has been tried, and if the performance difference is worth it, or even completely negligible. This is the sort of experimentation that would be easier at a company not named “Microsoft”, but if the feature could be designed perfectly, maybe we could see the API available in a future version of Windows.

January 23rd, 2007 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Applications, Windows | 2 comments
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  1. I didn’t RTFA, but I followed the chain, and it seems to only apply to Windows Explorer. I tested this in Wordpad, for instance, and the buttons were disabled.

    OpenOffice Writer is no different and updates the “enabled” state of the button accordingly.

    And is it just me, or does your post image completely invalidate your point? I can see the relevant items being enabled and disabled in it. I guess it’s a wrong assumption on my side?

    Comment by Tim | 1/24/2007

  2. It’s not real, it’s Photoshop :-)

    Yes, some programs do change the active/inactive state of the buttons, sometimes only under specific circumstances. For example, in Office 2007, the paste button is always active, regardless of clipboard state, while the cut/copy buttons change states based on what the cursor is doing. That’s why I only had to Photoshop the top portion of the post image, not the other two.

    Comment by Nathan Weinberg | 1/24/2007

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