Decision review: Clipboard managers, and why you should get one

I’d gotten spoiled by the way that Emacs can stash multiple clipboard items in its “kill ring” (kill being its idiosyncratic word for “cut”), so when I found myself juggling lots of text in the process of posting social media updates and publishing sketchnotes live during a fast-paced conference, I looked for a clipboard manager that could give me similar features in Microsoft Windows.

Clipboard managers turn out to be great time-savers for the easily distracted. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve copied something with the intent of pasting it into a different window – and then getting distracted by something else, copying that, and smacking my forehead in frustration because that overwrote my previous clipboard selection which I would have to re-fetch (if possible). A clipboard manager not only solves that problem, it even lets you use your clipboard in new ways. For example, do you need to link to a lot of pages? Copy all the URLs and titles, and then go through them pasting each one–or even export them straight from the clipboard manager.

I tried a lot of clipboard managers when I was in the thick of conference season. I imagined that I would use the clipboard manager not only for preparing social media updates but also for stashing some quick drawing elements. All the clipboard managers I tried worked well with text, but Clipmate worked the best for saving images. I ended up not using images as much as I thought I would (it was easier to just redraw things) and I’m using a fraction of the features in Clipmate, but I’m still glad I got used to using a clipboard manager.

If you’re curious about clipboard managers, you can check out Lifehacker’s recommendations for Windows clipboard managers, Macworld’s take on clipboard managers for Mac OS X, or these Linux links. They tend to run unobtrusively, so your usual copying/pasting will work the same way it always has – but you’ll have a backup in case you need it, and you can learn how to take advantage of that over time.

Hope that helps!

  • David

    Hi Sacha. It would be really great if it would be possible to access the elements stored in the clipboard manager from the kill ring in emacs. Any idea how to achieve this?

    • Hmm… I can’t seem to find any code for making sure that everything you copy even outside Emacs gets into Emacs’ kill ring, but if you use a clipboard manager, you can cycle through its copy and paste stuff using its own shortcuts (or the ones you set up), and it will also pick up whatever you cut or copy from Emacs. That might be a way to do it – you could use the clipboard manager instead of the kill ring, although you won’t be able to make as much use of kill ring packages/commands like browse-kill-ring. ᐧ

  • Raymond Zeitler

    A clipboard manager is essential for me. I chose CLCL many years ago, but I don’t remember why. But one feature I really like is that you can edit the clip just prior to pasting it. Can Clipmate be configured to work with Emacs kill/yank?

  • Raymond Zeitler

    Three more comment-lets:

    0. A clipboard manager for Android on tablet or smartphone is even more vital than on PC, IMHO. Virtual keyboards are notorious for conspiring to obliterate comment text. Miss the S-a slightly and you might get C-a, selecting all text, which disappears as soon as you type the next character. Thus:

    1. The clipboard is a handy way of “saving” comment text when responding to blog posts as I’m doing now.

    2. CLCL is free and open source.

    • Good point! =D I have a clipboard manager on my Android phone too, and it has come in handy a few times.