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The clipboard in a modern operating system is one of the most useful and practical tools available. Being able to select some text or images, copy them to the clipboard, and then paste them in other places is indispensable (look at the uproar over the fact that the iPhone OS 1.0 & 2.0 did not support a clipboard to see how valuable it is). You most likely use it without giving it another thought.
The standard clipboard behavior is that when you copy a new item, it replaces the existing item. You can’t go back to the previous item as there is no history of items copied. This is what a Clipboard Manager does, providing a memory and browsing history so you can paste something, and then find it later, even after using the clipboard multiple times.
There are quite a few Clipboard Managers available for OS X, some free, some not. Here’s a quick overview of what is on offer and what they can and can’t do.
Clipper is the most simple of the clipboard managers available. It sits in the menu bar and allows no-frills access to text clipboard history. It’s an open sourced tool that provides no keyboard shortcuts, but does the job for a simple text clipboard manager.
Jumpcut is another open source clipboard manager that focuses on the basic text history. A customizable hotkey will let you cycle through the various items in the history with an on-screen overlay, or you can directly select an item from the menu bar.
Originally also known as Clipper in earlier versions (name changed to avoid confusion with the Clipper mentioned above), Clyppan is an open source solution that sits in the menu bar, popping up with a customizable hotkey to let you see what’s in the history. Clyppan only supports text clippings, but the history is searchable and pressing the spacebar will give you a Quick Look-style preview of the clipping. It also has a rapid paste function, which pastes the current item, and then sets the clipboard to the next item; this lets you copy lots of items in a row to then quickly paste later on.
ClipMenu is a freeware clipboard manager that offers support for both text and images. It sits in the menu bar and will break the history into browsable menu sections to avoid UI crowding. It has customizable hotkeys and many functional aspects are configurable, including being able to hold control when selecting an item to perform configurable ‘Actions’ before pasting (such as converting to upper case). ClipMenu also lets you configure regular text clippings for quick access to items you use often.
Savvy Clipboard is the simplest of the paid offerings, costing $12 (a free trial available). It supports both text and images in the clipboard and provides customizable hotkeys for accessing it.
PTHPasteboard is comprehensive clipboard manager that supports multiple text and image clipboards. The normal version is free, while a Pro version is available for $24.95 that allows you to share and synchronize clipboards across multiple Macs, as well as run configurable filters on text (such as converting to upper case). Full configuration of hotkeys and aspects of the UI is present and you can search the clipboard history to find what you’re looking for.
iClip is a beautifully designed application (perhaps too fancy for a simple tool) that can behave in a Dock-like way, staying attached to a side of the screen and popping out when the mouse goes to the edge. iClip can handle images as well as text, and also allows groupings of permanently availably items, providing quick access to often used resources. It has fully customizable keyboard and UI behavior support. iClip costs $29 and a free trial (which can be run 30 times) can be downloaded to try it out first. Also available is iClip Lite, which is a completely free Dashboard Widget that allows you to view the clipboard history. If you only need basic use and like using dashboard widgets, the lite version may fit your needs.
Clipboard Evolved offers multiple custom-named clipboards for both text and images for $15 (a free trial is available). It offers full keyboard hotkey customizing and various UI options (such as a Dock-like display) including various quartz graphics transition effects (and thus requires OS X 10.5).
Cute Clips is another OS X 10.5 only clipboard manager. It costs $15 and a free 15 day trial is available. It supports both text and images and focuses on a rich UI experience and provides features such as ‘stickying’ a clipping (so it will stay in that position and not drop off), naming a clipboard item, or giving a specific clipping a keyboard shortcut.
Like PTHPasteboard, Stuf (formally known as Shadow) offers a shared clipboard across multiple Macs. It lets you create multiple clipboards and elect to make them visible to other Macs. It supports text and images, lets you search the clipboards, allows a customizable hotkey and provides Quick Look integration by pressing the spacebar. Stuf costs around $20 and a 30 day trial is available.
There’s a great range of choices for clipboard managers on OS X — all which add great utility to the built in clipboard. I personally have been using Clyppan for a while now as I don’t deal with images often — the fact that it handles text only is no problem for me. However all of the options do their job well so it really just comes down to your workflow requirements and personal usability preference. If you’ve never used a clipboard manager before, give one a try.