Live Clipboard

This week, Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie presented his Live Clipboard concept at eTech. I saw links to the announcement everywhere I looked for a day or so. At first, I wondered what all the fuss was about, and if the muted reaction on the BoS forum is anything to go by, I might not have been the only one.

I should have been paying more attention; this is very cool.

The basic idea is "extending the clipboard to the web"- basically, allowing web applications to communicate with each other and share data using the clipboard model that is so familiar from desktop applications. From the announcement on Ray Ozzie's blog:-

Before the clipboard, individual applications (such as Lotus 1-2-3 with its Copy and Move operations) enabled intra-application data transfer – in a world largely designed around a single running application. But the advent of the multi-application user environment, combined with the simplicity of the Select/Cut/Copy/Paste/Clear model, suddenly empowered the user in ways they hadn’t previously experienced.

In its simplest form, the clipboard enabled the user to simply grasp the concept of moving a copy of the information from one application to another (i.e. by value).

For the demos, it has been accomplished by adding a UI component with some javascript code to the web applications, to enable easy movement of standard XML formatted data. No extra client software is needed to make it work; the sample site works without any add-ins with IE and FireFox.

This has the potential to make a big difference to the way web pages are built and used. Consider copying a book or DVD to the clipboard on Amazon, then pasting it into another store to compare prices, or just directly into your shopping cart. Consider being able to remove all of those "Add to Bloglines", "Add to Feedster" etc. buttons from your blog and replace them with one simple Live Clipboard button. All the end user needs to do is copy and paste the feed into their aggregator, and they can do this using ctrl+c and ctrl+v, the same way as they copy and paste from Word to Excel. And how about all those AJAX calendars, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to copy and paste between them using the old familiar method?

It’s not limited to the web, some of the demonstration videos show seamless copying and pasting between web and desktop applications, such as an event from an online calendar directly to Outlook. In the demos, this was accomplished by an application on the PC scanning the clipboard to convert the web XML formats into standard PC clipboard formats.

If this takes off, there are bound to be new opportunities for small web services and start-ups, and new possibilities to enhance existing services. For example, although existing wish-list sites have been able to make it very easy to add products from certain sites using API’s and screen scraping, it seems like a widely supported copy and paste model could have massive positive implications.

This seems like such a simple and obvious idea once you think about it, a natural evolution of the web model, but it’s also something that could never work without a major force behind it. It’s going to need a lot of effort from Microsoft and widespread adoption from the web community, but considering the benefits to applications and end users, let’s hope it gets it.

Here are some links for further reading:-
Ray Ozzie’s blog announcement
The transcript of the eTech talk
Screencast demonstrations
A live web based example
The technical introduction
A nice summary on Alex Barnett’s blog

Glad you wrote about this web clipboard thingy

I am not an Ozzie fan, but he can certainly generate hype. My attitude stopped me from delving into this clipboard idea, so I am glad you wrote about it here. Articles like this Gavin are exactly what makes Codesnipers valuable. Thanks.

Thanks, Ben.

Thanks, Ben. I was tempted to skip it too, but I'm glad I took the time to look into it.