[Annoyances] X-Windows Copy & Paste

Seth Nickell snickell at stanfordalumni.org
Thu Aug 21 08:30:08 EEST 2003

> There is also a more interesting issue of usablility here.
> I have been somewhat surprised at the view that
> middle button paste is some sort of frill for experts.  Am I alone in
> finding the
> traditional X-windows actions (slice/move/click) a vastly superior user
> interface to
> the Mac/Windows slice/control-c/move/control-v, with hands moving 
> between
> mouse and keyboard?  (Of course in practice that is often
> slice/control-c/move/click edit/click chevrons/click "paste special"/
> click "text"/click OK, thanks to the inclusion formatting by default,
> but that is another story.)  We have a genuinely superior interface and
> should make the most of it, not treat it as an anachronism to be 
> hidden.

I don't think you're alone in thinking that, in fact I'd characterize 
that as the majority view amongst the "been using X for a while crowd". 
It may be a superior interface for doing cut n' paste in many ways to 
the mac/windows way of doing things. *but* interface design is all about 
tradeoffs. To give a ludicrous example: using the left mouse button to 
toggle the computer on and off would be a superior interface for cycling 
power... but obviously there are more important things to do w/ that 
button, so we sacrifice "power cycling" ease of use to gain higher 
overall ease of use. The question I'm elliptically raising is "is cut 
and paste an operation that requires this degree of prominence". It may 
well be.

Unfortunately middle clicking will also be an error prone and difficult 
operation for many people. As people get older (and when they are 
young), many people lose some degree of coordination in their fingers... 
Particularly in being able to move fingers independently, but also 
they'll have trouble hitting small targets with peripheral fingers. The 
mac "one button" approach may be a little extreme, but three buttons 
does start to get tricky.

So.... All that said mac's implementation of dnd for text (with the 
level of feedback and the nuances they've gotten right) knocks the socks 
off middle-click pasting. It uses a standard idiom, its behavior is 
predictable, it provides a physical metaphor, its clear what will be 
pasted, doesn't require use of a button that may be diffilcult for some 
etc. Gtk+ and windows also provide this basic feature though with 
crappier interaction that reduces the usefulness somewhat.

Finally the middle-paste method is really anoying for the fairly common 
"replace text" paste operation, since e.g. Selecting the
Ocation bar blows away the item you want to paste. If you don't know the 
shift-end delete maneuver (many people dont) to clean up the mess its 
even more annoying.


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