Keyboard Selection and the Copy/Paste Buffer

Jamethiel Knorth jamethknorth at
Wed Jun 23 22:50:34 EEST 2004

There appears to be no current standard for how to treat keyboard 
selections, as opposed to mouse selections, in regards to the cut/copy/paste 

As far as I can see, there is no good reason for having a difference between 
the mouse and keyboard selection. The primary selection buffer represents 
what is selected or was last selected. Since selecting something by keyboard 
removes the mouse selection, it seems that it would also change what the 
primary selection buffer is.

I would like to recommend the following three additions to the specification/explanation on treatment of cut/copy/paste 
buffers. [1]

The following paragraph should be added after the summary of the proper 
behavior and before the bulleted list describing the problems with the 
improper behavior:

Regarding how keyboard selections, no standard has yet arisen. To clarify 
usage, selections made by the keyboards should be treated the same as 
selections made by the keyboard. The PRIMARY selection is treated as the 
current selection, not the selection last made by the mouse.

The following point should be added to the list of things application 
programmers should do to support this standard (likely as the second point):

- selections made using the keyboard should be treated the same as 
selections made using the mouse

There is likely a need for some reference to keyboards in the historical 
section of that document as well.

For examples of where this is currently being done differently:

OpenOffice: treats mouse and keyboard selections the same.
Mozilla: treats mouse and keyboard selections the same.
Qt Widgets: ignore keyboard selections.
GTK Widgets: fail on both keyboard and mouse selections.
AbiWord: treats mouse and keyboard selections the same.
KWrite: treats mouse and keyboard selections the same.
The GIMP: fails on keyboard selections.
KWord: ignores keyboard selections.

This is a significant inconsistency problem in how the cut/copy/paste buffer 
is treated, and it is apparently not addressed anywhere.

I previously raised this issue on the kde-usability mailing list [2] but we 
were unable to come to any concensus. Many people disagree with this 
position. Although I think that it is better to have keyboard and mouse 
selections treated the same, I think it is more important to have them be 
treated consistently between applications. Even if there is reason not to 
follow what I recommended, the guidelines should at least give mention 

Another thing that came up from the usability discussion of this was that 
the guidelines do not address non-implicit selections. I'm not sure they 
need to, as everyone appears to do that the same, but it might be worth 
adding. That is, a selection which the user does not do implicitly should 
not affect the buffer. For example, if I hit tab and that moves me to a new 
combo-box, it also selects the contents of the combo-box. The selection was 
not implicit in my action, so it should not affect the primary selection.

Thank's for your time.


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