The Design of Software (CLOSED)

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Is Cut and paste a Bad Design

Jef Raskin thinks so:

Me, I think the UI field is a basket case. Jef Raskin is not a good UI designer and he is one of the vaulted leaders. Download his THE text editor if you don't believe me -- it is impossible to use, a truly horrid design, among the worst I've seen. And it is supposed to be the perfection of all his ideas about user interfaces.

That he is a crackpot out of touch with reality is clear from the above article where he complains that features like cut and paste don't work, are useless, and contribute to code bloat. His argument is that if you walk away from your computer for an hour after cutting, you might forget you had cut and planned to paste and your work that was cut would be lost forever. I do believe that this has happened to him frequently because he is losing his mind. Like, whatever. Cut and paste to be working for everybody else on the planet. I think it works OK and taking it out would not improve things much.

If this is the best the UI field can come up with: Raskin, Norman, Nielsen, then the UI field is basically much ado about nothing.
Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
His comment about the "move" command at the end of the article is funny because while reading his article I was thinking to myself, "please mention *nix's middle click feature."

His description of the move command is right there at the click of a mouse button in linux, yet he goes on to mention that it's rarely used.

Everytime I go into the office and have to ctrl-c & ctrl-v it really pisses me off, because I know at home I would have just highlighted and middle clicked.
Jared Send private email
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
He talked about this a lot in his article "The Humane Interface."

This is the guy who thinks when you receive a new email, it should be inserted at the current insertion point. Want it somewhere else? Move it yourself!

He also doesn't think typing should replace the selection, which he would have to think, to be consistent, because otherwise if you're typing while you receive an email you would instantly overwrite the email.

Jef is a smart guy, and he's trying to figure out what the ideal interface would be in the absence of the requirement that interfaces be consistent with old interfaces that the entire planet is already used to. As such what he's doing is purely academic and rather harmless, and interesting in the way all that academic stuff is. But trying to design a UI that doesn't assume all the things humans have already come to expect from UIs is sort of like trying to design a UI for whales: interesting and pointless.
Joel Spolsky Send private email
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
After using the Emacs kill buffer, normal cut and paste sucks.  Emacs holds a buffer of several cuts (kills).  When you paste (yank) it defaults to the last text you cut, but you can also cycle through to anything in the kill buffer.

Of course, being Emacs, it doesn't make the final user friendly leap and provide a way to view everything in your buffer.  But at least it takes you half way.
David Gingrich Send private email
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
For stuff that fits on the screen, I prefer drag and drop to cut and paste.

  Flava Flav!
Flava Flav
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
I was overreacting because of my intense loathing for his THE editor (yes, redundant because of the acronym but "loathing for his THE." is too cryptic).

I do agree that a Move command is a good addition. But it shouldn't replace cut and paste or drag and drop. All have their place. Many ways to do the same thing is good since there are different keystrokes for different folks. Multiple undo is a good thing. I've tried installing those add ins that allow multiple cut but it's just too confusing. The multiple Kill/yank of emacs I have only ever used to kill and yank multiple lines one after the other, never discontinuous. Seeing the stuff I've cut though seems pointless, on old Macs I've never had occasion to want to use the Clipboard widget. But if others want them fine. Just don't be talking about getting rid of cut and paste - that's crazy talk and Raskin should know better. It works for me and many others.
Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
How about this: 'A Good Design is a design that people can use.'

That makes Cut and Paste a good design.
Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
That's why I use copy-paste most of the time.
Andreas Sikkema Send private email
Thursday, October 28, 2004
I second that, David, the Emacs and similar style cut/paste is really easy. You highlight some text? Well you must have done that for a reason, so it goes into the buffer and you can instantly move the mouse to another location and paste, no farting about with a keyboard or menu to copy it first. That there are several items in that buffer is, I think, a consequence of that - imagine you highlight something by accident and so wipe out the text in the buffer you _did_ want to past!

Thursday, October 28, 2004
I rarely use cut and paste, but use copy and paste all the time.

Indeed, the extra thumb-buttons on my Wireless Intellimouse Explorer mouse are for cut and paste and I use them a lot.
Nemesis [µISV]
Thursday, October 28, 2004
On our *nix machines anyone hardly ever uses the move functionality. For the simple reason you have to get your hands of the keyboard and use the mouse. Copy and paste is much more suitable here. And on the other hand, if you use the mouse, drag and drop is much more convenient, because it gives you direct visual feedback.

As far as I see, move is a concept that comes from the command line/shell. Generally spoken: An environement where you cannot move the cursor to the previous line to select text. And it makes sense here.

I personally like the solution of cut and paste in Windows explorer. If you Ctrl-X something, it is greyed out but not cut immediately.
Gerd Riesselmann
Thursday, October 28, 2004
> I personally like the solution of cut and paste in Windows explorer. If you Ctrl-X something, it is greyed out but not cut immediately.

Which emphasizes the distinction between cutting (for later paste) and deleting.  So why don't word processing apps do it this way?  Is there a down side?
Brian Send private email
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Gerd and Brian make great points. There is a delete key, a backspace key, a clear key and ctrl-x, all meaning the same thing except that only ctrl-X puts it in the buffer for later paste. This distinction should be made more clear via this greying out mechanism. If you are putting it in the buffer, that must mean you plan to move it somewhere. If you never do the move, it is never removed from the first location. Those wanting to eliminate the text should use the delete or backspace keys.

This change would not even affect most users and those who it does bother woud soon figure out that they need to pres delete to make it go away. If really necessary, could make it so a second ctrl-x after the first makes it cut to the buffer like before.

All these methods should usability tested of course, but the grey-out method has already been field tested and people are ok with it. I personally like being able to use cut and paste on files since it is often much easier than trying to drag them through a hierarchy of files.

I think one problem with Raskin is that he does not do any usability testing. If he did, his design of THE would have gone in a different direction. THE is sort of a throw back to the days of vi and ed, but he doesn't realize this. Som usability testing would wake him up to the problems with it rather quickly.
Dennis Atkins
Thursday, October 28, 2004
> Is there a down side?

Yes. It would require thinking on the part of the application designers, and work on the part of the implementors.

A large part of the problem is people who think just like Joel - you mustn't ever improve something because it'll make things harder for people who learned the old and harder way.

This means that problems caused by the limitations of PCs 20 years ago (literally - I mean 1984 model computers) are holding back today's software for no good reason - especially when you consider the increased processing power of modern PCs.

This is no reason why existing idioms (such as cut'n'paste) can't be improved significantly while new idioms (such as 'move') are added.

Oh, and most applications need significant improvements to their 'undo' functionality so that problems caused by mistaken 'cut' commands aren't destructive.

Thursday, October 28, 2004
Calling your editor "THE" seems like a very silly thing to do. How do you Google for it?
Michael E.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
Agreed. you have to know that he wrote it., then follow the link "Download THE". :)
Dennis Atkins
Thursday, October 28, 2004
You can also look at this screen shot showing THE's incredibly annoying feature of flashing messages in giant letters behind the text you are typing:

Sucky! It is sucky! It sucks! I'll say it again... wait, I already did.

He also has an article "THE is not a text editor" in which he explain that THE is an operating system, an email client, a photo editor, a music application - it is EVERYTHING you want in a computer and MORE because it is SO intuitive that it practically reads your thoughts and oh yes how can you do anything other than text editing well at present you can not because in the interest of time he has only coded the text editing relevant parts of the interface, but someday, maybe even someday in your lifetime, you're  gonna see how THE is the "One True and Only Path" to user interface enlightenment and bliss.
Dennis Atkins
Thursday, October 28, 2004
> He also has an article "THE is not a text editor" in which he explain that THE is an operating system, an email client, a photo editor, a music application - it is EVERYTHING you want in a computer


Friday, October 29, 2004
Just a quick note about multiple cut and pastes.  Office does now put more than one item in the buffer at a time and you can graphically select which item from the buffer you wish to paste.

It's actually very smart, although I rarely use it.
N Send private email
Friday, October 29, 2004
isn't raskin the creator of the Canon Cat? the word processor which  had no cursor keys either, but some semantic movement or something ('leap keys'--from an online search it looks like they're i-search style movement). similarly he's probably also to blame for the lack of cursor keys on the original mac.
mb Send private email
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Actually, I think his solution to the "cut and forget to paste problem" - the move command - IS pretty smart.

The only program that does this, to my knowledge, is the File Explorer or whathever it's called on Windows. If you cut a directory, for example, it doesn't disappear, it just turns a bit less real, and it only disappears when you paste it somewhere else. I do think this is a good piece of interface design.

I think he doesn't attack the "cut" or the "paste" command separately - they're both very useful commands. He just rants about the combination of cut and paste and proposes to replace this combination with a combined move command, which does make a lot of sense.

The problem I see is how to get a user to use "move" instead of the old "cut and paste".
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Sometimes radical academic "challenge everything" research leads to practical insights that couldn't (easily) be reached by starting from the current state-of-the-art. Sometimes it does not. That's the point of academic research pretty much.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
> Office does now put more than one item in the buffer at a time and you can graphically select which item from the buffer you wish to paste.

Yes, I've seen that.  I've never found it useful, but I don't use Office that much.  More often, I'm annoyed that it keeps popping up the clipboard and telling me how much stuff I have on it.  I think I get this most when I'm copying OUT of Office and into another app, so I'm not even using the Office clipboard.

There are times when it's nice to have multiple things on the clipboard, but I don't think Office has found the ideal solution to this, especially since its clipboard is not system-wide.
Brian Send private email
Thursday, November 04, 2004
The real issue with cut and paste is why it is not applied consistently everywhere.  The genius of cut and paste is that it is a simple paradigm that the user can apply universally.

We could endlessly suggest incremental improvements (why not ctrl-P for paste?) which, at the end of the day, would be detrimental.

For example, why is the telephone keypad vertically reversed with respect to a calculator pad?  Answer:  the calculator pad came first.  AT&T research showed that a keypad with 1 in the upper left hand corner was slightly faster for humans to key than the calculator keypad.

The result of this "improvement" has been to defeat any design which combines both a calculator and a phone.

So I say forget changing cut and paste.  Find ways to extend the paradigm.  If you are looking for lost causes how about campaigning to replace the letter "Q" with "KW" (I think some people are actually trying to do this).
Bob Rundle Send private email
Friday, November 05, 2004
> The result of this "improvement" has been to defeat any design which combines both a calculator and a phone.

Cellphones often have calculators. It has not "defeated" anything.

Sunday, November 07, 2004
"why not ctrl-P for paste?"

Ctrl-X, Ctrl-C, and Ctrl-V can all be easily pressed from the same left-hand position. Ctrl-P is on the other side of the keyboard and awkward.

I'd like to throw in some more support for the Windows Explorer cut&paste. With something as important as files, it is reassuring to see that the file is not really gone until it is pasted elsewhere. When cutting an important block of text in a typical text editor, I sometimes find it a bit tense to make sure that I don't inadvertently wipe out the clipboard before pasting.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
Using Ctrl-X, C, and V are fine for QWERTY users, but real people use DVORAK, for which those keystrokes are kind of annoying to use at first.  I've been using dvorak for a couple of years and absolutely love it.  I'm surprised I haven't seen any Ruskin commentary on this.  I've read that in "truly" scientific studies DVORAK is not necessarily better than QWERTY, but I personally think it "feels" better -- more ergonomic or something.

I'm also kind of surprised I haven't come across any commentary on scroll wheels -- now that I've gotten used to them, I can't go back to using a mouse without one.  Using the mouse to move a scroll bar is inefficient, but a scroll wheel is perfect.  Now they just have to put one somewhere in the middle of the keyboard so I don't have to move my hand over to the mouse.  The Edit Plus text editor has a very very useful scroll feature which scrolls the text without moving the cursor relative to the text until it hits the top of the screen (ctrl-arrow up or down).  Also page-up and page-down are perfect rather than some i-search style "leap" command.  Ruskin's complaints about scroll bars have been solved by these two currently-existing solutions.

As for cut-paste in Office, I find Excel really annoying in that if you don't paste immediately after allegedly copying something to the clipboard, and doing something which causes the dashed line around your selection to disappear, then you can't go ahead and paste your selection.  You have to go back and re-copy it.  This can happen if you make a selection, copy it to the clipboard, and then in the destination (or elsewhere) decide you need to make more room or something, and move some stuff around.  Then you try to paste and nothing happens, since the dashed line has disappeared.  Also, the multiple-clipboard thing comes up on random occasion and doesn't make any sense without reading.  I hate reading things to figure out how an interface works.

Anyway, I'm curious to read his book because it probably has some good ideas.  I'm interested in CAD type of software for electrical, mechanical, illustration, etc. which has many dimensions of interacting with the data, far more than simply text.  There can be multiple views of objects and data, and presents some interesting new semantics about how to move/edit stuff around, between views, and also modifications like shrinking, growing, stretching, rotating, which are different from moving and/or copying.  Similarly, if things are linked to a master object (like in mech. design or chip layout), then that poses other semantic possibilities.  I think the current state of cad programs (for instance) could use a lot more full-sensory interactivity, such as sound (stereo), 3d, alpha shading, etc.  Of course I'm sure all this would suck on any unix box where "real" engineers work, so I'm not so sure about that.

anyway, those are my silly thoughts.

Michelle S. Send private email
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Excel's implementation of copy indeed is very annoying. Maybe Joel can tell us the story behind that some day?
Gerd Riesselmann
Friday, November 19, 2004
Isn't excel's method _exactly_ the same as the suggested move command?


Isn't the move command just a single cut-and-paste command pair, rolled together and renamed? What happens when you try to do the common task of cut,paste,paste,paste?

If it makes three copies, it's gonna be doing it from an invisible buffer, so the move command doesn't really get round this 'invisible buffer' problem he talks about. Worse, the first use of the command works differently from the second; the first does 'delete the selection and put it here', and the second is 'put the old selection here'.

And there's a horrendous mistake, I think, in trying to disadvantage millions of people for months, while they re-learn something that will probably never save them more than a few milliseconds.
Steve Cooper Send private email
Monday, November 22, 2004
The move command is fantastic, but most people here have overlooked the fact that it IS implemented in Microsoft Word. I'm not sure if it is documented, but I use it all the time. If you have some text selected, and then ctrl+right click somewhere else in your document, then, alakazam, it moves!
Nick Street Send private email
Tuesday, November 23, 2004

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