Jun 16

Cut, Copy, Paste: A Surprising History of Computing's Iconic Clipboard

Clipboard history is a topic in our next course "Tech-Enabled Productivity For Busy Non-Techies". You can check the course video at the bottom of the article.
If you've ever copied and pasted text or files on a computer, you've used the clipboard—one of the most basic yet essential features of modern operating systems and applications. While it may seem simple, the clipboard has undergone a fascinating evolution over the decades, particularly with Microsoft's contributions. Let's take a look back at how this humble utility has developed.

The Beginnings: Taking a Page from Xerox

The concept of a clipboard facility whereby data could be transferred from one application to another originated at Xerox PARC in the 1970s. Researchers there were pioneering graphical user interfaces and WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing. The idea of cutting/copying and pasting content was a natural extension of these paradigms.

Microsoft Borrows an Idea

When Microsoft developed their first Windows environment in the 1980s, they drew heavy inspiration from the work at Xerox PARC. The clipboard made its debut in early Windows versions as a way to move data between applications like Word and Excel. It quickly became an indispensable tool for computer users.

The Ribbon and Beyond

When Microsoft debuted the Ribbon interface in Office 2007, it included the Clipboard pane—giving users a visual record of previously copied items to paste from. This made the clipboard more robust and easier to use. Today, Cloud Clipboards even allow syncing clipboard data across devices for maximum portability.
While often overlooked, few computing utilities have been as enduring and widely-used as the clipboard. From its beginnings at Xerox PARC to today's Cloud Clipboards, the ability to copy, cut and paste data has become an indispensable part of our digital lives—all thanks to the innovations that transformed that original concept into the feature we know today.

Want to learn how to use clipboard history to become more productive? Check out this chapter from our in-process "Tech-Enabled Productivity For Busy Non-Techies" course."

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