Hands on: Clips, the Mac clipboard utility for power users

If you're happy with Cmd-V and a plain text file on your desktop called SNIPPETS.TXT, you probably won't be bookmarking this post on Delicious. On the other hand, if you've been looking for a clipboard utility that gets inspiration from the Finder, TextExpander, and iTunes with a light smattering of gratuitous Mac OS X flashiness, then meet Clips. HangZhou Night Net

Hailing from the same Conceited Software crew that drags IRC into the 21st century with Linkinus (that's right. I said it), Clips is an all-out assault on the traditional paradigm of the clipboard. You still get stuff into Clips with a good ol' Cmd-C, but Clips gets interesting when it comes to visualizing the snippets you've copied and pasting them somewhere. With not one, not two, but three different clipboard views—each with distinct advantages—Clips can bend very well to just about any workflow. Yeah, we know that sounds like PR speak, but seriously; just hear us out.

One of Clips' fundamental advantages is that it's designed to not only display the things you clip in multiple ways, but filter them between the applications you clip from. Want to view everything you've copied from Firefox or Mail? How about filtering everything else out to focus on the paragraphs you copied from PDFs in Preview? If you do a lot of work across Leopard's Spaces, Clips can even display snippets copied from a specific Space.

Toss in other filtering features like flagging snippets to keep them around, Smart Clipboards for more fine-grained filtering options, and the ability to assign keyboard shortcuts to individual snippets, and you can see glimpses of TextExpander and iTunes in here.

Look at the purty pi'tures

When it comes to recalling a snippet, Clips' first view is called the "Board," and it acts more or less like the Finder meets Dashboard. Each of Clips' views can naturally be called with a customizable keyboard shortcut; the Board displays the snippets you copy with a filtering sidebar on the left and a set of snippet swatches that you can arrow across.

Snippets can be flagged from this display, or you can hit the (i) icon to flip them over with a fancy schmancy animation to view information about the snippet, such as what it is (plain text versus image), when you copied it, from where, and how often you've used it.

After hitting the Return key to paste a snippet in the active application, the Board view zooms and fades out of sight, again, like Dashboard. Due to its unobtrusive, there-when-you-need-it nature, Panel is our favorite of Clips' views, though it can sometimes feel a little sluggish when called even on our Quad Mac Pro with 6GB of RAM. This performance will undoubtedly improve in updates, though, so we aren't too bothered by it for now.

The next view is called "Panel," and it's designed to be a bit more compact and persistent. Instead of swooshing in and out of view like some omnipotent clipboard deity, Clips' Panel acts more like an Inspector panel you see in some apps like Office 2008. You can resize the Panel vertically to display more snippets, and flip between Flagged and Dropped views to filter for snippets you have flagged and pasted at least once. There's no application or other kind of filtering here, however.

The Panel is more of a grab-and-go component that can stick around on the desktop, but not eat up too much screen real estate in the process. The fact that it fades out when not in use helps when letting it lay around in between pasting sessions. Our main complaint about the Panel view, which we'll address more in a minute, is that its compartments can't scale or resize text to make use of the space.

Clips' last view, called "Organizer," is exactly what it sounds like, and it combines all of Clips' features and functionality in a Finder-like window. Clips can be dragged and dropped into custom clipboards or Smart Clipboards, and a Cover Flow view is handy for previewing snippet sets with lots of images. Snippets can be assigned keyboard shortcuts or even displayed with a modified Quick Look window that contains aforementioned metadata below whatever the snippet is.

We found that we didn't use Organizer often, though it is very useful when turning Clips into a pseudo-TextExpander utility by saving clips to keep indefinitely and assigning keyboard shortcuts. Since we typically prefer our clipboard utilities to hover invisibly in the background, and we already use TextExpander for serious static snippet purposes (for now, at least), the Organizer view didn't fit as well into our workflow as Clips' other views.

Still a 1.0

In our testing, Clips 1.0 is a very strong offering as a super-clipboard utility, but it's still a little unpolished in some areas. Most notably, on a couple of occasions, Clips simply stopped recording items we copied. A restart of the app fixed the problem, and this happened perhaps only two or three times in the last week or so that we've been using it, but we were still surprised to see this in a 1.0.

Another quirk, especially in comparison to other clipboard utilities like iClip and the plug-ins for Quicksilver and Butler, is that long text snippets like URLs don't get wrapped in any of Clips' views. Text appears to be displayed with a fixed font, too, so "www.arstechnica.com," for example, is the only thing you'll see in the Board view if you clip a URL of a story at our site. If you're a heavy clipper, this can make picking a snippet out of a haystack somewhat difficult, though Clips' ability to filter on the fly by typing text in each view helps to solve this visual drawback for now.

Lastly, we noticed that Clips wasn't catching which Space a snippet was copied from very well. It worked sometimes, but after moving an app from Space 1 to 2 and copying something, Clips wouldn't catch it. We had to quit an app in Space 1 and start it in Space 2 in order for Clips to recognize the change. While this is probably just a behavioral bug that will get fixed soon, we're still a little surprised to see it, but it isn't a show-stopper.


All things considered, Clips is an impressive utility, and certainly one of the most powerful clipboard utilities we've ever used. With flexible ways to visualize snippets, an appreciated dose of flashy animation, and an overall look and UI that fits extremely well with Mac OS X, Clips has scored a place in our Login Items. At an introductory price of $34.99, Clips may be priced a bit high for some users, but it will likely still appeal to anyone who lives and dies by copying and pasting.

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