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February 17, 2004 12:30 AM

Broken: Microsoft Excel clipboard

Vanya Tucherov writes:

Just found a really annoying and severely broken behaviour in Excel involving data placed on the clipboard.

To reproduce:
- Open two or more Excel spreadsheets.
- Select multiple rows and columns in one of the spreadsheets
- Copy this data (Ctrl+c)
- Switch to another sheet.
- Type something in a cell on the "target" spreadsheet.
- Attempt to paste the data from the "source" spreadsheet via the clipboard to the "target" spreadsheet.

Broken: Excel behaves as if the clipboard is empty. Opening the clipboard shows that, indeed, it has no content on it. The clipboard was erased!

Of course, adding data to the target spreadsheet shouldn't empty the clipboard. This is a silent failure within Excel for no apparent reason.


I think this has nothing to do with a two spreadsheet. The way excel works is that when you cut or copy stuff that is held in that state until you do another operation. You will find this more intutive if you are using a single sheet as you can see the dotted rectangle around the copied cells disappear when you type something in a new cell.

Posted by: Anand at February 17, 2004 01:30 AM

No, it's a clipboard focus issue. The clipboard 'loses' the copied items if there's any data entry between the copy and paste operations.

Another workaround is to open the side-panel clipboard display, and to click the item there to paste it.

This is still hugely buggy- expectations, and, for that matter behaviours- have always been that something on the clipboard is immediately accessible until replaced- with the ctrl+v or right click behaviours.

Posted by: vanya tucherov at February 17, 2004 12:04 PM

can we all file a class action suit against them for wasting our collective time


Posted by: Laurie Kalmanson at February 17, 2004 12:14 PM

This has annoyed me for years. It is true that you can't do anything between copy and paste or you lose it.

Posted by: Scott Palmer at February 17, 2004 06:15 PM

This happens anytime you try to copy something FROM within Excel, do something else in Excel OTHER than paste.

Yet, if you copy from Word or some other program, do something else, and then paste in Excel, it works. This has always annoyed me.

Posted by: meryl at February 19, 2004 07:34 PM

Not only has this always been broken - Microsoft has always *known* that its broken. In "Debugging the Development Process", Steve McGuire notes this problem but them claims, amazingly, that users are not confused or irritated by it and that "most people never notice that it's different."! (pp. 67-68 in my edition). I think what he meant to say is that "Microsoft never notices that most people are confused and irritated by it."

Posted by: Carl Zetie at February 20, 2004 12:04 PM

Another thing that's broken is Close (from the top left System menu). Each of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint interprets the command differently when you have multiple documents open, depending on whether any of them have been edited. You can accidentally find yourself closing several documents you were viewing when you meant to close only one, or discarding/saving the changes in the wrong document if you don't pay *very* close attention.

p.s. I meant MacGuire not McGuire in the post above!

Posted by: Carl Zetie at February 20, 2004 12:07 PM

Here's a "technical explanation for why that's so:

Posted by: Aragorn Greenleaf at March 10, 2004 01:47 AM

I've found a handy little piece of freeware called HovText that seems to cure this. It basically strips all formatting information out of everything that goes into the clipboard. This has the added benefit of removing the font and color formatting out of everything you paste into other Office applications as well (No More "Paste Special"!!).

Posted by: Jon at November 18, 2004 02:11 PM

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