Ditto — Clipboard Manager with Type Ahead Find

The OS clipboard is pretty handy — except that it can only hold one item at a time. For a few years, I’ve been using a clipboard manager which fixed that and kept track of multiple clipboard items as I added them. (Essentially, it keeps an internal list of items which have been in the clipboard, updating the list each time something is copied to the clipboard.)

However, since upgrading to Windows 2000 (yeah, I’ve been using it that long), this utility acquired some consistency problems — sometimes it’d just stop working. I’m not mentioning the app’s name here since I’m not even sure if it’s the component at fault.

Anyhow, I recently sought a replacement clipboard manager. And, my first stop was at SourceForge since there’s a wealth of good open source goodies there. I found a couple good utilities there and finally settled on Ditto. It’s free, natch, and it works great.

If you’re new to the idea, here’s how a clipboard manager works in general:

  • Say you have a text document with the three biographies, one for “Alice”, one for “Bob” and one for “Carol”.

  • Then, suppose you were to copy Alice’s biography to the clipboard (to paste into a side document). So far, the built-in OS clipboard can handle this much…

  • After that, you copy Bob’s biography to the clipboard and paste that elsewhere…

  • So, Bob’s bio is now in your clipboard… But, what if you need quick access to Alice’s bio again? If you were using the regular clipboard, you'd be stuck.

  • However, with a clipboard manger, you can hit its hotkey and get a list of your past clipboard entries, choose the one you want, and that item is ready for pasting again.

All this may sound a bit esoteric if we’re just talking about biographies, but imagine this scenario with snippets of code or segments of a proposal which you’re editing. It can be a real time saver.

And the best part about Ditto — its killer feature which set it apart from similar apps — is that it supports type-ahead find. Also called “find as you type”, this feature was first seen in editors such as Emacs and became more widely known when it was built into Firefox. What this means is that finding stuff kicks in automatically. There’s no Ctrl-F or Edit -> Find; rather, you just start typing stuff and the program starts narrowing down the list as you’re typing.

For example, suppose that you had these entries in your clipboard:

  • Mozilla — An open source Web browser and toolkit from the Mozilla Foundation
  • Monkey — Any of various long-tailed, medium-sized members of the order Primates
  • Modern — Of or relating to recent times or the present

If you wanted to recall the entry on Mozilla, you’d invoke Ditto with its hotkey (configurable by you) and then type M… O… Z… and, at this point, Ditto would have automatically highlighted the entry on Mozilla since none of the other entries would have matched that third letter (the “Z”).

Another cool feature in Ditto is that you can, either manually or automatically, share clipboard items with another computer that’s is running Ditto. One use would be that you could have a unified clipboard among two computers that you used. Or, and this idea is more intriguing to me, you could sparingly use it to place stuff in a coworkers clipboard. Of course, the recipient would have to be expecting it at the time (otherwise he/she might be confused to find that entry in his/her clipboard).

Anyhow, if you want to try Ditto, there’re two bits to download. First there’s the main installer for Ditto and then there's a DAO installer (I can’t say that I’m completely sure about what DAO does but its acronym stands for “Data Access Object” and I would conjecture that it’s some type of database toolkit). They can be installed in either order, for what it’s worth.

Ditto’s hotkey is configurable (Options -> Keyboard Shortcuts) and I’ve set mine to Ctrl-Alt-Y (which was the hotkey for the old clipboard manager that my fingers were already used to typing). And, as for other configuration options, I’d also recommend poking around in the Options -> Supported Types area which, as I understand it, defines what types of clipboard data Ditto keeps track of (text, images, and so on). There, I’ve added “CF_BITMAP” to the list (using the “Add” button there and selecting) which should enable Ditto to keep track of images in the clipboard as well.

PS I’m open to suggestions if anyone can recommend a clipboard manager for OS X (which runs on my other box). Unfortunately, a climate of shareware licensing engulfs that platform and I'm not holding my breath on finding a free equivalent for that OS.

Update 2005-06-18: Apparently, Quicksilver (for OSX) can be used for clipboard management. I may have to give that a try.

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