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Ask HN: Who decided copy+paste should copy styling/formatting?

I don't know if you have noticed that if you copy+paste into email pages/apps like outlook and gmail they bring over all the formatting and styling of the source. That is, it pastes the text in with things like the font color and background color, and the font type itself, which then become the styling for the rest of the email if you keep typing as well.

Who came up with this? It makes absolutely no sense that anyone would want to transplant styling/formatting into an email, where there is no guarantee (indeed, little chance) that it will mesh well. It's just baffling.

  • 277 points
  • 8 days ago

  • @unbroken
  • Created a post

Ask HN: Who decided copy+paste should copy styling/formatting?


@RajT88 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

As some have pointed out, CTRL+SHIFT+V will save you here on Windows.

It was annoying before I learned this trick; I had been using Notepad instead to strip formatting.

With the shortcut, this is fine for me for most apps.

What drives me barking, raving, drooling mad is the fact that it is possible for an app to lock the clipboard. Bad apps will silently cause the clipboard to fail to update, which leads to the attentive interrupting their work to go back and re-copy. The less attentive, this leads to them sending a message they did not intend to send!

Bad apps locking the clipboard have been around for a long time now, but seem to have been becoming more common lately. As near as I can tell the locking behavior started with Windows 7, but may have actually been Vista (I never used Vista for my day-to-day work, just test environment).

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@nautilius 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It's amazing for job applications if you're on the receiving end: there is no faster shortcut for triaging an application to "Deleted Items" than mismatched formatting of my name, or "I am really interested in $SOME_SNIPPET_FROM_MY_WEBSITE".

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@kurupt213 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I agree that copying formatting should be the special case instead of copying the text only

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@pinacarlos90 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Plain text copy/paste should be the default and crtl+shift+v to include formatting

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@ciabattabread 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It’s threads like this that remind me that this website is a niche website.

Computing today is meant for the general public. Remember WYSIWYG? Same principles apply here.

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@ochrist 4 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

In some programs on Windows, you can use Shift + F10 which will bring up a special menu with some options concerning copy and paste. If you can choose 'Insert special ...' from this menu you can now select how you want to insert from the clipboard (works on some versions of Excel and also some browsers). This also seems to work in Linux, but I don't know about Mac.

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@jstummbillig 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

If you have rarely worked with average people in any non-tech-producing-but-software-using sector, I can see how this might be confusing.

If you have, the answer becomes crystal clear, very quickly: A staggering amount of information gets passed around by people copying random websites into word documents and just needing them to make visual sense without additional effort, because if that was not the case productivity would absolutely plummet, over people fighting to format documents back into readability (or maybe they would just go right back to screenshotting or gasp prints).

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@Tagbert 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I’m sure Win/Mac/Lin all support multiple formats in their clipboard that can be requested by the apps upon paste.

To support this should also be standard key combinations that allow the user to paste plain text or rich text as needed. I often want to paste plain text but I’m OK if I need to use an additional modifier for that. I can see reasons why most people expect a rich text result based on history so I don’t think it is worth disrupting that precedent. Those of us, to whom it matters can adapt.

Apps should also provide clipboard controls to chose the paste format. Sometimes there are additional paste types that would be relevant. Some apps, like the MS Office apps do this but it is not universal.

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@xcambar 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Many users, and maybe most outside HN, either:

* don't care about the misformatting

* actually want the red font and underlining from the web page they're copying from.

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@Ekaros 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I think it kinda makes sense when you are using other Office tools. Formatting in that case might be something user wants.

The insane perversion comes from copying from VSCode where you get even the background colour?!?! Or the fun thing that copying formatting sometimes works from Linux running in Virtualbox...

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@Kozmik1 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It's amazing that Microsoft works so hard on this bs, but does zero to have Excel support copying newline separated (or comma separated, otherwise clearly dilineated) text pop into Excel properly on paste, something that would actually be useful!

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@luxeo223 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Ctrl-Shift-V pastes without formatting in most applications

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@pupppet 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It's tough because you don't want the formatting...until you. If I'm editing text that has a few bolded words I'd be immediately annoyed if the pasted text didn't have the bolded instances.

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@carom 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I just paste it into the URL bar and re-copy. Ctrl+l, ctrl+v, ctrl+a, ctrl+c.

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@HanyouHottie 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

My go-to method to strip formatting was Win+R, Ctrl+V, Ctrl+A, Ctrl+X (or C), Esc. This opens the run box, pastes the text (without formatting, because it's the run box), selects it, copies it, and closes the run box. It can be done quickly and entirely with the left hand.

Then I found this neat little program [1] that will paste without formatting for you with a single hotkey.

[1]: http://stevemiller.net/PureText/

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@eoghann 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I just imagined trying to explain to my non-techy colleagues how to get the pasted "stuff" to look like the copied "stuff" and that pretty much answered the question...

Everything about Windows and Microsoft office is annoying to someone who knows how to use a computer properly; unfortunately, the vast majority of people using them do not. I work with people who use Excel every day and will still do the maths in their head and type into the cells because formulas are too difficult for them to master.

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@mohamez 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

THIS!

I hate myself each time I'm using LibreOffice just for this reason, why the hell would that be the norm?

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@kcexn 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Was this a decision? I thought Copy+Paste would just have copied the data in the buffer and paste out the data in the buffer. All metadata and stuff attached.

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@topspin 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Copying anything other than the characters/code points/whatever by default is a misfeature. Should it be possible to copy formatting? Yes, of course, in those rare, specialized cases when it's useful and likely to work in a sane manner. Otherwise it's a bad idea.

I wish I could speak with the people behind text selection in Microsoft Word and other applications. The selection automatically expands to include additional characters, usually whitespace characters although other junk gets pulled in as well, and is a frustration. The behavior seems incoherent; grabbing extra characters for unfathomable reasons.

When the user expends effort to precisely select something this should be respected, not interpreted as an opportunity to apply whatever heuristic gymnastics someone, somewhere for some reason thought was a good idea.

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@linuxdaemon 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It seems most of my posts here end up being a complaint about MS Teams. So here is another. Teams will happily take the formatting of "black text" from copying from Word for example. But anyone who is using a dark theme on Teams now can't read it because it "intelligently" kept the formatting that didn't even matter because it was just "plain back text". Had it been copied from something that didn't specify that formatting, it would have just worked.

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@kazinator 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

> Who decided copy+paste should copy styling/formatting?

I would say, 1980s integrated office appllications for the Macintosh, like ClarisWorks.

> It makes absolutely no sense that anyone would want to transplant styling/formatting into an email

It absolutely makes a ton of sense: often you want to copy text containing bullets, bolding, italics, underlining and ... oh: tables?

There are times when you don't want the formatting, like for instance when you just want to quote some passage of text, without quoting its 24 point font.

It is essential to have a command to paste without formatting. You need it both ways.

In 2022, can't you get an e-mail program whose editor has paste with and without formatting?

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@paxys 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

The OS will actually copy both the raw text and text with formatting. It's up to the client app to let you choose which one to paste. Most of them offer both ("paste without formatting").

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@wasmitnetzen 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Even in Linux, it's surprisingly hard to make plain pasting the default. I once tried to research how to switch the Ctrl+Shift+V behaviour with Ctrl+V on KDE, and I gave up after a while. Couldn't find a way.

Ctrl+Shift+V doesn't even show up in the Shortcuts config, despite working in every program I've tried and Ctrl+V being in the list.

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@ww520 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Yes, it's really annoying. In the past I had resorted to copy/paste into Emacs and then copy/paste out into the destination app. Then I learned about the Ctrl+Shift+V trick and just rolled with that.

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@fredsmith219 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I like the option. If I want the formatting stripped I paste the text into notepad++, then copy that text. Otherwise I get all the formatting and don't need to reapply it.

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@__mharrison__ 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Obviously not an emacs user... (wink)

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@adamrezich 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Win+R notepad Enter Ctrl+V Ctrl+A Ctrl+X is just embedded in my muscle memory at this point and I wish it didn't have to be.

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@ledjon 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

1000% agreed

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@bob1029 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Maybe we just need a simple way to turn this behavior on/off at the operating system level? Clearly, there are strong arguments for both sides.

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@zora_goron 7 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

This small alias can clear the formatting from whatever you have copied to your clipboard on macOS (not sure what the equivalents of `pbcopy`/`pbpaste` are on other OS's):

  alias noformat="pbpaste | pbcopy"

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@jiveturkey 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It makes perfect sense! I guess you didn't know, Cmd-shift-V pastes the plain text only, in all or nearly all applications.

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@twic 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

At least two people want to paste with formatting:

https://www.alfredforum.com/topic/17398-clipboard-history-fe...

I've seen this question asked again and again. Once, i saw an answer from someone who was a product manager on a big office tool, i think at Microsoft. Their answer was that according to their user research, the vast majority of users want to paste with formatting.

Given how often this comes up, and how irritating all programmers evidently find this, i would really love to read a detailed writeup of this feature; its history, how popular it really is, how people use it, etc. It seems likely there's a big story here we're all completely missing.

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@freitasm 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

And recently sometimes ctrl-shift-v seems to not work in any application.

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@Neil44 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Paste into Notepad then copy again to get rid of formatting.

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@yubiox 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I keep a terminal with vim open, almost every time I copy I paste there and recopy. So stupid and annoying.

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@leaflets2 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I hit ctrl-f and paste, copy again in the app's search field - then the formatting disappears.

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@gumby 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

This has been how I remember copy/paste working on the on the Alto back in the 1970s. I believe copy/paste was invented by Larry Tesler and it wasn't just in the editor (Bravo/Gypsy -- I can no longer remember) but worked this way in other programs as well.

PARC was a magical place back then.

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@strongpigeon 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Outlook used the (still uses? dunno) Wingding font to display smiley faces. To be able to copy paste that would mean copying the formatting as well. Not sure if that's the original reason for it, but it's definitely a use of this. Lots of users would be confused to see their smiley faces turn into "J"s.

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@Hamcha 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I'd wager there's enough people, but I never looked into it so I have no data other than the people I know IRL.

I will add something though, I don't think the other way lends itself too well to being "discoverable". I just had my brother copy some data across documents with different formatting and he didn't know that "paste without formatting" was ever an option and now I think, if it ever worked the other way around, would I ever know that "Paste with formatting" is an option if the app defaults to unformatted paste?

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@moralestapia 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Thank you for posting this, I wanted to ask HN about it sometime.

I have no clue why somebody thought this was a good idea.

In 20 years of using computers everyday, I have never, EVER, had the need to copy the source format into whatever thing I'm doing. On the contrary, every single time I open Notepad, paste it there and copy it again ... I know about ctrl+shift+v or something, but I never get it right and also I already have developed muscle memory for Notepad.

Also, who decided that pasting w/ format should be the default behavior, sorry but, wtf.

Is there any real use case for this? Anyone finds this useful? Any scenario where this is actually useful and I'm missing it because I'm not familiar with X?

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@lfkdev 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

strg+shift+v

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@alin23 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Yea it’s annoying more often than it’s useful. As always, there’s a macOS app for that: https://sindresorhus.com/pure-paste

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@pavlov 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Trying to literally answer your question of who came up with this:

I'm pretty sure Windows 95 already allowed rich text on the clipboard (using the RTF format), and at least Word and Excel both supported it. Mac OS X also had RTF support from the start.

Nowadays most desktop applications write HTML to the clipboard instead of RTF, I believe. And that's how the formatting ends up in your Gmail editor inside a browser.

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@kelnos 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I think this makes perfect sense, but I agree it can be annoying. I wouldn't want a copy-paste operation to be lossy by default. If I were copying a table or something like that, I would almost certainly want that formatting preserved at the destination.

To me, the real problem is that when you don't want to bring formatting along, it's not obvious how to do that, and it's not implemented universally. Fix that, and I don't think there'd be as much to complain about.

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@groffee 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Just paste it into notepad/gedit/plain text editor first, then recopy it from there.

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@renewiltord 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Cmd-Shift-V and forget about things.

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@UI_at_80x24 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I agree with you 100%.

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@NKosmatos 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Thank you for this!!! I’m sick and tired of seeing emails with 4 different fonts/style/formatting. I hate stupid Microsoft programs (I’m looking at you Outlook and Teams) that insist on copying all the stupid info from a message. I have no problem with copying the style, but they should use a new key or option for it. Leave copy paste as it is (yeah I know about paste special and paste text only and almost all other tricks mentioned here).

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@bombledmonk 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

In many, but not all programs on windows you can paste plain text by using ctrl+shift+v. Outlook desktop is one of the few places where this hotkey does not work.

Before I knew there was a native hotkey combo, I created a autohotkey script that would do that and had a mini-tutorial that showed how.

https://forum.digikey.com/t/add-a-digi-key-search-hotkey-eve...

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@FabHK 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It seems to me that the general paradigm is that the copy/paste operation copies over everything, if the receiving app supports it, and degrades gracefully, otherwise. In other words: copy over as much as possible.

Mail supports rich text, so that's what's copied.

Agreed though: in the scenario you describe, it's often not what's desired, but that's why there's another key combination to support this use case without breaking the consistency of the general paradigm.

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@Vosporos 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

The Devil.

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@standardly 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

ctrl+shift+v

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@wnissen 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Rich text is high-entropy, plain text is strictly lower entropy. If you lose the painstakingly applied formatting, you'll be sad, at least sadder than you were if you had to reset the formatting, which is comparatively easy.

I get you, my emails are plain text by default, but this is a relatively straightforward answer. Microsoft has been using rich text pasting since the 90s, I think. It was definitely considered a big feature in that era.

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@nend 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It's useful if you want to copy, say a bulleted list over, or keep various bold/italicized words.

I would say it's usually 50/50 whether I want to keep the formatting or not. But either way most applications support both copy with formatting and copy without formatting.

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@hitgeek 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

agreed, like others I often resort to using notepad to remove all styling then copy/paste again.

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@more_corn 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Idiots

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@lostlogin 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Another issue with copy + paste is that history isn’t preserved. Why a clipboard manager isn’t a piece of the OS is a mystery to me.

Every so often I wonder how much data is lost by copying over the copy and then finding the initial copy is gone.

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@Tomte 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It gets worse: on Microsoft Edge I have to wait half a second or so after selecting text before I press Ctrl-C. If I try to copy too fast it won't copy.

Yes, this "cloud clipboard" thing is off, verbatim copy is on. i have no idea why on earth they do this, but there is some three dots overlay popping up after selecting text.

I have no plugins or similar installed. It drives me crazy.

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@superjan 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

This is mostly the office team deciding that this is useful. Probably to provide a consistent experience when copying between apps within the suite.

You can turn off.

https://www.howtogeek.com/howto/28478/copy-and-paste-in-outl...

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@ineedasername 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

>It makes absolutely no sense that anyone would want to transplant styling/formatting into an email

I do it all the time when I need to email a small table from excel instead of attaching the whole sheet, especially when it's backed by data that should never be sent in an email. It works fine.

I used to not be able to do this. Content didn't paste nicely, or recipient clients didn't display it nicely. These days it's no longer an issue, clients mostly seem to handle it without issue.

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@pengo 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

The clipboard data format for copying and pasting is determined by whoever wrote the software. Some software allows for format conversion of copied data at the point of pasting; again, that's a decision made by the software provider.

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@swah 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

Conclusion: the majority of HN never saw how a non-technical person uses a computer.

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@d--b 7 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

At some point in history, rich text formatting was pretty uniform. Copying from word to textpad or outlook just worked.

You definitely wanted to keep what was in italics, bold, superscript and so on, so at least that made sense.

Then why not fonts and colors? From a word document to powerpoint, it makes sense to keep all the formatting.

What messed everything up is the web. You can’t paste anything into gmail without the formatting to be all screwed.

It’s annoying indeed.

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@jonnycomputer 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

On a Mac, copying text from my terminal to Outlook, or to Excel, copies in formatting too. A little frustrating when you copy text from a dark mode theme into a non-dark mode theme and it looks like nothing was copied at all because its all just 'white'.

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@ghusto 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

This! I thought I was going insane, that nobody has mentioned this until now. "When did this start happening?", I thought. But looking into it, it seemed as if it had always been like this -- only of course it hadn't!

It is mind crushingly annoying, second in nerve-o-smashing only to useless mouse over popups all over a UI. "Here, let me just smack a popup over what you're reading because there's now about 0.2cm of the screen you can place your mouse that _doesn't_ do that. What does it say? Oh, it just repeats the name of the link it's over".

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@munk-a 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

If copy-paste didn't copy formatting it'd be impossible to copy formatting without a special other interaction - it's usually easy enough to get around this behavior by either using ctrl+shift+v or else paste into a plain text editor and copy out of there.

I almost never appreciate this feature but I can comprehend why it exist and it'd be extremely awkward for users that rely on it if it didn't.

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@k__ 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

More importantly:

Who decided links are part of styling and should be filtered out when you past without styling?!

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@joeman1000 7 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I’m looking at a company… it’s name starts with Micro… I am currently forced to work in excel today and I can’t describe how excruciating it is to do even the simplest things. This may be a ‘spreadsheet thing’, or it may be a MS thing (probably both). Coming from a few hours in emacs into a big-ol’ spreadsheet just shocks my system. I can’t get over how many idiosyncratic and unintuitive things they can cram into one screenful. It’s a feat in mass user torture. I’m going to write a proper post on why no one should use excel, especially if they’re in a technical field.

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@knoebber 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I sometimes copy paste things into the browser URL bar to strip formatting

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@Vladimof 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

I usually paste it in an edit box that doesn't accept formatting list Firefox's search box and copy and paste again to get rid of stupid formating... but I agree that this shouldn't be the default

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@erellsworth 8 days

Replying to @unbroken 🎙

It was me. Sorry, my bad.

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