Talk to any seasoned computer user and you'll find that "copying and pasting" is a regular technique. It is used to move data from one place to another, even from one program to another.
Many users would be lost without this powerful ability.
Repetitive tasks, such as filling in fields on forms, can be quickly streamlined by borrowing or "copying" data that has already been typed somewhere in your computer and inserting (or pasting it) wherever you like.
Even Windows elements, such as icons, shortcuts, files and folders, can be moved around using copy, cut and paste.
The glue that holds the whole thing together is called the clipboard and this is the part that throws most people. That's because the clipboard is hidden behind the scenes and you rarely ever see it.
Since it's invisible, you have to take it on faith that something is really happening when you copy. That's where most people have trouble.
When you copy something to the clipboard, there is no obvious indicator that anything has happened until you go to paste and then "pop," whatever you copied to the clipboard pops into place wherever you paste it, sometimes minutes (even hours) after copying it.
There are actually three commands associated with this technique: copy, cut and paste.
Cut and copy are very similar with one difference. When you copy something to the clipboard, the original item stays put. But when you cut something, the original item actually deletes from its original location when you finally get around to pasting it.
This brings us to the third command: paste. Once you have a bit of data copied to the clipboard, whether it's text, pictures, files, folders, icons or whatever, you can insert that data wherever you want just by clicking paste.
Even though you can copy and paste from different parts of Windows, there are some rules that govern the whole thing.
For instance, you can't copy and paste icons and folders into programs. In other words, you can't copy your my documents folder and paste it into a Word document. It just won't work.
You have to keep within loose boundaries. Copy text and paste it into areas that normally hold text, such as word processors and form fields. Copy graphics and paste them into places that usually manage graphics, such as image editors. Copy files, folders and icons and paste into places that support files, folders and icons, such as disk drives and your desktop.
So, how does it all work? Let's run through a quick scenario.
Let's say that you just got done installing a new program on your machine. In order to launch this program, however, you have to click start, then programs, then go to the new programs group and click on the program icon.
Isn't there a way to get an icon on the desktop that we can click without having to navigate through all those menus?
Sure! We can use copy and paste to place an icon on the desktop.
Let's run through it using Windows 7 and FreeCell.
First, we have to find the icon we want to copy. Click start, then go to all programs, then games. With the right mouse button, click on the FreeCell icon and notice another menu pops up. In the new menu click copy.
This is where people get confused because it appears that nothing has happened. Have faith. The menu where we clicked copy disappears and we go back to the desktop, right click and click paste wherever we like. In fact, we can keep pasting copies of our FreeCell icon wherever we want until we copy something else to the clipboard.
An easier way to access the commands is with "hot key" combinations listed in the edit pull-down menu. CTRL+C is copy, CTRL+X is cut and CTRL+V is paste.
The uses for copy, cut and paste are unlimited. Once you know how to do it, you'll be amazed at just how many chores can be simplified with this technique.
Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at (888) 752-9049 or help@ComputeThisOnline.com (no hyphens).