OS X Lion: Cut and Paste (Finally!)

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It’s been approximately 87 years since Mac users started complaining about the lack of cut-and-paste functionality for files in the Finder. In Snow Leopard, you could sorta-kinda simulate it by holding down the Command key as you dragged a file, but with Lion, the gods have finally blessed us with a simple keyboard shortcut to move an item instead of copying it. I love you, Apple, but it’s about darned time.

Mac OS X assumes that if you’re dragging an item onto another volume—an external hard drive, a flash drive, a separate partition on your Mac, or even a disk image—you want to copy that item rather than moving it, much to the frustration of many. In Windows, folks have long been able to do a simple cut-and-paste job and be finished with the whole mess. But Finder’s Edit > Cut command is greyed out, maybe to protect users from themselves (namely, in cutting a file and then forgetting to paste it somewhere).

Why, Apple, why?!

 

But now we have a way to move items easily and safely, and here’s how. First, copy your item in Finder using the Command-C keyboard shortcut, or choose Edit > Copy. Then go to the location where you’d like to put your file, and instead of hitting the typical Command-V shortcut to paste it, hit Option-Command-V. You can also go up to the Edit menu and hold down the Option key, and “Paste Item” will switch to “Move Item Here.”

Your file or folder will then obediently move to the place you’ve chosen. It’s like cut and paste, but if you forget to perform the second half of these steps, your file will still sit in its original location, minding its own business. I think this is an elegant way to implement this long-begged-for feature, but geez Louise, it took them long enough. 

Comments

jameskatt

The author must be a Windows User or has had Windows envy.

Cut and Paste is a Windows Concept.  It is not a Mac Concept.

On the Mac, files were treated as real objects.  Cutting and pasting objects makes no sense intuitively.  It is a confusing concept even to new Windows users. 

Confusion is not the Mac way of doing things.  This is why cutting and pasting objects was not implemented on the Mac for so long.

It is only begrudgingly that it is implemented on the Mac.  The only reason for doing it is because half of new Mac users are former Windows users.

Sure, there are non-intuitive ways of doing things on the Mac also.  For example, dragging a CD disk to the trash to eject it is non-intuitive.  But they improved on this method in Mac OS X by changing the trash icon to an eject icon when a disk is dragged over it.

Cutting and pasting is a WINDOWS concept.  Remember that.

Melissa Holt

Cutting and pasting is a WINDOWS concept.? Remember that.

Actually, believe it or not, cutting and pasting (of text) on the Mac has been around since the Lisa. From that article:

Apple Computer widely popularized the computer-based cut-and-paste paradigm through the Lisa (1981) and Macintosh (1984) operating systems and applications.

So it’s actually more correct to say that cutting and pasting is an Apple concept than it is a Windows concept (though neither is technically accurate).

Lee Dronick

If I remember correctly the reason we didn’t have cut and past was because if there was a hiccup in mid transfer then you could lose the file. When you dragged and dropped or copied and pasted the file the original was still selected and could delete it safely if you chose to.

kirkrr

But they broke the concept of moving an entire folder and only replacing the files that have changed or don’t exist - and don’t replace those that do.

http://www.betalogue.com/2011/09/04/lionfinder-dontreplace/

This one major SNAFU was sufficient to revert to Snow Leopard.

Combined with the revision function not working on shared, non-HFS+ volumes with NO user feedback, Lion has serious show stopper issues.

Substance

Maybe I’m missing something but I don’t think I’ve ever missed not being able to cut & paste files in OS X.  I’ve been fine dragging and dropping files with a tap of the command* key before releasing to move files for as long as I can remember.

But I guess I can understand how this would seem ‘non-intuitive’ to a longtime Windows user coming to the Mac. 

However, I would assert that “cutting” files is not the right verb to use here.  “Moving” files is and I think that Lion sufficiently recognizes the difference through the menu options that it provides.

I believe that was the point of @jameskatt’s post, that cutting & pasting of files is a Windows concept.  I’m glad that Lion sort-of accomodates it through the File menu, but in a more intuitive matter than Windows.

* = I can’t say for sure if it’s the command key as I’m typing this on my work’s Windows PC.  It’s one of those processes I’m so familliar with it’s just muscle memory for me now.

ilikeimac

I’m glad Lion’s implementation of this avoids the problem of losing files because a transfer failed or because you “copied” another file without ever pasting the previous one. And, ergonomically, it’s nice to have a method of moving and copying files that doesn’t involve dragging.

Nevertheless I am still uncomfortable with applying the cut, copy and paste metaphor to files. In real life one doesn’t “cut” or “paste” a file to move it, and you don’t start by “copying” when you really intend to move. And there’s (almost) no point in pasting files into a document, or text or images into the Finder.

Alas, I have no brilliant panacea to offer at the moment either, so whenever I do get around to installing Lion, I’ll welcome the Finder’s new commands as a net gain.

Ross Edwards

If I remember correctly the reason we didn?t have cut and past was because if there was a hiccup in mid transfer then you could lose the file.

Kind of.  Pre-XP or Vista (I forget which, and this might even have been an XP service pack change), Windows cut and paste was a true file cut, and if something happened before paste was done, bye-bye file.  Since the change, a cut is just a copy with a pending delete set to execute upon paste.  If you select a bunch of files and ctrl-X, they get grayed out but remain as they are.  When you paste, they are either moved on the MBR (if the same storage device) or copied and the deleted (if a different storage device).  If for any reason the operation isn’t completed, the files are unaffected.

The main difference now is that Windows retains the old workflow paradigms for it, while Apple has a slightly more intuitive one (much like inverse Lion scrolling: jarring at first but then very easy to acclimate):

Windows: copy & paste or cut & paste
Mac: designate & duplicate or designate & move

There are more syllables, but it doesn’t feel like there’s a missing step during which the files are kind of, you know, in the aether.  Much more solid, less question conceptually about what’s happening to your files at any given instant.

Melissa Holt

If I remember correctly the reason we didn?t have cut and past was because if there was a hiccup in mid transfer then you could lose the file.

This was part of my understanding, too (along with the potential for user error as mentioned in the article). In any case, I’ve gotten along fine without it for a long time, but I’m still happy to have the option! smile

Melissa Holt

But I guess I can understand how this would seem ?non-intuitive? to a longtime Windows user coming to the Mac.?

I think that, too. I work with a lot of switchers (and let’s be honest, a very large percentage of the user base at this point wasn’t using OS X five years ago). For them, not being able to cut and paste a file is counterintuitive, whether that’s a good practice or not.

BurmaYank

”... Mac users started complaining about the lack of cut-and-paste functionality for files in the Finder. In Snow Leopard, you could sorta-kinda simulate it by holding down the Command key as you dragged a file, but with Lion, the gods have finally blessed us with a simple keyboard shortcut to move an item instead of copying it.”

Melissa, I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about here - WHAT lack of cut-and-paste functionality for files in the Finder??? 

Ever since probably before Mac OS 8.x (and perhaps even on my first 128 Kb Macintosh in 1985 with its OS 1.1, but I can’t actually recall it one way or another), you could always;
1.  MOVE (AKA, “cut-and-paste”) a file, a text string or any other object-oriented-programming object in the Finder or in any other Mac Application by simply selecting it and dragging it to wherever you wanted it to be moved to, and you also could always
2. COPY (AKA, “copy-and-paste”) a file, a text string or any other object-oriented-programming object in the Finder or any Mac Application by simply selecting it and OPTION-dragging it to wherever you wanted it to be moved to.  (

And I have no idea what you are referring to when you’re talking about ”...holding down the Command key as you dragged a file…” -  Option-Key (or Right-Click) drag, sure!  Command key drag, WHAA…??

So, that just adds to my impression that jameskatt must be quite correct:

“The author must be a Windows User or has had Windows envy.

Cut and Paste (for Finder objects) is a Windows Concept.? It is not a Mac Concept.
On the Mac, files were treated as real objects.? Cutting and pasting objects makes no sense intuitively.? It is a confusing concept even to new Windows users.?

Confusion is not the Mac way of doing things.? This is why cutting and pasting objects was not implemented on the Mac for so long.

It is only begrudgingly that it is implemented on the Mac.? The only reason for doing it is because half of new Mac users are former Windows users.

Melissa Holt

Melissa, I haven?t a clue what you?re talking about here - WHAT lack of cut-and-paste functionality for files in the Finder???

Ever since probably before Mac OS 8.x (and perhaps even on my first 128 Kb Macintosh in 1985 with its OS 1.1, but I can?t actually recall it one way or another), you could always;
1.? MOVE (AKA, ?cut-and-paste?) a file, a text string or any other object-oriented-programming object in the Finder or in any other Mac Application by simply selecting it and dragging it to wherever you wanted it to be moved to, and you also could always
2. COPY (AKA, ?copy-and-paste?) a file, a text string or any other object-oriented-programming object in the Finder or any Mac Application by simply selecting it and OPTION-dragging it to wherever you wanted it to be moved to.

Hi there BurmaYank,

The problem has been just as you listed above?we had the ability to move and copy, but no easy way to “cut” an original file. For example, when you attempt to move a file from your internal hard drive to another volume (like a disk image), the file is by default copied, not moved, so this resulted in a lot of users having to go back and delete the original files they wanted moved.

I wasn’t talking about moving files around on your internal hard drive. Those obviously go exactly where you tell them to!

And I have no idea what you are referring to when you?re talking about ?...holding down the Command key as you dragged a file?? -? Option-Key (or Right-Click) drag, sure!? Command key drag, WHAA???

If you Option-drag a file, it makes a copy. If you Command-drag one, it moves the file (even in cases where the OS would want to make a copy, as in the example I’ve illustrated above). Command-dragging was useful if, for example, you wanted to offload a bunch of files to an external hard drive without having to go back and delete the originals. Make sense?

And I can assure both of you that there’s no Windows envy with me. smile

BurmaYank

Thanks, Melissa -

I’m grateful for your help in understanding what “cutting” a Finder file could mean, because “cutting” a file from one volume to another is not something I’d ever considered or wished I could do (and I’m inclined to expect I won’t be wanting to, even now that your excellent explanation has given me the idea of doing it).  And I’ve never wanted/needed to Command-drag anything - I’ve just plain dragged it to where I wanted it moved - but I can see how it might sometimes come in handy. (BTW, hasn’t this Command-drag function been part of the standard Mac OS since long before OS4.x?)

When I create .dmg files, I’ve previously selected the option of either replacing the original with that .dmg file (wherever I’ve chosen it to be created), or leaving the original in place.

When I copy files to another volume, I’m too paranoid to allow the original to be deleted until I’ve verified that the copy is a true copy (because, when it comes to folders containing problematic files, the copy has often been subtly incomplete, and too often, I never discovered what the copy was missing until after I’d deleted the original.)

But I am very glad to understand it, now - thanks, again.

Melissa Holt

You’re very welcome, BurmaYank! I’m honestly happy to help if I can.

?Melissa

Mikuro

I never understood how important this feature was until I worked in tech support and had to deal with people who simply did not understand the concept of dragging, or using multiple windows at once. Of course, Windows encourages using only one window at a time with its full-screen zoom button. This has always been a Bad Thing?, but now Lion is doing it, too, with full-screen mode (and I still haven’t stopped cringing).

Tell them to drag a file from one place to another, and they just won’t follow you. It has to be right-click, copy, close origin folder, navigate to destination folder, right-click, paste. Drives me crazy just watching it, but that’s the way it is. We’re talking about people who will turn Caps Lock on and off every time they need a single capital letter.

Tell them to drag a file from one place to another over the phone, and I guarantee you’d save time by going over to their desk and doing it for them. Even if you’re not in the same city.

It WAS a problem that the Mac OS had no simple way to do this without dragging.

Edit: I also want to point out that “cutting” something and NOT having it disappear immediately is inconsistent with system-wide cutting behavior. Perhaps this is why Apple chose to alter the “paste” command rather than use the “cut” command. Unfortunately, they missed what should have been the most important design goal in doing so: the feature is not immediately obvious. The Option key is arbitrary and people will not remember it, leading to confusion.  Again, I’m talking about non-tech-savvy people. These people won’t even see the option unless someone points it out to them, and then they will forget how to use it until it’s explained a hundred more times.

Yes, working in a tech support role made me a bit cynical.

furbies

Yes, working in a tech support role made me a bit cynical.

If you’re only a bit cynical, then you’re doing better than most Tech Support folks.

The “average user” is a total, complete and utter utter utter utter cretin!

Some folks just shouldn’t be allowed near a computing device.
Supervised or not.

graxspoo

I’m mostly a Mac user, but I do use Windows machines also, and this is one of the features that I do miss on the Mac. The reason is very practical, and has nothing to do with abstract arguments involving what is ‘natural’ or ‘intuitive.’ The simple fact is, I want to be able to be in one place, select some files, then go somewhere else, and move those files to the new location. Without the cut and paste metaphor you have to do this with drag and drop, and that means either having two windows open next to each other, or navigating the file system while you’re dragging. Both of these are multi-step and cumbersome procedures. I don’t know how many times I’ve been trying to ‘drill down’ into a file hierarchy while dragging only to make some minor mistake and have to start all over. Also, I have enough windows open in the Finder without needing to have the OS force me to open yet another window just to do a simple move.

Back in the NextStep days they had a different metaphor which worked equally well. I think it was called “The Shelf.” It was a little area up at the top of the Finder window (or whatever it was called in NextStep) where you could drag files. It would temporarily remember the collection of files you dragged there (looked like a hand holding some fanned cards). Then you could navigate somewhere else, and drag those files off the shelf down into the target folder. Worked great. Don’t know why they didn’t bring that along to OS X.

davidneale

Yes, working in a tech support role made me a bit cynical.

Change “cynical” to “realistic”.

You’re absolutely correct, the average user is blind even to the bleeding obvious.

zewazir

Mac OS X assumes that if you?re dragging an item onto another volume?an external hard drive, a flash drive, a separate partition on your Mac, or even a disk image?you want to copy that item rather than moving it….

Maybe I think different, but I see nothing wrong with that assumption.  99% of the time, if I am dragging a file to s different volume, it is because I want a COPY of it on the other volume, be it a flash drive to take with me, or a backup drive, or onto another computer in target disk mode. Very rarely do I transfer a file onto a different volume, without retaining the original.  And in those cases, I can simply trash the original once I have assured myself that the file on the new volume transferred (ie: copied) and is functional.

Chris

“Cut and Paste is a Windows Concept.  It is not a Mac Concept.

On the Mac, files were treated as real objects.  Cutting and pasting objects makes no sense intuitively.  It is a confusing concept even to new Windows users. “

I realize this is an old post, but I just feel compelled to comment as an advanced user moving to OSX for development.

What does your comment even MEAN?  Mac files are “objects.”  It’s a “concept,” and it doesn’t make sense “Intuitively?”  You’re really too big for your britches.

Cut and paste is an EXTREMELY SIMPLE operation, and an extremely intuitive one at that.  The file system is irrelevant.  The OS is irrelevant.  All it involves is loading the file(s) location into RAM, specifying the target location, and verifying the move was successful.  That’s it.  In the case of a well established OS, all the libraries are already available to perform this operation.  Coding the function to perform this task would be trivial.

On that note, no cutting ever happens.  It’s simply a copy/delete original function. 

Finally, even though I’m relieved to see this function available in OSX, it’s still a pain.  I don’t see why it needs three keys for the “paste” function.  Just copy Windows already and implement CTRL-X and CTRL-V to file transfers.  It cuts out extra keystrokes.

mo666

Quoting author:
“Actually, believe it or not, cutting and pasting (of text) on the Mac has been around since the Lisa.”

Are you totally unaware that the Lisa was not a Mac??????

mo666

Doing illogical things that can lead to lost data is often left to third-party software, and there are plenty of third-party cut menu solutions. This is not a thing to write an article about. There is a Terminal command to add a “cut” (actually, it moves the original file to trash, so not a full Windows type delete). Get FileCutter for $5 to be a real WinMaccer.

mo666

In fact, I notice many Windows users who “cut” just to re-locate a file on THE SAME DRIVE VOLUME. They are so hung up on cut, they forget moving a file DOES NOT leave a copy of that file behind. I suspect it is also related to the difficulty of navigating a simple move in Explorer.

mo666

Cutting when you could simply be moving a file can add to the notorious fragmentation issue in Windows. The cut deletes a file. The paste adds a file, so the location on the platter can change. Moving a file from one location path to another on the same drive volume does not actually “move” a file. It just renames it to the new directory path.

mo666

Author says “Mac OS X assumes that if you’re dragging an item onto another volume… you want to copy that item rather than moving it”

In fact, you are never “moving” it. You cannot “move” it. Only by the background process of two events being completed by the special “cut” option in the GUI (1. copy to clipboard, and 2. delete) does a Windows user think it is a move. It is always a copy to clipboard-delete, two processes.

David Willis

why is this such a hard process for us customers?  Copy and paste is really easy to do.  My wife talked me into a mac but I guess they don’t make it easy for me to copy or cut and paste my work.  Oh well.

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