Bugs & Fixes: LaunchBar causes an unexpected surprise

Ted Landau
16 November, 2009
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Step 1: Take one of the best utilities ever created for the Mac; one that I use every day. Step 2: Enhance its latest version with a promising new feature. What do you get? Not necessarily what you might expect.

You may wind up with seemingly inexplicable symptoms that lead you on a frustrating scavenger hunt until you figure out what happened. At least that’s what happened to me.

The utility in question is LaunchBar, an application launcher (plus much more) par excellence. The feature, newly added in LaunchBar 5, is called ClipMerge. With ClipMerge, you can combine copy requests into one clipboard object.

The ClipMerge feature works like this: Select and copy some text, using Command-C. Now, before pasting anything, select and copy additional text, this time typing Command-C and C again (while still holding down the Command key). With ClipMerge enabled, both selections are now on LaunchBar’s PasteBoard. You can repeat this multiple times to add additional selections. Whenever a ClipMerge copy occurs, LaunchBar provides audio feedback via what it describes as a “stapler sound.”

When you next paste, the combined selections appear. This could be helpful in a variety of situations. For example, if you want to copy several quotes from an online article, you could combine the separate quotes and use just one paste command to transfer them to another document.

In my case, however, three factors converged to cause problems regarding ClipMerge:

• I upgraded from LaunchBar 4 to LaunchBar 5 with only a brief glance at its list of new features. I didn’t notice the mention of ClipMerge. But ClipMerge was now active on my Mac (as I have LaunchBar always running). I accept responsibility for this oversight. If I had been more diligent in checking what was new, I would have known what to expect. But still…

• ClipMerge is enabled by default. It would be better to have it off by default. In my view, it’s not good practice to have a new systemwide feature enabled in an upgrade unless you explicitly turn it on. Otherwise, as in my case, you may fail to realise that your new “problem” is actually a consequence of the new feature.

• None of this would have mattered much except for what appears to be an intermittent bug. Although ClipMerge should only append a selection when you do Command-C-C, I found that it sometimes was invoked even when I did just Command-C. As a result, I started hearing the stapler sound, and wound up with unexpected and unintended combined items in a paste, initially with no idea as to why any of this was happening. Indeed, it should not have been happening. (Unfortunately, I cannot reproduce this bug reliably. Sometimes it happens, other times it doesn’t; I don’t know when or why.)

After posting a request for feedback on Twitter, my colleague Dan Frakes tweeted back with the suggestion that the symptoms could be due to LaunchBar 5’s ClipMerge. Indeed they were.

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