Do clipboards support XML?

Henry Rzepa has an important blog post on whether we can expect to copy data (sic) from one environment to another:


For those of us who were around in 1985, an important chemical IT innovation occurred. We could acquire a computer which could be used to draw chemical structures in one application, and via a mysterious and mostly invisible entity called the clipboard, paste it into a word processor (it was called a Macintosh). Perchance even print the result on a laserprinter. Most students of the present age have no idea what we used to do before this innovation! Perhaps not in 1985, but at some stage shortly thereafter, and in effect without most people noticing, the return journey also started working, the so-called round trip. It seemed natural that a chemical structure diagram subjected to this treatment could still be chemically edited, and that it could make the round trip repeatedly. Little did we realise how fragile this round trip might be. Years later, the computer and its clipboard, the chemistry software, and the word processor had all moved on many generations (it is important to flag that three different vendors were involved, all using proprietary formats to weave their magic). And (on a Mac at least) the round-tripping no longer worked. Upon its return to (Chemdraw in this instance), it had been rendered inert, un-editable, and devoid of semantic meaning unless a human intervened. [PMR’s emph] By the way, this process of data-loss is easily demonstrated even on this blog. The chemical diagrams you see here are similarly devoid of data, being merely bit-mapped JPG images. Which is why, on many of these posts, I put in the caption Click for 3D, which gives you access to the chemical data proper (in CML or other formats). And I throw in a digital repository identifier for good measure should you want a full dataset.


Times moved on and the limitations of PICT [a graphical format] set in. Apple refocussed on the PDF format. Related, notice, to the Postscript format that Adobe had introduced in order to allow high quality laserprinting. PICT support was abandoned, and the various components no longer carried recognisable data (specifically the clipboard or the ability of Word to recognise the data). Round-tripping broke. Does this matter? Well, one colleague where I work had accumulated more than 1000 chemical diagrams, which he decided to store in Powerpoint (and yes, he threw the original Chemdraw files away). The day came when he wanted to round trip one of them. And of course he could not. He was rather upset I have to say!

Oh dear!

Peter Murray-Rust and his team have produced CML4Word (or as Microsoft call it, Chemistry add-in for Word). At its heart is data integrity. Fantastic! But I wonder if it survives on Microsoft’s clipboard ( I know it does not on Apple’s, since CML4Word is not available on that OS. And is unlikely to ever become so).

There are no legal restrictions from our side to porting it. It’s a non-trivial amount of work – I'[d estimate 6 months to a year. But if we want it enough, then it’s possible. Its likelihood depends on people wanting semaqntic chemistry on all platforms

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