Clipboard Conflicts in Windows 7

I was recently made aware of a problem that has been plaguing my colleague for a few days, where when he would copy and paste rich-text content, or dynamic content such as formulas in Excel spreadsheets, the paste action would result in a plain-text version of the content to be pasted.

Let’s give an example

In Excel, you can copy formulas from one cell to another. This is normally evidenced by the “dotted line” outline you see when you copy a cell. However, in this scenario we were not seeing the dotted line, nor was the formula copied over to the other cell meaning only the actual text value of the cell was copied.

Another example would be to go to your browser and copy some text from a website that had changes in font (size, weight, etc). Upon pasting into Word, you can expect that all of the formatting will come along with it. However, in this scenario we were seeing only the text, stripped of formatting, being pasted.

Here’s the kicker

The problem would only appear when Internet Explorer (tested with v. 8 or 9) or Firefox (v. 11) was running.

If neither of those browsers were running, everything was working fine.

Let’s cut to the chase

After much debugging and troubleshooting, we found that there was an add-on enabled in both IE and Firefox (but not Chrome, which was not exhibiting this issue) which was the Skype Click-to-Call add-on.

For those of you unfamiliar with this add-on, it simply detects instances of potential phone numbers displayed in the HTML source and replaces them on-the-fly with clickable shortcuts to call the number using Skype.

Upon disabling the Skype add-on in both browsers, the problem disappeared and the clipboard was completely usable once again. It seems like the add-on was somehow hijacking the clipboard in some odd way.

The real interesting bit was that even if the content was copied to the clipboard without the browser running and pasted successfully with formatting, upon launching the browser and trying to paste the content again (without re-copying), the formatting would be stripped again.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) Version

If you are having problems with your clipboard behaving awkwardly around rich-text or dynamic content, first make sure the problem doesn’t persist even if no other programs are open, and then try disabling the Skype (or any unnecessary) add-ons in your open browsers.