The clipboard has been a staple of the Mac’s operating system since the earliest days. But in that time, it hasn’t changed much: It still holds only one item, for example, so you can’t see things that you previously copied or pasted. Because of this limitation, developers have offered scores of utilities for saving and accessing multiple clipboards. I’ve found myself enamored of a recent entry in the category, Generation Loss Interactive’s $2 Collective (Mac App Store link), thanks to its simple nature, robust feature set, and pleasing interface.
As with most clipboard utilities, you summon Collective with a user-definable keyboard shortcut; you can also click Collective’s systemwide menu. The app’s interface is attractive, but straightforward: The window that appears provides you with previews of all the items in your clipboard history, including images, displaying next to each clipping the icon of the application it came from. Click (or double-click, depending on your settings) any item to transfer it to the main clipboard. (If you’re a keyboard maven, as I am, you can also use the Up and Down arrow keys to select the desired clipping and then press Return to transfer it to the clipboard.)
Highlighting a clipping displays, in Collective’s status bar (at the bottom of the window), information about that item: If it’s text, the info includes the number of lines and characters; for images the info handily includes the image’s dimensions. Pressing Spacebar gives you a Quick Look preview of the item. I also appreciate that Collective applies a little green badge to the item you’ve most recently transferred to the clipboard.
Keeping as large a history of clippings as Collective does—the default is your 500 most-recent clipboard contents—can be a bit much at times, but the app gives you a few tools for making your history more manageable. For example, you can mark individual items as favorites by clicking the star icon next to each (or pressing the M key when an item is selected); to quickly display only your favorites, just click the star button at the top of the window (or press F). You’ll notice that when you mark something as a favorite, a number shows up next to it—up to the ninth clipping; as you might surmise, you can paste these favorites simply by hitting each’s equivalent number key.
You can also filter the list of clippings in a couple ways. First, if you choose an application from the pop-up menu at the top of the window, Collective shows only clippings copied within that app. Second, you can enter text in the search field to display only clippings that contain that text string.
You can also prune the list manually: If there are items you’d rather not have popping up in your clipboard history, you can remove them by selecting each and then pressing the Delete key. Alternatively, you can quickly clear all contents, or just those you haven’t marked as favorites, using the settings (gear) pop-up menu at the bottom of Collective’s window.
Collective offers a good amount of customization—not so little that you’re stuck with only one way of doing things, nor so much that the options are overwhelming. You can tweak the font and font size of clipping previews; choose how many clippings will be stored, from 10 to 2500; and choose the number of preview lines Collective displays for each clipping. If you don’t want Collective to monitor the clipboard in particular apps, you can add those apps to a blacklist. I particularly like that though you can choose, in the app’s settings, whether Collective should remain visible at all times, or hide whenever it’s in the background, you can also toggle the setting on the fly directly from within the main window, “pinning” it into place when you need to refer to it.
While testing Collective, I found only one significant annoyance. Selecting a clipping—whether by using the keyboard or by clicking it with the cursor—only sends that item to the main clipboard. You still must paste the item using the standard clipboard command (Edit > Paste, or Command+V). I’d like to see the app behave the way Alfred’s Auto Paste or LaunchBar’s Clipboard History do—choosing an item from the history immediately pastes that content into the active app. This approach is simply more efficient.
Aside from that, Collective is remarkably full-featured. I kept expecting to complain about the lack of a particular feature, only to find it nestled away—or to realize that I simply hadn’t tried to see if Collective offered it. If you’re looking for a powerful, unobtrusive, and attractive clipboard manager, Collective may be it.
Dan has been writing about all things Apple since 2006, when he first started contributing to the MacUser blog. He's a prolific podcaster and the author of the Galactic Cold War series, including his latest, The Nova Incident, coming in July 2022.