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Linux clipboard utilities lead to frustration and defeat

© December 2008 Anthony Lawrence

I went looking for Linux clipboard manager utilities and found plenty to choose from. The trick is figuring out what to Google for: "Linux clipboard manager" and "Linux clipboard viewer" seem to do the trick.

I started with a simple "apropos clip" on a Centos 5 system. That returned "xclipboard". Great, I don't have to go find anything. Let's give it a whirl:

# xclipboard
Error: another clipboard is already running

Huh? I'm not sure why that would matter anyway, but:

# ps -ef | grep -i clip
root      2501  2481  0 03:16 pts/1    00:00:00 grep -i clip

Naww, nothing is running. It turns out that xclipboard doesn't work with Gnome. Kind of a stupid error message and you'd think that the man page might have mentioned that, but hey, maybe it used to and just needs an update. Is there an update? Let's fire up the package manager and see. Strangely, a search for "xclipboard" said that no matching software could be found. So it's installed, but the package manager knows nothing about it. OK, moving on..

I tried "clip" in the package search and that returned "xfce4-clipman-plugin". Hmm, what's that? Something for another desktop, xfce. Well, I'm not running xfce and am not going to start it up just to see this. The most common recommendations seem to be Klipper (KDE) and Glipper (Gnome) anyway. Let's try Glipper.

I tried finding Glipper for Centos - no binary, no rpm, "yum install" claims no knowledge of it.. OK, I'll compile it. The first try failed looking for a newer version of "intltool". That was easy enough to update through the Centos Package Manager, so I tried again. This time the compile ran longer, but ultimately failed complaining about these:

No package 'gtk+-2.0' found
No package 'pygtk-2.0' found
No package 'pygobject-2.0' found

Consider adjusting the PKG_CONFIG_PATH environment variable 
if you installed software in a non-standard prefix.

Alternatively, you may set the environment variables 
GLIPPER_CFLAGS and GLIPPER_LIBS to avoid the need to 
call pkg-config.  See the pkg-config man page for more details.

Arrgh. Is the problem that Centos 5 uses gtk2, not gtk? Whatever, I'm done with this. I am not going to spend my day chasing down dependencies. Let's try something else. Another commonly recommended clipboard utility is "parcellite".

Unfortunately, that has the same problem as Glipper:

checking for GTK+ - version >= 2.10.0... no
*** Could not run GTK+ test program, checking why...
*** The test program failed to compile or link. See the file 
*** config.log for theexact error that occured. This usually 
*** means GTK+ is incorrectly installed. 
configure: error: Requirement not met: gtk >= 2.10.0

This MIGHT be simple to fix. I MIGHT be giving up too easily. I looked for "gtk" in the package manager and found that I could install that. Unfortunately, it only seems to have gtk+ version 1.2.10 and both Parcellite and Glipper want 2.0 or better. I can see where this is going: I'll go find gtk+ 2.whatever, and then it will need some other obscure library.. no thanks, I'll try something else.

What about "gcm"? I had a little trouble finding the source but it didn't matter - this too wanted a newer gtk. Damn.. OK, I'll try finding that.. grumble, grumble..

The "Requirements" page for GTK+ made me grumble more:


You will need to get the GLib, Pango and GTK+ packages to build GTK+.
You may also need some of the external dependencies that are also
linked for each version listed below.

Oh, goodie: I love chasing rabbits.

Then there was this:

Stable Release

To build GTK+ 2.14 you may find the user guide helpful. For additional
help, the FAQ is a good starting point.

So I need a user guide? Joy of joys: it's so refreshing to find something that might need more than "./configure && make", isn't it? I don't know about you, but I find stuff that compiles easily sooo boring..

I read the guide. It wasn't that bad. I figured I'd just press my luck and try it. I started with the Glib, and that was a long, long process (so many output lines that the "make install" alone was more than 2,400 lines!) , but it did seem to have gone well. Feeling that someday I might actually be able to use one of these clipboard managers on Centos 5, I pressed on to compile Pango.:

checking for some Win32 platform... no
checking for perl5... no
checking for perl... perl
checking for X... no
configure: WARNING: X development libraries not found
checking for pkg-config... /usr/bin/pkg-config
checking pkg-config is at least version 0.9.0... yes
checking for FONTCONFIG... no
checking Carbon/Carbon.h usability... no
checking Carbon/Carbon.h presence... no
checking for Carbon/Carbon.h... no
checking for CAIRO... no
configure: error: *** Could not enable any of FreeType, X11, Cairo,
or Win32 backends.
*** Must have at least one backend to build Pango.

OK.. isn't Gnome X11? And what's with the "perl5... no"?

# perl -v

This is perl, v5.8.8 built for i386-linux-thread-multi

Well, it's probably the X11-development. Back to the package manager to install that, and then another run at Pango:.

checking for GLIB... no
configure: error:
*** Glib 2.14.0 or better is required. The latest version of
*** Glib is always available from ftp://ftp.gtk.org/.

Dammit, I just installed Glib 2.18! Or so I thought - looking back at the output files, it seems to have written everything into a glib-2.0 directory. So what the heck does that mean? It's all very frustrating and has gone far beyond my patience level.

Linux Desktop folk: I WANT Linux to succeed. Really. But this kind of stuff is exactly why I never recommend Linux to ordinary people. You run into this kind of thing constantly and that's why I tell them to buy a Mac.

Yes, I know: if I had used some other release or some other desktop, things might have gone differently. But that's MIGHT, and if this particular rabbit was easily bagged on another system, some other hare would have led me through the fields for hours just like this and I would have ended up with nothing in my bag.

Had I no other choice for a Unix OS, I'd put up with it. I'd fight my way through all the dependencies and other lapses and eventually get something to work. I'd certainly do that before I'd put up with Windows. But I do have another choice: Mac OS X.

Yeah, I know, it's not fair. OS X is one version, one desktop, and that makes it very easy for developers. Yeah, I get it. But I don't care: I don't want to spend half a day chasing programs and libraries just to look at some utility to see if I like it.

If I don't want to put up with this, how can you expect any ordinary user to suffer like this? I'm not a super-geek, but I'm far more geekish and forgiving than Joe User. If I get frustrated and annoyed, can you possibly imagine how a more typical user would react?

These are the clipboard manager programs I found:


Perhaps someday when I have more hours to waste I'll actually get one of them working. Or better yet, I might find an RPM - though so far that's turned up empty.

Thinking more about this, if developers simply noted something like "This version was tested on Ubuntu release x.x and may be difficult to compile anywhere else", that would help a lot.

After Thoughts

This post got noticed by LinuxToday and attracted a lot of complaints. Those complaining were focusing on the specific issue and ignoring the larger problem.

It's not about whether or not you can find a clipboard manager for Gnome on Centos. It's not about whether or not you should run Slackware or Ubuntu or Kubuntu, Gnome, KDE are anything else - though those never ending arguments do make Linux more confusing for Joe Average.

It's not that you can get into a mess trying to find a clipboard manager for Gnome - you can step in it trying to do almost anything with anything.

Linux isn't ready for Joe. In absolute fairness, Windows really isn't either but defects don't matter at all because of Microsoft's default position of dominance.

Of course most of these things have solutions - some easy, some requiring more work. But Joe Average has low patience when it isn't Windows. He could have the same sort of problems on XP or Vista and I guarantee he'd blame anyone but Microsoft. It would be a virus, his old hardware, even his own lack of computer knowledge - but he probably won't complain about Windows.

Unfortunately, the things that we love about Linux contribute to its difficulties. If we didn't have a choice of window managers, we'd lose all that confusion. If we didn't have distro choices, we would lose another stack of conflicts. Maybe "Linux" per se never can be ready for our boy Joe - maybe only a specific packaging will ever hope to accomplish that.

Of course, for those who just want a Unixish machine, Mac OS X has done that packaging. No choice of distros, no choice of window managers (unless you install X11). I can recommend that to Joe simply because he'll have fewer problems.

But I don't like that solution. Yeah, I run OS X, but I feel guilty about it. I believe there are political and social benefits to open source dominance - if we can ever get there. Large monopolies like Microsoft are dangerous beasts and I have no illusions that Apple wouldn't be just as dangerous if they became dominant. We NEED open source. We need Joe to run it.

See also Linux clipboard for Ubuntu leads to same frustration and defeat.

There's more related followup at Tear me a new one and Stupid is as stupid does and I've done plenty of stupid.

Got something to add? Send me email.

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Wed Dec 31 20:06:27 2008: 5013   anonymous

> No package 'gtk+-2.0' found
> No package 'pygtk-2.0' found
> No package 'pygobject-2.0' found

When compiling from source, you need the *-devel packages. As a Debian/Ubuntu user, I couldn't give you the exact names as they'll differ on Fedora/CentOS. Then again as a Debian/Ubuntu user, there are distro packages for both Glipper and Parcellite.

Also, googling shows that there are Fedora rpms for Parcellite. Again, as I don't use any rpm based distros, I couldn't tell you if a Fedora 9 rpm can be used on CentOS 5.

I encourage Parcellite over Glipper as it is in active development while Glipper seems stagnate despite the continuing existence of a number of very annoying bugs.

Wed Dec 31 20:22:45 2008: 5014   Mark

I would disagree with calling this a failing of the Linux desktop. It might be a fail for CentOS desktop. On the other hand, I look at CentOS as more of an server OS. It's fantastic as free alternative to RHEL for a server solution, but with a long time between major upgrades, this is not a good desktop candidate. If it is being used as a desktop, it's probably happening in a business environment where users are given a desktop to use (and with no user application changes allowed).

Not many folks would recommend CentOS as a desktop to someone trying Linux for the first time. For them, Ubuntu, Mint, PCLinuxOS, Fedora, openSUSE or maybe Mandriva would be a better fit (not necessarily in that order).

From first-hand experience I can state that Ubuntu (along with Kubuntu) comes with easily installed clipboard packages for the desktops they support. For example, Ubuntu contains Glipper for Gnome, Klipper for KDE and xfce4-clipman-plugin for Xfce. I've got Klipper on a desktop running KDE and Glipper on a laptop running Gnome (Kubuntu and Ubuntu). Klipper was part of the base install for the KDE system, so it was ready from the start. I did have to install Glipper on the Ubuntu laptop. I did a search using Synaptic, a GUI package manager, found Glipper, clicked a couple of times, and installed it. I don't normally run Xfce, so I didn't try that clipboard.

Based on what you wrote, sounds like what you tried to compile was a newer version than the desktop that came with CentOS. Again, CentOS only has major upgrades every 2-3 years and most desktop applications are updated faster than that. So the problems you ran into aren't that surprising. When it comes to desktop applications for Gnome and KDE, you've got to stick to the same major release as the base Gnome release that's installed. After all, would you normally expect to be able to install (or compile) an OS X application on a much older OS version?

By the way, if you did a search for "glipper" on the CentOS site, you'd find this forum link " (link) which goes through some steps so you can add it via additional repositories. Still not something a new user would want to do, but it might work better for you than compiling from source.

I know that there are still lots of places where the Linux desktop isn't as polished as OS X, but for my money, it's still pretty darn good. I've been running Linux as my desktop and my home servers since 2000.

Wed Dec 31 20:42:26 2008: 5015   TonyLawrence

It does seem that a lot of people recommend Parcellite. It also seems that a lot of people have had various problems with Glipper - that may be why.

Wed Dec 31 20:46:20 2008: 5016   TonyLawrence

Yeah, I understand that if I ever did recommend Linux to a non-geekish person, it would be Ubuntu or Kubuntu. But I've had problems with installing things there, too.

I WANT Linux to be "desktop ready". I don't like proprietary software just on moral principles. I think our world would be a better place if Linux reigned supreme - seriously.

But the reality is that I can't in good conscience recommend it to most people. I'd like to, but I can't.

Wed Dec 31 21:15:14 2008: 5018   StevenAcres

Hi Tony,

It's most definitely been a long standing issue with RPM's, otherwise know as dependancy hell, to not resolve depends properly, so unless it's a server I stay away from RPM-based distros for the desktop, where newer software is usually desired. Of course, installing from source is a more advanced method and may require amending PATH and libs, not a noob task for sure.
For 'it just works', the Ubuntu folks lead the pack and as you've said, is the best bet. A friend of mine has recently left windoze-land and is blogging some experiences to that.

Wed Dec 31 21:24:49 2008: 5019   TonyLawrence

You can feel free to drop the link for your friend's series. Steven. I'm sure many of us would be interested.

Wed Dec 31 21:41:11 2008: 5020   StevenAcres

Thanks, Tony! Here's the link: (link) There will be more to come from her, the holidays are busy though. What amazed me the most .. it only took her 1.5 installs ..lol. I remember walking (handholding actually) quite a few noobs through an install many more times than that, heh.
BTW I like the way you put it re: helping your neighbors with computing issues. Which I see extends here of course. Happy New Year to you and yours and of course to all reading this!


Wed Dec 31 21:44:35 2008: 5021   TonyLawrence

I have about 800 "neighbors" here so my wife keeps worrying that I'll give away too much free time. That's certainly a realistic concern, but as long as I can, I will.

Wed Dec 31 22:10:05 2008: 5022   nicolenoob

Well Tony, it could be worse...she could be running Vista ;P

What does she primarily use her computer for? If, like me, it's mostly just a toy and not something she uses for work, try having her check out the Ubuntu or Kubuntu websites, which are extremely user friendly. I know for myself, fear of the unknown was the biggest stumbling block to get over, so if she can see how accessible Linux is, most of her fears may be put to rest. Plus, dual-booting always gives her a chance to go back to XP if she ends up hating Linux. Of course, you could always wipe winblows from her computer altogether, but that may put you in the doghouse for a bit, lol.

Thanks for the good wishes,

Wed Dec 31 22:13:05 2008: 5023   TonyLawrence

It's mostly web browsing and email - that's why it's frustrating that she is so stubborn..

I tried to get her to use my Mac once.. I'm lucky to be alive :-) (link)

Wed Dec 31 22:30:44 2008: 5024   nicolenoob

LMAO! I like her already :D
To be fair, I hated Macs too when I was forced to use them in school. Like your wife, I found that they seemed to make everything more difficult simply for the sake of making it more difficult :)
I love Ubuntu, however...maybe her and I need to get together for drinks, lol ;)

Wed Dec 31 22:41:41 2008: 5025   StevenAcres

A tip I forgot to include in my original post: rather than piping the ps results, pgrep -l &lt;whichever process sought&gt;(i.e. pgrep -l fire .. to locate all process names if seeking 'firefox'), which will return matching processes as well as their PID.


Wed Dec 31 22:50:08 2008: 5026   TonyLawrence

I often forget about pgrep, thanks~

Thu Jan 1 20:36:56 2009: 5029   jorge

Downloading random software from the internet is the windows way, you need to learn how to do it the linux way, which is "everything is provided for you". I found nearly all the clipboard programs you mention in my add/remove programs in Ubuntu. (Expecting to have a desktop-centric design in a distro designed for servers might be part of your problem)

Thu Jan 1 20:40:52 2009: 5030   TonyLawrence

Did I or did I not say "Yes, I know: if I had used some other release or some other desktop, things might have gone differently." ??

BTW, I'm just slightly amused that you think I need to learn the "Linux way".

I've been doing Unix since 1981.. :-)

I was afraid when I wrote this that overly sensitive Linux defenders would jump on it (not that Jorge did that). Let me just say this: it is my opinion that Linux has a long way to go before it's ready to take over the world. I WANT IT TO DO THAT. Making excuses like "If you had used the right distro" doesn't really help. ALL distros and ALL app/utility software needs to be better.

Agreed, perfection can never be obtained. New software is hard to design to be back portable, but it CAN be done. There is a lot of room for improvement.

Thu Jan 1 21:44:58 2009: 5031   anonymous

You've got to be kidding me.

Tony for someone who has "Information and Resources for Unix & Linux Systems" in the heading for your blog you are absolutely clueless.

Thu Jan 1 21:49:21 2009: 5032   TonyLawrence

Yeah, right.

This is why I HATE it when something here gets picked up by places like Linux Today.

Anonymous comments are closed as of now.

The guy who made the comment above did so a whopping 18 seconds after the page finished loading. Yeah, he read the whole post, right..

THAT is why I hate it when sites like LT send traffic.

I said in my post that this could have been an entirely different experience on a different distro. But few will bother to read that far.

People DO want things that their distro doesn't provide and sometimes end up in dependency hell because of it. That's reality.

Ubuntu (mentioned above several times) is a great distro. I do recommend it to more techy people. Unfortunately, I still don't feel comfortable recommending any distro to Average Joe.


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