Fun stories and trivia about the origins of well-known microinteractions:
Cut and Paste
In 1974, a young engineer named Larry Tesler began working on an application called Gypsy for the Xerox Alto computer. Gypsy was one of the first word-processing applications ever, and the successor to the groundbreaking Bravo, the first true WYSIWYG word-processing program and the first program that could have the ability to change fonts. Even though it was still a word-processing program, Gypsy was a different kind of application altogether: it made use of a mouse and a graphical user interface (GUI). Larry’s mission—and what would become his rallying cry for decades to come—was to reduce the modality of the interface, so that users wouldn’t have to switch to a separate mode to perform actions. (His website is http://www.nomodes.com, his Twitter handle is @nomodes, and even his license plate reads NOMODES.) Larry wanted users, when they typed a character key, to always have that character appear onscreen as text—not an unreasonable expectation for a word-processing application. This wasn’t the case in Bravo: typing only worked in a particular mode; other times it triggered a function.
One of those functions was moving text from one part of the document to another. In Bravo, users had to first select the destination, then press the “I” or “R” keys to enter Insert or Replace modes, then find and select the text to move, then finally press the Escape key to execute the copy. Larry knew there was a better way to perform this action, so he designed one that not only made use of the mouse, but radically simplified this microinteraction. In Gypsy, the user could select a piece of text, press the “Copy” function key, then select the destination, and finally press the “Paste” function key. No mode required. And thus, cut and paste was born.