An electronic can opener for canned text

Many Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Resource Kit utilities are like automobile jacks: These tools are godsends when you need them, but—if you're lucky—you seldom use them. However, I recently found a utility that I've incorporated into my suite of tools and that I use almost every day: Cliptray. You can find Cliptray in Supplement 4 of the resource kit. (Cliptray is also available in the Microsoft Windows 2000 Resource Kit.)

Much of the reader mail that I get comes from people asking for help with particular problems; inevitably, I find that certain questions arise again and again. To save time, I could keep a database of answers to frequently asked questions and reuse those answers. I tried keeping a desktop folder that contained text files of common questions and answers, but to retrieve an answer, I had to find and open the file for a particular question, then copy the text into my email reply to the reader—a lot of work. How could I simplify the process?

Cliptray is the perfect solution. This utility creates a simple database-type file that stores blocks of ASCII text; the file contains only the ASCII text blocks and a title for each block. Cliptray sits in my desktop's system tray. When I need a text block, I just right-click the Cliptray icon, and up pops a list of text block titles. I then click the desired title, and Cliptray puts that block's text onto the clipboard. With two more clicks, I paste the text into my email message.

To create new text blocks, you can use the Add option from Cliptray's context menu, or you can simply edit the text-block file—it's an ASCII file named cliptray.txt. To change the file's name or location, you can go to Options, File, Open, Create from Cliptray's context menu, or you can directly edit cliptray.txt. Each cliptray.txt entry includes the following elements: the word Title followed by a colon and the name of the text block (on one line, no spaces), the text block, and the word End followed by a colon (on one line, no spaces). An entry, then, might look like the following:

Title:createusers

You can use the NT 4.0 User Manager program, which resides in the Administrative Tools group, to create users.

End:

Cliptray doesn't require you to put cliptray.txt in a specific location. Tell the utility once where you want to keep the file—I keep mine on the server so that I can easily keep my canned answers with me when I switch workstations—and Cliptray remembers the location the next time you start up. Cliptray even lets you specify the file by its Uniform Naming Convention (UNC) name; many other programs seem sadly incapable of this simple touch.

The primary trouble that I ran up against while working with Cliptray occurred during installation. To function, the utility needs three program files: msgblast.ocx, vb40032.dll, and cliptray.exe. For reasons I haven't discovered yet, Cliptray is picky about where you put those files. When I ran the utility on an NT 4.0 workstation, installation was simple—I put the .ocx and .dll files in the \winnt\system32 directory and put cliptray.exe wherever I wanted, and Cliptray ran smoothly. But to make Cliptray work on a Win2K Professional workstation, I needed to put msgblast.ocx on the desktop. (I didn't even need vb40032.dll, probably because some other application on the system had already loaded the Visual Basic—VB—runtime, and I could still put cliptray.exe anywhere on the computer.) However, I've heard that this odd behavior doesn't occur on Win2K systems when you use the Cliptray version that comes with the Win2K resource kit.

I can imagine VBScript macro writers making good use of Cliptray, perhaps by keeping often-used code fragments in a Cliptray file. The utility can handle large text blocks: I created a seven-page block of text, and Cliptray stored it without any trouble. Sometimes small is beautiful—that is certainly the case with Cliptray. I strongly suggest that you give this tool a whirl.