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The Secret Origins of Microsoft Office's Clippy

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the melinda-has-a-lot-to-answer-for dept.

Microsoft 263

Harry writes "Most folks think that Microsoft Office's Clippy, Microsoft Bob, and Windows XP's Search Assistant dog were perverse jokes — but a dozen years' worth of patent filings shows that Microsoft took the concept of animated software 'helpers' really, really seriously, even long after everyone else realized it was a bad idea. And the drawings those patents contain are weirdly fascinating." The article, a slide show really, spreads over 15 pages.

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The Weirding Way (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299243)

Ok Slashdot, I'm gonna tell you my first incest experience. It was about 2 years ago; I was 18 and my sister was 16(and a half). We had a cousin staying at our house for the summer and she was either 16 or 17. Got along great with the cousin, but not so great with the sister. She felt she should have the run of the house since I was about to move out to college and I thought she was a bitch. This caused conflict.

Anyway, the parents were at work, I was chilling in my room, and the two girls were sunbathing/swimming outside. I had nothing for my sister at this point, but my cousin was a different matter. From an objective standpoint, she's good looking. She's the big athlete in the family so the body is pretty good as well. I would post pics, but I'm afraid someone would recognize her(maybe I'll post with the face blurred...). So I can't help but look out my window every now and again to check her out and maybe jack a bit.

Here's where things get crazy. I'm building up jack material on my cousin, but I can't stop looking at my sister. Cousin is hot, but my sister has a RACK. Her boobs look like they wanna bust out of the bikini. So I start storing images of her as well. It feels a little sick at first, but that just makes things more exciting.

I want a closer look, so I go outside to the pool and say that I'm going to bust into the booze cabinent and to come inside if they want any. They think it's a great idea and follow me in. They get wasted pretty fast, but I only have a couple drinks. It gets to the point where they're basically passed out on the floor, wearing skimpy bikinis, and I'm sitting there with a raging hard on. So I make the decision.

I run to the basement to grab a camcorder and set it up in the den where we are. Just then, my grandpa busts through the door, tears off my pants, and fucks me in the ass. He's wearing a cowboy hat. Once he unloads, he runs back out of the house and yells, "I have the weirding way!"

Re:The Weirding Way (1, Funny)

Assmasher (456699) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299263)

...The Aristocrats... Ba-dum-dum...

Re:The Weirding Way (0, Flamebait)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299349)

Yeah, well, if it ain't on YouTube, it didn't happen. Thanks for playing.

Re:The Weirding Way (4, Funny)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299383)

Whatever happened to just yelling "first post?"

Re:The Weirding Way (1)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299403)

I don't know but somehow I just feel like these guys earn it more when they actually come up with some copypasta I haven't read before.

Re:The Weirding Way (2, Funny)

kirbysuperstar (1198939) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299507)

Me too. It's like uh.. a medal. Of retardation. Still a medal, though.

Re:The Weirding Way (5, Funny)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299545)

I just realized what that post is supposed to be -- it's like a "mental DNS" attack to fark up the rest of the discussion.

Probably a rogue Microsoft patent attorney!

Re:The Weirding Way (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300463)

Fact: all "first posts" were done by Clippy. MS decided he needed to automatically do that. Over the years he's grown unstable.

early post (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299249)

I just dropped a brown rope in the library bathroom. As I was leaving, a pasty white guy, mid 30s, goatee, walked in. He looked a like a real fag. A couple minutes later, I realized I hadn't flushed and went back. What do I see but the dude sitting in front of the toilet, eating my shit and, apparently, masturbating.

Re:early post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299513)

The parent is funny, not a troll, people. Try to pay attention.

Re:early post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299695)


hahaha, you are hilarious. And waste time memorizing trollposts.

WAT (5, Funny)

mfh (56) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299265)

Who cares where Clippy is from. I just want it to die.

Re:WAT (5, Funny)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299271)

Windows RG [] will do it for you.

Re:WAT (1)

slugtastic (1437569) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299399)

I did not like it. Can I buy a copy?

Re:WAT (5, Informative)

GFree678 (1363845) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299503)

Clippy IS dead. It's been abandoned in all recent MS products, it's only Slashdot that seems to have trouble understanding this.

Re:WAT (2, Interesting)

Vectronic (1221470) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299799)

I find that kind of sad, he was useless, but it was nice to know he was there... just for the odd chuckle when bored.

He's gotta be there somewhere, some obscure keystroke like Ctrl+Alt+Del twice or something.

Re:WAT (1, Offtopic)

socsoc (1116769) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300091)

Who can afford recent MS products, especially with this economy? Word 2k still works fine for me...

Re:WAT (5, Interesting)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299655)

Funny you should say that, because when XP came out one of my more popular services was putting that damned search puppy to sleep. Folks would come in "I hate that damned search dog! Can you kill that stupid thing?" and I'd tell them that as part of my clean up and lock down package I'd happily put that dog to sleep. To this day I still get that request a few times a year.

Of course now I get more "I hate this damned Vista! Can you get rid of it and put on XP?" so you really have to give MSFT credit. They went from just having the search hated to having the whole OS despised! Now THAT is progress!

Re:WAT (4, Informative)

LandDolphin (1202876) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300125)

What are their complaints from XP to Vista? Hearing all of the bad press about Vista, I was not excited to "upgrade" when I purchased a new Laptop. However, having use it for a few months now, I have not come accross any real problems with it. It was a little different then was I was used to, but everything works.

Re:WAT (2, Insightful)

jdoverholt (1229898) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300291)

Quit your rational thinking! Get out!

Re:WAT (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26300469)

The real question is, "What does Vista do better?"

Other than a different GUI which you may, or may not, find more appealing, the differences between Vista and XP are minor or crippled in some way. Slower performance on the same hardware with little or no gain to the MAJORITY of customers is what has given Vista a bad reputation. I am sure you can list several new features that Vista has but can you name 2 that the average user knows about and would use?

Re:WAT (5, Interesting)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300391)

I dunno. I found that a good minority of my users actually liked the Microsoft Assistant. They would watch it and its little antics amused them. All were ladies around 40 years of age or older. Heck, I had an accountant go off on me because I turned off her Microsoft Assistant.

Based on the response I saw, I think Microsoft was on to something, but it was never executed properly. There were two problems. First, IT people got in the way. Second, the platform and the application idea for end use was all wrong.

it was not a product for a productive business environment. The people who maintain and train on the products are advanced users, and for them, the Microsoft Assistant was not useful.

But more to the point, I do not believe Microsoft ever really understood what makes a computer efficient. The best "computers" for specific application use are dumb terminals using basic ASCII characters. The Microsoft Assistant is just the opposite of this. If the computer is to be used for a purpose, the Microsoft Assistant gets in the way. If the computer is an unknown machine to a person, having a face on it is useful.

But, people do not put smiley faces and instructions on hammers. Perhaps there was no way a Microsoft Assistant or a Microsoft Bob could be executed properly. A tool is a tool.

Still, the idea of my grandparents filing away a form in an animated desk has appeal. If the product were arranged in such a manner that it could be marketed, as part of a separate non-computer, it could work. If a way existed to integrate a browser with digital television and a more intelligent Microsoft Assistant and the product were marketed to the proper audience, maybe it still could pan out. But we are not there yet. Broadband connections still require passwords and modems/routers. The idea does hold promise. A non-computer with a built in broadband router and no need for passwords. Weâ(TM)re surprisingly close it seems sometimes. If it had a wireless keyboard and mouse or roller without the pain of Bluetooth MAC addresses and crap like that. And a television interface no more complicated than a single HDMI plug. Itâ(TM)s not for anyone who would ever even think of being on Slashdot, and maybe it couldnâ(TM)t work if a computer can only really be a tool and not a way of life, but it does seem plausible.

Re:WAT (1)

grimJester (890090) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299683)

If we can figure out its point of origin, it can be contained or, if deemed appropriate, destroyed.

Re:WAT (0, Troll)

Z00L00K (682162) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299709)

ESPECIALLY the first version of the clip (or it's cousin) that ever originated and did completely lock the UI when you started word until you killed it.

First time that happened I expected to be able to type right away and thought that Word/Windows just had one of it's usual bombings and therefore a reboot, cleaning of temp directory and checkdisk was done.

When I tried again it was still stuck - and then I discovered this (censored expression) clip that was there asking me about if I was going to make a suicide letter or whatever...

Re:WAT (2, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299739)

Who cares where Clippy is from. I just want it to die.

No, you have to learn about where it came from, so you can nuke the site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Re:WAT (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300283)

It came from Microsoft. Duh. Now nuke it already.

Jesus. (5, Insightful)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299757)

Who cares where Clippy is from. I just want it to die.

I'll tell you what I want to die - Web sites that spread an article out one paragraph at a time over 15 pages where the spam-to-content ratio is 15 to 1.

I'm sorry, but I didn't read the article, since I didn't get past page one of fifteen.

Re:WAT (4, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299781)

The problem with these assistance.

1. Unprofessional. When you are at work. you don't want a cartoon floating around.
2. Based on Statistics. Meaning you are rarely correct, but on the average close. Creating a situation where it is less helpful over all as the work done normally can't be close. It has to correct. So the assistant want to do things kinda like you are doing but in a way that it is wrong.
3. Always in your way. When we work We don't like having things on top of our work.
4. Animation distracts us. Good UI for animation is to put our attention towards something the programmer want you to take notice of. Eg. Element who gets focus, an alert or warning, or something new. But these guys are always moving even when you are doing what you need to do and its overall state hasn't changed, which distracts you from your work.
5. They keep coming back. You close them... They come back again.
6. Arrogant. They assume they are smarter then you. Even if you know what you are doing. "I am not writing a List Damnit! I am filling in data sets in a Top Down order because it is easier that way. "
7. Never tell the disadvantages. The never tell you what the trade off are using that feature. Once you go into list mode you cannot perform calculation on it.
8. Make the computer seem more personal. Yea that is the point but really a computer is a machine and it really should be considered as such. If you get emotionally attached to it. You start to feel bad about using it. Or when problems come up you blame it other then the people your yourself you causes the problems.

Re:WAT (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299833)

My memory may be off, but I recall reading that originally the decision for clippy to pop up was to be bayesian as well (not just the "figuring out what you were doing" bit).

But apparently it didn't pop up enough for some people in Microsoft, so they made it pop up more often...

Re:WAT (2, Funny)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300337)

But knowing from whence it came, can we finally kill the beast! There may be clues in its origin that will help us. Right now all we know is garlic, sunlight, silver, and other traditional means have not been effective. Explosives work but have the side effect of destroying the computer. :P

Just a hunch. (1)

AltGrendel (175092) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299305)

They probably didn't use the bird because that had been taken by the Bonsi-Buddy folks.

Oh how I hated that piece of software. Cleaning up a system after that usually meant reinstalling. And several users insisted that they needed it. Go figure.

Also Rans (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299309)

Why is this story a big deal? The same thing is true of Howard the Duck, and Jar-Jar Binks.

Re:Also Rans (3, Funny)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299783)

There is no way that George Lucas has had a horde of interns and patent attorneys working for the past two decades on Jar Jar Binks.

Re:Also Rans (1)

hobo sapiens (893427) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300053)

Yeah, story is a waste of time. Several of the 15 slides are, by admission of the author, unrelated. Then there are like five variations of the same thing. Oh, and MSFT BOB. See, it's witty if you are 1337 enough to know about BOB.

I should have trusted my prejudice against "articles" than span 15 ad-ridden pages. What a complete waste of time.

I love when an article... (5, Interesting)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299327)

...gets its facts wrong in the first paragraph.

Like someone says in the comments, Clippy has been around since Office 98.

That being said, I always though Microsoft's weird fascination with these things went a little too far -- anyone else remember the 20 or so different animated characters that you could get to help you in Windows XP, just to use the File Search feature?

Re:I love when an article... (2, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299469)

That being said, I always though Microsoft's weird fascination with these things went a little too far -- anyone else remember the 20 or so different animated characters that you could get to help you in Windows XP, just to use the File Search feature?

Once you develop the functionality, creating additional avatars is relatively trivial. I would be surprised if they couldn't find 20 people to make them for free on their lunch breaks around Microsoft. I mean, look at how many multi-frame comic chat avatars people have created just so they could look like Space Ghost or Smurfette on IRC. That's a much lower quality example but still indicative. You could look at gnome themes or something instead I guess. Shit, there's probably more than 200 MacOSX-based visual themes for Windows XP, let alone 20.

Software agents with avatars are a brilliant idea. But the tech isn't there yet, and/or people try to do too much with it.

Re:I love when an article... (1)

mdm-adph (1030332) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299515)

Trivial or not to create them... why 20?

Smurfette (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299857)

... look at how many multi-frame comic chat avatars people have created just so they could look like Space Ghost or Smurfette on IRC.

According to an article, "Papa Smurf took pity on her and took her to his laboratory, where they locked themselves in for several days before emerging."

I wonder what happened?

Re:I love when an article... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299631)

The animated characters are just one of the things that made me go from Windows 2000 straight to Linux.

Re:I love when an article... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299811)

In fact, it's been around Office 97, as TFA states in slide 5. That thing about being introduced in 2007 is obviously a typo.

Re:I love when an article... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299853)

That being said, I always though Microsoft's weird fascination with these things went a little too far

I thought of Clippy a lot while reading the 1998 book The Media Equation [] . Here's a review [] . In short, the researchers' hypothesis was that human interaction instincts like politeness are wired into our brain in such a way that they do not get suspended when using computers. Examples are given in that review.

It's a believable-sounding hypothesis, and the authors then present a stack of experimental data that corroborates their hypothesis.

If you look at book pate 33 it says: "How do you enter or leave a social situation? In any face-to-face conversation, people don't turn around and leave. First, they indicate intent and then ask permission to leave, at least implicitly. The opportunity to break this rule in media is legendary. In a famous interface project, a character suddenly disappeared from the screen due to a bug in the program. Users became disturbed, the designers noted, because they felt that the character was angry and had left as a result. Users did not view the disappearance as a problem with the technology. Characters that leave the screen should always take leave by saying "good-bye" or at least making a sound or gesture. They shouldn't evaporate into the digital ether."

If you still have access to an old copy of office, get Clippy up, then get rid of it. You get a short 'goodbye' animation before the character disappears.

There's a testimony at the start of the book: "Nass and Reeves have spent the last decade working in the area of social responses to technology. We brought them into our team, and they have shown us some amazing things." -- Bill Gates, Chairman and CEO, Microsoft Corp.

Clippy was a reasonable-sounding social sciences hypotheses, corroborated by experimental data, and realised as a commercial software product. Whether Clippy's failure was a failure of the hypothesis or of the implementation is hard to tell.

Re:I love when an article... (2, Informative)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299911)

Like someone says in the comments, Clippy has been around since Office 98.

Was there an Office 98? I thought there was only an Outlook 98, which may have been the introduction of Clippy, but I thought Clippy was around in 97. I do remember upgrading someone to Outlook 98 and them getting annoyed at clippy, which does make me think that either the feature was introduced in Outlook 98, or else it was turned on by default and made more difficult to turn off.

Re:I love when an article... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26300103)

Clippy WAS there in Office 97. And don't forget, Windows 98 was almost Windows 99

Re:I love when an article... (4, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300107)

If you've been in this business as long as I have, you'll realize that Microsoft's "weird fascination" is not an isolated phenomenon. It's part of a long simmering philosophical division over the design of software that goes back at least to the 1980s and the advent of commercially viable personal computing.

The crux of this debate is this question: exactly how intelligent should software attempt to be on a users behalf? On one end of the spectrum, you have the vision of highly intelligent agents which monitor the world and the user and do things on the user's behalf that the user would do for himself if he would deign to use his valuable attention. The other end of the spectrum isn't quite as easy to characterize, but I'd say it sees the goal of software design as making tools that do exactly what a user asks them to, neither more nor less. We might consider this spectrum as running from proactive or autonomous software on one end to responsive software on the other.

In a nutshell, it's the question of whether we want software agents or software tools that divides designers.

The software agent end of things has always had a kind of futuristic allure, and attracts investment and attention and drives innovation. However, I (being a tools-person) think that making the software do what the user tells it to is a surer path to success. Apple, which I see as mainly a tools oriented design company, coined the term Personal Digital Assistant with the idea that small mobile computers would be agents, but Palm was the company that scored the first success in the PDA market by making a handy device.

Microsoft has always been an agent oriented company. The "Where do you want to go?" slogan has an unexpected facet in that it subtly bodies the software agent philosophy: you specify where you want to be and the agent will take care of the details. Microsoft's design not only hides the details, but often makes the details inaccessible, which means that getting MS software to do what you want often amounts to twiddling poorly or undocumented registry entries.

This isn't about making software intelligent or not, it's about how much initiative you take out of the users' hands.

If you read Tim Berners-Lee's article on the Semantic Web from Scientific American a few years back, you can see that a lot of the benefit envisioned by proponents is in creating intelligent agents that work on users behalf to do things like resolve scheduling conflicts. In the meantime, as Semantic Web technology continues to slowly develop, one of its core functions, searching, has been solved for most uses by better and better "conventional" search technology. Conventional search technology focuses on trying to provide the user the answers he asks for without getting everybody in the world to agree in advance on what the relevant questions might be. It has proved successful beyond what one would have thought a system based on clever indexing rather than an intelligent, semantic understanding of the user's wants could be.

Now, I'm a tools oriented guy, so this is a biased view. I actually think Semantic Web technology is going to be highly useful, but as a way of designing distributed information systems, not as a way of building agents who will fulfill all our information needs because they are intelligent.

Clippy is representative of the agent philosophy. He watches what you do, and offers to take over as much of the task from you as he can. This highlights the central problem with the agent philosophy: we are so far from having technology that understands people that when it tries its just annoying. It's not that agents are useless. The web spidering robots that build search indices are, in a sense, highly specialized software agents, working on a much smaller and manageable problem.

Another solution to the same problem as Clippy is the "wizard". Now I'm not particularly fond of wizards from a design standpoint. For one thing, they are temptations to over anthropomorphizing and excessive cuteness. They also embody a certain sequential model of tasks which may not always fit. But there's not doubt that wizards are more successful as a solution to having more functionality than you can neatly present to the user than Clippy was.

Hey! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299337)

Dont laugh at my zoophilia, you insensitive clod!

it wasn't all bad (5, Interesting)

thermian (1267986) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299361)

The animated Microsoft characters - MS Agents - you could stick in websites and applications were pretty useful sometimes.

I used to use them in software written for kids, such as for learning basic numeracy, or spelling. A child reacts well to a little robot or santa flying round the program and asking them to do things.

I used one once as a tour guide to show people round a pretty large website I used to maintain. That was more an experiment than anything, but it got a lot of use.

I also ported it over to delphi once, it proved to be an entertaining exercise.

I wouldn't be so sure that such avatars are finished with yet, although clippy and that damn search window dog are good examples of when it can be misapplied

The unholy trinity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299385)

Clippy, Bob and Dog. I thought everyone knew Satan was behind them. You think it's a coincidence that Dog is God backwards?

Re:The unholy trinity (4, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299571)

And 'Bob' is 'boB' backwards. Eerie!

Re:The unholy trinity (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26300041)

The earth will be cleansed of its human taint by yppilC the destroyer! All hail yppilC!

Man, that IS a creepy coincidence!

Teddy bears: priceless! (5, Funny)

SemperUbi (673908) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299391)

Made it to Slide 9 before the site got Slashdotted... My favorite was the slide with the two pissed-off teddy bears. They'd make great Office Assistants: "How the f*ck can we help you today?"

Animated Characters (5, Interesting)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299417)

I remember taking some Microsoft certification tests. Now mind you that in order to pass, you must answer things the Microsoft way regardless of whether they were correct or not. Several of the questions on their programming tests involved user interfaces. Invariably, there would be a couple questions on using animated assistants. Now, the correct answer is to never use an animated assistant. But, being a Microsoft test if you saw "animated assistant", that was the Microsoft choice. After failing the first test, I learned "turn the brain off when entering the exam room and turn it on when you leave". Never failed a Microsoft test after that.

Try and see (4, Insightful)

El Lobo (994537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299433)

As a software developer you should know that some ideas are good and some are bad....but sometimes you never know if you don't try. The key here is innovation and experimentation. The problem is, often nobody remember your little small innovations that went well: nobody now remembers who introduced the small waved underlines that are now standard in every spell checker in the world. Nobody now remembers who introduced tutorialized tasks. In 10 years nowbody will remember who introduced the ribbon. But everybody will remember the innovations that went wrong, like clippy and friends.

techno amnesia .. (4, Informative)

rs232 (849320) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299629)

"nobody now remembers who introduced the small waved underlines .. tutorialized tasks .. the ribbon"

WordPerfect highlights poor grammar or incorrect word usage with a wavy blue underline []

Apple Guide [] Isn't Help

tabbed toolbars [] or the Component palette as it was called in Delphi

Re:techno amnesia .. (1)

El Lobo (994537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299759)

I am a Delphi developer and has been such since Delphi 1, and if you thing the Delphi palette id a ribbon, you must be out of you mind.

Re:Try and see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299675)

The creator lies buried in an unmarked plot, next to those office assistants that were next to Bill G when the Win98 presentation BSOD'ed on him in front of an audience. Oh, they thought they were soooo fired. How mistaken those real office assistants were.

Rumor has it that Bill G's last question to them was, What would you want on your tombstone?

Re:Try and see (1)

kaizendojo (956951) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299715)

Agreed; and someone should point out that the critters were only part of the picture. The dialogs that they appeared on have progressed to allow natural language queries for the application's help - a feature that has matured quite a bit in the latest incarnation of Office. Quite useful, and based on what they learned from user feedback when characters like Clippy and pals were implemented. But of course, since they were attempts by Microsoft they must be laughed at and castigated, if for no other reason. Sigh...

Re:Try and see (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299817)

The "ribbon," really? You that that turd is innovated???

Re:Try and see (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299979)

I don't think that the experimentation is what causes people to make fun. It's more the fact that Microsoft kept it around for 10 years, in spite of overwhelming negative reactions. It's as if someone at Microsoft was just determined to force Clippy on their customers.

Re:Try and see (2, Insightful)

El Lobo (994537) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300073)

That's not unusual at all. With every new version the avatars has been changing. I guess they have been trying to fine-tune it to try to find some use for it, but with every new release their function and space is less and less. Today Clippy is almost inexistent. Of course, there are million of people who still use Office 97, so there are million of Clippy users still today.

Re:Try and see (2, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300173)

Worse is that people tend to attribute useful innovations to the wrong source. How many people do you hear attributing the mouse to Apple? How many other people do you hear trying to correct the first group by telling them that Xerox invented the mouse? When an innovation goes poorly, the people who came up with it become a joke and are remembered because of that joke; but when it goes well, it is usually some company like Apple or Microsoft that popularizes it, and nobody remembers the original innovators.

Smart dog vs stupid Microsoft guy (2, Interesting)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300445)

A relative of mine (name withheld) was working at Microsoft at the time, in their MS Office division. He told me some great stories about this "animated help assistant" they were working on for the next release.

The best bit, and most telling, was the huge political infighting about what the avatar would be. One group lobbied for a cartoon dude wearing a Microsoft t-shirt, because you should have the concept that "Microsoft is helping you" or some such. Another group wanted a cartoon dog to answer questions - they argued that version 1 of whatever Microsoft did would suck, that the avatar would often misunderstand questions so would give wrong answers, thus it would be better to have a smart dog occasionally get it wrong, than a Microsoft guy look stupid.

This person left Microsoft before the avatar was decided, so I don't know why Microsoft decided a magic, talking paperclip was the best solution.

Page 7 of TFA interests me (5, Funny)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299439)

"Modulating the Behavior of an Animated Character to Reflect Beliefs Inferred About a Userâ(TM)s Desire for Automated Services"

I think if they'd put this into practice I might have finally gotten to see Clippy take a lot of something high calibre to the face.

Microsoft Home (2, Interesting)

mlwmohawk (801821) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299509)

I used to work at a software contracting house about 16-18 years ago. We worked on "Microsoft Home" project. There were two programs: "Fine Artist" and "Creative Writer" for kids. (code name "splat") It had an animated helper, "Pablo Picknoseo" (yes: pik-nOs-O") it seems to be some time before these patents. I still got the tee shirt.

The Picaso family objected to the name of the character and they renamed him.

I left that company as they were billing Microsoft by the hour, but paying salary. Microsoft was changing things on a weekly basis, but not adjusting the release schedule. The company was neither adding engineers nor fighting back on the schedule, just demanding we work more. It was crazy.

Re:Microsoft Home (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299827)

One of my sons taught himself to read when he was 3 years old by using one of these programs from Microsoft. Now he's a teenage Linux geek. Wouldn't it be funny if he helps put MS out of business?

Re:Microsoft Home (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300025)

"I left that company as they were billing Microsoft by the hour, but paying salary. Microsoft was changing things on a weekly basis, but not adjusting the release schedule. The company was neither adding engineers nor fighting back on the schedule, just demanding we work more. It was crazy."

Congratulations on a good decision. If they are billing by the should you.

Personally, I ONLY work by billing by the hour...I refuse to work for free.

Re:Microsoft Home (1)

mlwmohawk (801821) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300241)

If they are billing by the should you.

I was "employed" by them, and up until the demand exceeded the pay, it was a pretty good place to work. I worked with some great people there. It was sad that I had to leave, but it was on of the things that eventually ruined my first marriage.

15 pages? (1)

contrapunctus (907549) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299523)

Yeah, I'm pretty curious but I'm not going to click 15 times to read the article err "slide show". I'm not you clicking monkey!

Microsoft Labs (1)

owlnation (858981) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299549)

I always thought that Clippy was born out of one of Ballmer's experiments in the basement of the Microsoft lair.

One night during a bad storm a customer support rep disappeared, and a kitten, and a chair... next day, Clippy was born.

Something along those lines?

The origin of Clippy (2, Funny)

symbolset (646467) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299693)

Clippy was Melinda Gates' idea. Hence the emphasis on making it work.

Clippy says... (5, Funny)

Salamander (33735) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299595)

It looks like you're trying to create a slideshow about me. Would you like to...

  • ...include the paparazzi pictures of me at the nude beach?
  • ..find a lawyer for when Microsoft claims this violates their copyright?
  • everyone how super-duper-elite you are by complaining about me even though they you've never actually seen me for real because your middle school doesn't use Office?

Re:Clippy says... (1)

drunkenoafoffofb3ta (1262668) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300193)

Ah, useful response if this article ever made it onto Digg

Huh. They might've forgotten something. (5, Interesting)

transiit (33489) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299605)

For an article interested in the "Secret Origins of Clippy", they did a good job noting that this all started with the failed Microsoft Bob ("I see you've mistyped your password. Would you like to change it?"

But for all the secrecy they've uncovered in these public patent filings, they seemed to have missed that the program manager of MS Bob was Melinda French, who later became Melinda Gates. I understand she later worked with the team that gave the world the MS Office Assistant (clippy) as well as the Search animations that show up starting around Windows XP.

I guess it's anyone's guess whether there was any nepotism driving this as a marketable feature, even when it was regularly reviled by their users.

Re:Huh. They might've forgotten something. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299987)

when i clicked on the title to read the comment it came with the following inline ad:

"More Flexible Screwing... The flexible shaft..." -- ThinkGeek

i want to get a look at slashdot's content to ad matching mechanism... it's awesome.

Last page - India (1, Funny)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299651)

It is now appearant that Microsoft and Dell are teaming up, not only to outsource tech support to India, but to hire Indian tech support that cant even read!

I had clippy really help me once. (5, Funny)

Kayden (1406747) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299691)

"Hi, I noticed you're writing a ransom letter. Would you like a few pointers? If you use more threatening language, you can probably get a lot more money. Also, make sure you use gloves when you print the letter so the police can't track your finger prints"

A Microsoft PM once told me Clippy saved money (5, Funny)

Cerebus (10185) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299717)

Allegedly, Clippy annoyed people into looking in the help files to figure out how to turn him off. That led them to discover that the help file actually was helpful. This reduced the give-away service calls by some measured percent.

Probably not Clippy's intended purpose, but there you go. :)

Missing... (5, Funny)

SpectraLeper (1079785) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299725)

I'm surprised we didn't see this [] important product listed.

Re:Missing... (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300213)

Ah yes, XHTML, a very important step. I understand the Clippy was part of an early AJAX experiment...


From TFA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299785)

About "Earl", the internet search assistant:

this is apparently what Microsoft was doing to enhance Web search at the same time that Larry Page and Sergey Brin were founding Google.


Was it now? (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299805)

everyone else realized it was a bad idea

The only "Clippy" jokes I remember were those posted - endlessly - to Slashdot. It left me wondering - and not for the first time - whether the geek lived in a little world of his own. How many users simply accepted - even welcomed - a touch of humor, color and animation on their office desktop.

Re:Was it now? (1)

Spad (470073) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300235)

In my experience of users outside of the Slashdot demographic, there are a small subset who refuse to use office without their paperclip/wizard/dog to guide them, a similar subset who refuse to use office if the Office Assistant component is even installed. The majority really don't care either way but would probably be happier if they weren't constantly asked if they needed help writing a letter, what with having mastered that art at primary school.

early typo in article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299813)

the "Office Assistant" paperclip who was introduced in Office 2007 and only departed the scene completely when the company released Office 2008 for the Mac a year ago.

If only we had to put up with it for a year, it wouldn't have been that bad...

We wanted something new... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299865)

When I was working at Microsoft, these little buggers were popular in the Office Suite...I hated them...
But a group of us were talking and found that it would be cool to SDK the utility that makes them so that we could make our own...
We wanted a Kosh (the Vorlon from Babylon 5), an Invader Zim, Gir (from Invader Zim) among others...
Yes, lots of Copyright Issues...but come on, wouldn't it be cool to have your own character, AND to have your own phrases and even add voice to it all...
But the Office Team wouldn't let us have a copy of the development tool...not even for our own enjoyment, even if we couldn't SDK the thing...

Article forgets to mention goat's blood. (1)

Picass0 (147474) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299875)

You can make something as unholy as Clippy without it.

Clearly the result of... (2, Funny)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299883) employee bonus program based on the number of patent filings.

220...221, whatever it takes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26299905)


The article says, "...Clippy, the âoeOffice Assistantâ paperclip who was introduced in Office 2007 and only departed the scene completely when the company released Office 2008."

I'm pretty sure Clippy winked his first annoying wink in Office 97, not 2007.

Avatars are a great concept... (2, Interesting)

RazorJ_2000 (164431) | more than 5 years ago | (#26299965)'s just that Microsoft's initial implementation was poor IMHO. The whole concept is great. At my work, we have available a tremendous amount of online training through a combination of video and PDF, etc. The thing is that what Microsoft didn't study, or perhaps did but didn't understand is that since childhood, kids are raised to see cartoon charactors as, for the most part, a little retarded. So anyone seen using a cartoon charactor to teach them concepts and usage of a software program will be seen as being retarded.

I bet that if they had done a proper, professional, and serious implentation, that it might have gone better for them.

Re:Avatars are a great concept... (1)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300387)

I agree with enjoying tutorials that include video and so forth.

But the implementation didn't fail because animated characters are retarded. The implementation was retarded because Clippy, Bob and the Pathetic Fucking Search Puppy(*) just launched by themselves as an annoyance, not in response to a request for help. Further, as another poster suggested, the so-called help guessed very poorly what it was that was being worked on. []

Given that it's completely retarded and evil to have software work that way, it's actually internally self-consistent that these components are displayed in the most retarded fashion possible.

If they had done "a proper, professional, and serious implentation" as you suggest, then this dung would have never infected our minds.

I find the very same can be said of the company's commercials and several of their products (Access, anyone? That now-missing member of the Office Suite?)

The avatars were born in Bob, noted as the 7th worst product of all time, an open joke as the MS campus, and unfortunately not the dumbest idea ever at Microsoft. Links, in their respective order: [] [] [] []
(yeah, I know how to inline the refs in html, but I prefer to let people clearly see where they're linking to)

(* Pathetic Fucking Search Puppy - Ask for it by name!)

whipped (5, Funny)

GregNorc (801858) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300021)

I'm sure that Melinda French (later to become Melinda Gates) being the project manager for the Microsoft Bob project had nothing to do with the fact Microsoft ran with it for so long.

The upside of Clippy (2, Insightful)

tjstork (137384) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300069)

You know, as much as everyone hates Clippy, Microsoft sold so many copies of Office that there's bound to be a few million people that like him. I would be willing to bet that anyone who wrote a spreadsheet with a clippy like help system would wind up making a pretty good amount of money. For what its worth, I think today's Office help absolutely sucks compared to Clippy. FOr me, that text box of asking what Clippy I wanted to do was usually pretty damn good. Clippy always came through for me.

I think the idea of a personified computer, creating one that expresses interaction, is something that Microsoft should have stuck it out with. Someday, some competitor is going to look at the ashes of clippy, and bob, have an "aha moment", identify where it all went wrong, and everyone will be cheering a great breakthrough in technology.

It wouldn't be the first time this happened. The US car companies put a lot of money into a lot of automotive and engine technologies that didn't see a practical light of day, and, ultimately, the likes of Toyota and Honda would pick up the pieces and run with them in the late 1980s and establish themselves not just as low cost alternatives but as technology players.

And, I will tell you, I know exactly what Microsoft's failure was with Clippy, right when I announce my new Storky based help in my spreadsheet!

Re:The upside of Clippy (1)

Unnngh! (731758) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300243)

I think that most people want the computer to anticipate their actions and adjust accordingly - seamlessly. The context-sensitive menus and toolbars in both Windows and OSX are a move in this direction. The animated assistants can sometimes be helpful but most often they get in the way. The animated assistants also made me feel stupid if I did something to invoke them by making a mistake, and no one likes to feel stupid. I think major issues like this will prevent them from ever being widely useful until, possibly, someone can make them into a primary interface, which is a long ways off still.

Maybe Clippy isn't so bad. (1)

drewvr6 (1400341) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300071)

Take it from me. Clippy is received a lot better than my Pedo-bear search assistant.

No Choice or Competition (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26300133)

It is amazing that after all this time we can only talk about Microsoft and its outrages, annoyances, and foibles. We shouldn't need to grumble about talking paper clips, we should be able to choose a suitable, highly professional OS. The area of personal/desktop computing is notably lacking in any real commercial competitors. Why has no one stepped up to challenge this ridiculous hegemony?

Note: Linux was never intended to compete with Microsoft. Linux has been developed only for its own sake, and if it succeeds in supplanting some Microsoft usage this is purely incidental to its main purpose.

Microsoft Chat (2, Interesting)

qw0ntum (831414) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300191)

Slide 4 is probably related to Microsoft Comic Chat [] , an experimental IRC client that came out of Microsoft Research years ago (and incidentally the origin of the Comic Sans font). It basically took an IRC conversation and made it look like a comic strip, where each member of the conversation had a different character, and their words would appear as speech bubbles. You could also make your character have different expressions. All in all it was pretty cool and actually worked pretty well. It never really took off though because it accomplished all this by prepending metadata to your messages: if the people you were talking to were using MS Chat, they would see your character smile or frown or something; if they used any other client it'd just be a bunch of gibberish before your message.

Re:Microsoft Chat (1)

cnettel (836611) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300375)

Comic Sans was already in Creative Writer and Fine Artist (released around -94). And the avatar chat client is IMHO more related to V-Chat, which predates Comic Chat, as Comic Chat allowed no navigation in the "world".

Lame article (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 5 years ago | (#26300401)

Can we quit getting links to site that give you like 3 lines of text per page? Despite having broadband it still take longer to load the damn thing than to read it so I won't. Let them get their ad hits from someone else.

The only thing more evil than Cheney ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26300417)

is fscking Clippy

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