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The Secret Origins of Microsoft Office's Clippy 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 Secret Origins of Microsoft Office's Clippy

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  • WAT (Score:5, Funny)

    by mfh ( 56 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:08AM (#26299265) Homepage Journal

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

    • Re:WAT (Score:5, Funny)

      by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:10AM (#26299271)
      Windows RG [] will do it for you.
    • Re:WAT (Score:5, Informative)

      by GFree678 ( 1363845 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:33AM (#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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Vectronic ( 1221470 )

        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: (Score:2, Offtopic)

        by socsoc ( 1116769 )
        Who can afford recent MS products, especially with this economy? Word 2k still works fine for me...
      • Re:WAT (Score:4, Interesting)

        by camperdave ( 969942 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @01:01PM (#26300959) Journal
        "Clippy" itself might be dead, but that doesn't mean that all of the cute, animated assistants have been exorcised from windows. There's still Rover, Dot, F1, Links the cat, Merlin, courtney, Earl, and a handful of others that still exist.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by NoobixCube ( 1133473 )

        It doesn't matter that he's dead, it's too late. The damage is already done. Our minds will never heal from the scars Clippy inflicted. I think the only way to be sure he stays dead is to annihilate all living memory of him. We must nuke /. from orbit for the good of all humanity, and whatever poor souls discover a functioning computer long after we're gone. It's the only way to be sure.

    • Re:WAT (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:51AM (#26299655) Journal

      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 (Score:5, Informative)

        by LandDolphin ( 1202876 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @11:41AM (#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: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by jdoverholt ( 1229898 )
          Quit your rational thinking! Get out!
        • Re:WAT (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Cor-cor ( 1330671 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @02:46PM (#26302627)

          It was a little different then was I was used to, but everything works.

          I think this is the main problem with Vista now that most of the big bugs have gotten fixed. So many people are completely computer illiterate and just get by through rote memorization of the correct keystrokes/mouse clicks to do the few things they want. When that changes, even a little bit, they are back to completely helpless and hate it, making them want to downgrade.

          • Re:WAT (Score:5, Insightful)

            by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Friday January 02, 2009 @04:02PM (#26303531) Journal

            BINGO! Give that man a cigar! Home users have no freaking clue how to actually use a PC and I seriously doubt anybody at MSFT, which seems to have seriously been bit by the "I can be as cool as Apple! Really I can! Quit laughing at me!" ever bothered to actually test the GUI with actually home users. I can tell you that home users HATE change! They absolutely positively HATE change! They know where the buttons were before, they knew what to do to do what they needed before, and now they are nothing but frustrated.

            Then add on top of that the fact that Vista feels slower than their 4 year old XP machine, the HDD thrashes constantly and takes forever to load(most folks shut down their machines cold at night and so do a cold boot at least once a day, usually several) and sucks RAM and CPU time worse than a drunk sucking down Mad Dog, and you have some seriously pissed off consumers. It has gotten to the point that when a new customer comes in and say "Help! I got this new machine and I can't stand it!" that I just say "You got Vista'd,didn't you?" and the answer always is "Yeah, real hard! And I hate this damned thing! Can you put XP on it?". I'm sure that it would shock most here, but most home users I've dealt with didn't even see the "fisher price" GUI of XP because one of the first things they would ask is "Can you make it look like the old one?" so they would happily take home a machine that looked like Win9X. And don't even get me started on Office 2K7. Not placing an easy way to default to the GUI that everyone has been using since Office 97 was just plain stupid.

            Allow me to make a prediction. Write it down, and you watch it come true. If MSFT doesn't fire whichever ass has decided "We can really be like Apple with Win7! No really, we can! Stop making fun of me!" should be the direction of the company instead of making boring, low resource desktop OSes that everyone knows how to use because that is what they have always used, and instead replace quicklaunch and the taskbar with that damned stupid Apple Dock then Win7 is going to go down in flames even faster than Vista. If folks had wanted an Apple they would have freaking bought an Apple. What folks want from MSFT is the same boring as shit they have always gotten, with a little more stability and more drivers included. Add a few little things like native DVD burning and a simple picture editor and they are happy little campers. But if they try to force everyone into this giant Apple ripoff multimedia nightmare then they are going to stay away in droves. I mean have you EVER seen a case like we have now where a new MSFT OS has been out nearly 3 years yet companies like Tigerdirect are bragging Comes with XP Downgrade Rights! [] in giant letters to sell their machines? Hell I didn't see folks run from a MSFT OS this fast when WinME was unleashed with all its evil upon the world(Bill STILL owes me an apology for THAT one,asshole!)

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Kagura ( 843695 )

              They know where the buttons were before, they knew what to do to do what they needed before, and now they are nothing but frustrated.

              I strongly, strongly agree with the previous statement. However, this next part...

              And don't even get me started on Office 2K7. Not placing an easy way to default to the GUI that everyone has been using since Office 97 was just plain stupid.

              I see some people ragging on Office 2007, but I think it's an example of something Microsoft has done extremely well. The new interface is a fantastic change, and I'm really impressed with it. Defaulting to the "old" GUI would be a step in the wrong direction.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Trixter ( 9555 )

          Well, for one thing, Vista on my wife's brand new laptop can't transfer files at speeds exceeding 1.25MB/s despite the network link being capable of almost one hundred times that speed.

          The out-of-box experience is a giant "meh" right in the first ten minutes. I was expecting a lot more product for something that requires 2G of RAM to boot up without paging.

        • Re:WAT (Score:4, Interesting)

          by shutdown -p now ( 807394 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @04:16PM (#26303695) Journal

          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.

          With Vista, even today, it's rather hit-or-miss regarding hardware. If you get a supported (truly supported!) hardware configuration, you'll get a smooth ride. If not, you can get anything from minor quirks to major blockers. And getting a PC with Vista preinstalled is, unfortunately, no guarantee that all hardware is actually properly supported (rather than "barely working when the stars are right").

          By the way, why is the parent modded Troll? He is merely relaying his personal experiences with Vista - or is it something that's only "+5, Informative" when they are negative?

        • I see this comment a lot, and I suppose that many average Windows users don't see the seams and can't figure out what the fuss is about.

          From my point of view as someone who has used Windows heavily for almost two decades, 2007-08 in Microsoft land has been the perfect storm of poor user experience for power users.

          Here are the factors:

          - The configuration dialog shell game that we've come to expect with every new Windows release
          - Deeper UI changes to features that I use several times a minute (e.g. alt-t

      • Re:WAT (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Stargoat ( 658863 ) <> on Friday January 02, 2009 @12:11PM (#26300391) Journal
        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 (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thePowerOfGrayskull ( 905905 ) <marc,paradise&gmail,com> on Friday January 02, 2009 @02:23PM (#26302235) Homepage Journal
        What really pisses me off about disabling that stupid dog is the way he turns his back on me, and slowly saunters off the screen. No, you stupid mutt! I want you gone NOW, none of this insouciance from you!
    • If we can figure out its point of origin, it can be contained or, if deemed appropriate, destroyed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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.

    • Jesus. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @11:00AM (#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 (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @11:02AM (#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.

      • by TheLink ( 130905 )
        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: (Score:3, Funny)

      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
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rilister ( 316428 )

      It did, but I decided to go look for it in Word 2007 and found one of the dangers of allowing user-generated content. Turns out MS doesn't really get sarcasm:

      1.Open Word 2007 (though it's the same in any Office 2007 app, I think). Click on the help icon in the top right (?)

      2.Type in "Office Assistant"

      3. 7th link down is "What happened to Office Assistant?" Click here.

      4. Read the *first* community tip for some mean-spirited hilarity.

      "And given the the amazingness(I know it's not a real word) that is Vista, y

  • 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.

  • Why is this story a big deal? The same thing is true of Howard the Duck, and Jar-Jar Binks.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      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.

    • 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.

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

      Hey, there's two or three of us that liked Howard the Duck.

  • by mdm-adph ( 1030332 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:16AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

      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 vis

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

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nine-times ( 778537 )

      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.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @11:38AM (#26300107) Homepage Journal

      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 t

      • by IICV ( 652597 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @12:19PM (#26300473)

        ... your post was more informative than the article.

        I know that's a pretty low bar to pass, but you still deserve congratulations.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rmcd ( 53236 ) *

        Great post.

        The thing that always shocked me about Microsoft's UIs is that they do such a terrible job of implementing the things they're purporting to implement. Clippy's an obvious example. But think about right-click menus, which I always thought were a terrific idea but never particularly well-implemented. There are many times I repeat the exact same many-step procedure in Office. Why doesn't Office notice and offer to make a macro or menu item out of what I'm doing? Why can't I drag menu items to the q

    • 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?

      Yes, because choice is bad. But, only in trivial applications. In things that actually matter, and use tons of resources, choice is good because everyone knows you should have to load two massive libraries to surf AND read your email.

  • it wasn't all bad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:18AM (#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 damn dog (Score:3, Informative)

      by El_Oscuro ( 1022477 )

      At work, we recently "upgraded" from Win2k to XP, and I got my first experience with the dog. We deployed a release to production which had a bug in it, and I needed to find all references to the broken routine *FAST*. So I called up the handy-dandy search screen with the cute little mutt and put in the text I wanted to find in the files. No matches. WTF? Did I spell it wrong? No. There was 1 file I knew had it, so I opened it, found the text and than ran the same search again against that 1 file. S

  • by SemperUbi ( 673908 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:21AM (#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 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:23AM (#26299417) Journal

    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 (Score:4, Insightful)

    by El Lobo ( 994537 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:25AM (#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 .. (Score:5, Informative)

      by rs232 ( 849320 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:48AM (#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
    • 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: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by El Lobo ( 994537 )
        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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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 innovato
    • 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

  • by Shadow of Eternity ( 795165 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:25AM (#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 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mlwmohawk ( 801821 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:34AM (#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.

    • "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.

      • 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.

    • by mgiuca ( 1040724 )

      Is that where McZee came from?

      I have to say, I was a big fan of Creative Writer and Fine Artist when I was in primary school ... say around 11 or 12 years old.

      Clippy is demeaning and laughable for adults, but these characters really make these sorts of applications appealing to children (speaking from my own experiences). Creative Writer and Fine Artist went further and had a whole building you could explore with "crazy" ideas and projects and clickable joke animations. A building with a word processor buil

  • 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!

  • 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?
  • by Salamander ( 33735 ) <> on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:44AM (#26299595) Homepage Journal

    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?
  • by transiit ( 33489 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:45AM (#26299605) Homepage Journal

    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: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      kdawson didn't miss it:

      Posted by kdawson on Friday January 02, @09:02AM
      from the melinda-has-a-lot-to-answer-for dept.

  • 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!

  • by Kayden ( 1406747 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:55AM (#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"
  • by Cerebus ( 10185 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:57AM (#26299717) Homepage

    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. :)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I had a certain clueless CPA who kept asking me simple questions about how to use office. I mean stupidly-simple like 'how do i underline?' and stuff like that....

      Eventually I broke down & told her to start asking clippy before she called me... clippy was able to help her enough that my 3 or 4 calls a week dwindled to 1 every week or two.

      Badmouth clippy all you like, for clueless idiots hes a huge help & that CPA wasnt the only person ive ever seen using him on a regular basis.

  • Missing... (Score:5, Funny)

    by SpectraLeper ( 1079785 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @10:57AM (#26299725)
    I'm surprised we didn't see this [] important product listed.
  • 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.

    • by Spad ( 470073 )

      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.

    • 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.

      Oh, really?

      Just Googled for "clippy jokes" - sure does seem to extend beyond /. and way beyond the little world, the geek's own.

      So. How's the weather in Redmond today?

  • You can make something as unholy as Clippy without it.

  • by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @11:15AM (#26299883) employee bonus program based on the number of patent filings.

  •'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

    • 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 c

  • whipped (Score:5, Funny)

    by GregNorc ( 801858 ) <> on Friday January 02, 2009 @11:30AM (#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.
  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd.bandrowsky@gma i l .com> on Friday January 02, 2009 @11:35AM (#26300069) Homepage Journal

    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!

    • by Unnngh! ( 731758 )
      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 unti
  • My all time favorite Clippy piece, but the language is not family friendly... [] Interesting use of Clippy as a character []
  • Microsoft Chat (Score:3, Interesting)

    by qw0ntum ( 831414 ) on Friday January 02, 2009 @11:51AM (#26300191) Journal
    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.
    • by cnettel ( 836611 )
      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".
  • 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 original implementation of "Clippy" was based on extensive research in computer-assisted help, and it did a very good job--only showing up when you really needed help, and almost always being right about what you needed help on.

    What went wrong is that marketing people decided it did not show up enough, and so Clippy was dumbed way down, so that it would show up much more frequently.

    There was a fascinating article a few years ago by the guy whose research project Clippy came from, discussing this and the

  • Most folks think that Microsoft Office's Clippy, Microsoft Bob, and Windows XP's Search Assistant dog were perverse jokes. [need citation]

    I've never heard this opinion before, to be honest. They obviously share a pedigree (no pun intended), but no company puts that much research, development, and sales investment into something they don't expect to give returns.

  • in the mid-90s by some of the cognitive researchers at the center of the whole anthropomorphic-character thing at Microsoft. I'm not having any luck finding it online, but the gist was: People react to computers the way they react to people.

    It was filled with fascinating experiments. They'd have people work with one of two "expert system" programs - one of which subtly complimented the user's knowledge, and one of which didn't. Invariably, the friendly system would be rated as "more accurate".

    Or: People

  • Splitting what could essentially be a 1 page article into 15 pages, just to cram in needless advertising and SEO links to blogs and social networks does NOT a slideshow make. Just call a spade a damn spade, please.
  • by mosb1000 ( 710161 ) <> on Friday January 02, 2009 @01:59PM (#26301819)
    I'm not sure why some people seem to be obsessed with interacting with anthropomorphic machines. There are over 6 billion people in the world, surely you can find one of them to talk to.

    A computer is a computer. People use them more like a book that is updated in real-time than anything else. We should simply let it be what it is and try to improve on the way people interact with it. It makes no sense to try to trick users into believing they are interacting with something else. That can only lead to confusion and problems.

    The same thing goes you anthropomorphic robot-builders out there. Why build something that acts like a human? We already have lots of those. The whole point of automation is that it can do things that are difficult for us to do by hand. It doesn't make sense that an efficient robot would look like a human, because the mere fact that we need or want a robot to do it implies that the human form does not lend itself to the task.

May all your PUSHes be POPped.