This was the familiar pop-up one would receive upon typing the word “Dear” into Microsoft Office 97, and this smug-looking paperclip has been touted as one of the worst inventions of our time.
Originally released as part of Office 97 in 1996, “Clippit”, or “Clippy” as he’s more widely known, was introduced by Microsoft as one of their Office Assistants. Clippy’s intention was to help new Office users with simple tasks like writing a letter or resume, or using a formula in Excel.
Unfortunately, Clippy proved to be more annoying than useful, and up until Office XP in 2002, was enabled by default, so users had to manually kick him to the curb. Microsoft released other Office Assistants at the same time and in continuing years, however in many cases their use required an Office installation CD, and therefore most people just got to know Clippy.
When Office 2000 was released, Clippy got an updated look, his “body” becoming 3-dimensional and his eyes “googlier”. He also went from smug and kind of pervy, to a more “approachable” looking animation.
Perhaps this was in response to Microsoft’s own focus groups, who, prior to the release of the original Clippy, had some less-than-favourable things to say. Women in particular thought Clippy was “too male” and was “leering” at them. Looking at the first Clippy, yeah, I could see that (I did call him “smug” and “pervy”). Regardless, Clippy as originally designed by Microsoft’s Kevan J. Atteberry was released with Office 97.
Clippy was disabled by default with the release of Office XP in 2002, and in 2001, a Microsoft advertising campaign for Office XP included the website officeclippy.com, which highlighted the disabling of “Clippit” in the software. Clippy “rants” about Office XP being so easy to use that he’s out of a job. He even posts an employment “to do” list, including obtaining references from Bill Gates, and helping people “fix the carburetors on their ’74 Dodge Darts”.
Clippy was removed entirely from the Office suite with the release of Office 2007, but not before the internet generated hundreds of memes and comic strips about his ability to exasperate users. On April Fools Day 2014, Microsoft had fun with users of Office Online, bringing Clippy back to “help”.
Regardless of his propensity to provoke, Clippy will go down in the annals of technology history, remembered (if not fondly) by computer users around the world. As creator Atteberry says on his website, “people either loved him or loathed him. I guess just noticing him is something . . .isn’t it?”.
I think it is.