Clippy makes a comeback

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Clippy made a brief return to computer screens last month.

Introduced in version 8.0 of Microsoft’s Office suite in 1996, Clippy the animated paperclip appeared in every version of Office until version 12 was released in 2007. Just over a decade is not a bad life for a piece of technology whose Wikipedia page says was unpopular with users.

In reality Clippy’s prompts started out as useful for new users, but as their knowledge and experience of the software grew their need for prompts ended.

Microsoft has been having fun with the character in the years since. The technology giant gave conference attendees “Bring Back Clippy” t-shirts a few years ago.

Last month some Microsoft wag turned Clippy into an animated virtual sticker pack in the technology giant’s Team videoconferencing software. But a day later Clippy had gone.

“A source familiar with the situation at Microsoft tells The Verge that the ‘brand police’ inside the company weren’t happy that Clippy had appeared in Microsoft Teams, and immediately ordered the brutal firing of the anthropomorphic paperclip,” The Verge reported.

But Clippy’s return from pasture may have actually been a clever attempt to get some column inches and blogs covering the Team software solution. I’m writing about it, aren’t I? For us at Company-X Clippy’s brief return served as a fun reminder of just how far mass-market software has come since Clippy was retired.

Back in 1997 the digital revolution was in its infancy. Although it’s a bit of a generalisation, it’s fair to say that most Microsoft Office users were transitioning from analogue solutions such as typewriters to Microsoft Word. Not everything was obvious to this group of users, and they needed help to navigate their way around software packages.

Fast forward more than a decade, and those users have either retired or become super users who no longer need prompts from the likes of Clippy. They’ve grown old or grown up.

The point of all technology is to make life easier for its users. When it does precisely that we become emotionally attached to it. You see it all the time with some men and their cars, or steam aficionados and steam engines. There’s even a group who have now started a petition to bring Clippy back. Until Microsoft changes its mind, the only way to hang with Clippy is to install an old version of Office on your computer in compatibility mode.

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David Hallett

David Hallett is a director of Hamilton software specialist Company-X.