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10 things you didn’t know about poor Clippy

Clippy, part 1

When the word digital assistant is mentioned today, most probably think of Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa. However, they were far from first. Already in the 90s, Microsoft made an attempt with a digital assistant in the Office programs – Clippy.

Microsoft Clippy

1. What was Clippy?

Clippy was designed as a small paperclip with eyes that appeared on the screen when it thought you needed help with something. For example, if you started writing something that looked like the beginning of a letter, Clippy would pop up and ask if you needed help on how to write a letter.

2. Office users hated Clippy

Unfortunately for poor Clippy, who just wanted to help, most Office users felt spammed by the little paper clip that kept popping up now and then. Not even all Microsoft employees liked the paper clip, and Clippy was eventually fired as an assistant. Clippy was gone starting with Office 2007 and 2008 on the Mac.

3. Clippy was badly bullied by everyone

In fact, Microsoft’s assistant was so unpopular that there were tons of parodies and mockeries of it. A quick search on Youtube or Google results in tons of memes and parodies. Even Saturday Night Live did a sketch (see above). Admittedly, it was about an annoying assistant in the form of a pin, but we all know who they’re referring to…

4. Prize for the worst invention

Smithsonian Magazine called Clippy one of the worst software mistakes and Time Magazine wasn’t much better. In 2010, the magazine named Clippy one of the world’s 50 worst inventions.

Kevan Atteberry Clippy
Photo: CC Wikimedia/Sage RossKevan Atteberry, Clippy’s creator.

5. The creator was ashamed of his work

Illustrator Kevan Atteberry, the man who designed Clippy, was ashamed of his work for a long time because of all the hate the clip had to endure. At first he didn’t even have it in his portfolio. But after a while he realized the value of having created something as iconic as Clippy. He tells Motherboard that not everyone actually hated Clippy, he has also received fan mail from people who loved Clippy.

Clippy, part 2

6. Everyone cheered when Clippy disappeared

Bill Gates announced in 2001, when he was still CEO of Microsoft, that Clippy would be retired from Office. When he said “XP stands for Ex-Paperclip” he received a standing ovation.

7. Clippy hated – even before launch

Even during the process of developing the digital assistant, people reacted negatively when they saw Clippy. Roz Ho, who worked at Microsoft when it started, has told us that they did a lot of testing with different focus groups. Women in particular disliked the various supporting characters, partly due to the lack of female characters. But no one listened, and Clippy and the other figures were released anyway.

Microsoft Assistants
More (un)known assistants from Microsoft.

8. Clippy was not alone

Clippy was the default assistant in Office, but he wasn’t alone. There were several other assistants you could choose to hate instead of Clippy. All were equally annoying, but at least you could enjoy changing the appearance of your tormentor in Office. Some of the assistants were Merlin the Wizard, Genius, Rover the Dog, Links the Cat, Genie the Genie, Peedy the Parrot, and Saeko Sensei (who appeared in for those running Office with Asian language settings).

Here you can see an overview of the assistants in Office 97 and here in Office 2000.

9. Time heals all wounds

Clippy may be one of the most hated shows of all time, but in recent years he has achieved cult status. Today, you’ll find many different fan-creations of the paperclip, ranging from working Clippy built in Minecraft (above), to literary erotic adventures.

10. Bring back Clippy!

If you miss and/or want to torture yourself with Clippy today, you can download a Chrome extension that adds Clippy to every page you visit. Here you will find the addendum.

Clippy meme

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