The Office Assistant was an intelligent user interface for Microsoft Office that assisted users by way of an interactive animated character, which interfaced with the Office help content. It used technology initially from Microsoft Bob and later Microsoft Agent, offering advice based on Bayesian algorithms. In Microsoft Office for Windows, it was included in versions 97 to 2003 and in Microsoft Publisher, it was included in versions 98 to 2003. In Microsoft Office for Mac, it was included in versions 98 to 2004. The default assistant in the English Windows version was named Clippy, after a paperclip. The character was designed by Kevan J. Atteberry. Usually Clippy taps the screen on first appearing.
The feature drew a strongly negative response from many users. Microsoft turned off the feature by default and removed the Genius assistant in Office XP, acknowledging its unpopularity in an ad campaign spoofing Clippy. The feature was removed altogether in Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, as it drew criticism from customers and even Microsoft employees. The Microsoft Agent components it required were removed from Windows 7.
Office Assistant was codenamed TFC during development, and was enabled by default in early Microsoft Office versions. It popped up when the program determined the user could be assisted with using Office wizards, searching help, or advising users on using Office features more effectively. It presented tips and keyboard shortcuts. For example, typing an address followed by "Dear" would cause Clippy to pop up and say, "It looks like you're writing a letter. Would you like help?"
Other Office assistants were available, such as The Dot (a shape-shifting and colour-shifting smiley-faced red ball), Hoverbot (a robot), The Genius (a caricature of Albert Einstein), Office Logo (a jigsaw puzzle), Mother Nature (a globe), Scribble (an origami-esque cat), Power Pup (a superhero dog) and Will (a caricature of William Shakespeare). In later versions of Microsoft Office for Windows, the Hoverbot, Scribble and Power Pup assistants were replaced by F1, Links and Rocky (a robot, a cat and a dog respectively). Clippy and the Office Logo were also included, but in a different form. In many cases the Office installation CD was necessary to activate a different Office assistant character, so the default character, Clippy, remains widely known. An assistant named Max, in the shape of a 1986 Macintosh Plus, served as the default on Mac versions of Office.
The Microsoft Office XP Multilingual Pack had two more assistants, Saeko Sensei (冴子先生?) (an animated secretary) and a version of Monkey King (孫悟空?) for Asian language users in non-Asian Office versions. Native language versions provided additional representations such as Kairu the dolphin, in Japanese. Clippy inspired parody software such as Vigor, a version of the vi text editor with a paperclip.
- Dot (a shape-shifting and color-shifting smiley-faced red ball)
- Hoverbot (a robot)
- Genius (a caricature of Albert Einstein)
- Office Logo (a jigsaw puzzle)
- Mother Nature (a globe)
- Scribble (an origami-esque cat)
- Power Pup (a superhero dog)
- Will (a caricature of William Shakespeare)
- Bosgrove (a butler)
- Genie (a genie)
- Kairu the Dolphin (available for East Asian editions, downloadable for Office 97)
- Max (a Macintosh Plus computer) (Macintosh)
- Merlin (a wizard)
- Peedy (a green parrot)
- Robby (a robot)
The 1997 assistants can be downloaded from the Microsoft website.
Starting in Office 2000, Microsoft Agent (ACS) replaced the Microsoft Bob-descended Actor (ACT) format as the technology supporting the feature. Users can add other assistants to the folder where Office is installed for them to show up in the Office application. Microsoft Agent-based characters have richer forms and colors, and are not enclosed within a boxed window.
As of Office 2007/2008, Microsoft replaced the Office assistant with a new online help system.
On April 1, 2014, Clippy appeared as an Office assistant in Office Online as part of an April Fool's Day Joke.
In Ribbon Hero 2
After featuring Clippy's tomb in a movie to promote Office 2010, the character was relaunched as the main character of the game Ribbon Hero 2, which is an interactive tutorial released by Microsoft in 2011. In the game, Clippy needs a new job and accidentally goes inside a time machine, travelling to different ages solving problems with Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Onenote. Other Office Assistant names are also featured during the "Future Age" as planets of the future solar system.
Criticism and parodies
The program was widely reviled among users as intrusive and annoying, and was criticized even within Microsoft. Microsoft's internal codename TFC had a derogatory origin: Steven Sinofsky states that "C" stood for "clown", while allowing his readers to guess what "TF" might stand for (The Fucking). Smithsonian Magazine called Clippy "one of the worst software design blunders in the annals of computing". Time magazine included Clippy in a 2010 article listing fifty worst inventions".
In July 2000, the online comic strip User Friendly ran a series of panels featuring Clippy. In 2001, a Microsoft advertising campaign for Office XP included the (now defunct) website officeclippy.com, which highlighted the disabling of Clippy in the software. It featured the animated adventures of Clippy (voiced by comedian Gilbert Gottfried, in his trademark annoying voice) as he learned to cope with unemployment ("X… XP… As in, ex-paperclip?!") and parodied behaviors of the Office assistant. Curiously, one of these ("Clippy Faces Facts") uses the same punchline as one of the User Friendly comic strips. These videos can be downloaded at the Internet Archive. Clippy ends up in an office as a floppy disk ejecting pin.
There is a Clippy parody in the Plus! Dancer application included in Microsoft Plus! Digital Media Edition which is later included as Windows Dancer in Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005. The dancing character Boo Who? is wearing a ghost outfit, roughly having the shape of Clippy's body, with a piece of wire visible underneath. Occasionally, the white sheet slips, and reveals the thin curve of steel. The description mentions "working for a short while for a Redmond, WA based software company, where he continued to work until being retired in 2001". Clippy is also included as a player character in Microsoft Bicycle Card Games and Microsoft Bicycle Board Games.
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- Clippy discontinued in Office 12
- Download additional Agents Office 97 (Quiet Office Logo, Kairu, Earl, F1)
- Luke Swartz — Why People Hate the Paperclip — Academic paper on why people hate the Office Assistant
- Microsoft Agent Ring - download more unofficial characters
- "Farewell Clippy: What's Happening to the Infamous Office Assistant in Office XP" (April 2001) at Microsoft.com