Before the dawn of the new millennium, you never felt lonely when you opened a Word doc, thanks to a pesky little character named Clippy. Remember him? You couldn’t describe him any better than Microsoft: “the little paperclip with the soulful eyes and the Groucho eyebrows.” Love him or hate him, Clippy was always popping up to say, “It looks like you’re writing a letter. Do you need help?”
Most of us did hate him—so much so that on April 11, 2001, Microsoft announced that the star of Office 97 would be turned off by default in Office XP. “Office XP is so easy to use that Clippy is no longer necessary, or useful,” the press release read.
In truth, no one liked Clippy. Even early focus groups disliked him, with female users offering extremely negative feedback. Some even felt Clippy was “leering” at them. At best, users found Clippy amusing the first time they encountered him and absolutely maddening by the 40th or 50th.
Still, one can’t deny Clippy’s legacy. He was an early foray into artificial inteligence, writes New York Magazine’s Brian Feldman. Consider Clippy an ancestor of Siri.
Clippy disappeared for good from Microsoft products in 2007, but don’t count him out completely. Microsoft brought him back for a 2014 April Fools’ prank, and Google Chrome users can download the extension Clippy Everywhere! (which is not a Microsoft product). And Clippy even stars in his own erotic short story, available on Amazon. Not too shabby for a character rendered “obsolete” 16 years ago.
Tech Time Warp is a weekly feature that looks back at interesting moments and milestones in tech history.