Microsoft Windows

Rant: Clippy Isn't Welcome Back

Thankfully, the headlines were worse than the reality. There will be no second act for Clippy a.k.a. Mr Clippit and other similar names, presumably to escape his being apprehended by angry mobs. For those too young to know, the Microsoft Office helper was part paperclip, part human avatar, 100 per cent atrocious.

Genghis Khan was guilty of worse things perhaps but then he didn’t appear on millions of computer screens with his annoying face and constant offers of assistance. Back in the day, many of us spent most of the hours between nine and five telling a sack of pixels to go away. But back Clippy would come, like a poodle sticking close to your trouser cuff.

Clippy was part of a long and dishonourable tradition of software ‘help’ – an oxymoron surely – systems. These tend to the perverse and can even appear to take on a passive aggressive attitude that you might expect in a Paris bar. (I was one asked ‘chocolat?’ when I asked for ‘une bière’ in my perfectly serviceable French - GCE, Grade C, 1981).

In the strange world of the Help system, you ask for this and they give you that: ‘I see you’re trying to print a document, here’s how you create a mail-merge.’ 

The Help system is kissing cousin to the perverse dialogue box. ‘There is a 476932~ error. The system will now close down.’ Well, fair enough, since you put it so nicely.

Then there’s the cheek to ask you for help to report a bug. We pay for the software so the software supplier requests we help fix problems for it and our comrades in office land. It is as if we are selfless, unpaid serfs, charitable donators with plenty of time to spare, accustomed to campfire singalongs to Kumbaya, Morning Has Broken or early-period Joan Baez.

Usability has generally improved over the years but Clippy and his ilk were a bad idea, part of an inexcusably poor chain of efforts for software to speak unto Man. His coming out of retirement would be as welcome as the return of medieval plagues, the gallows or the whipping post. But Help isn’t helping remotely as well as it should be doing.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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