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Home / Features / Microsoft Word hits 40 – and Clippy is nowhere to be seen

Microsoft Word hits 40 – and Clippy is nowhere to be seen

Does it feel like you’ve been working on a Word document for decades? Just imagine how Word itself feels

Microsoft Word disk

Reckon modern Microsoft Word is too cluttered and should be stripped back? A few hours with the horror of version 1 would give you perspective on that.

Because it was an app people loved to hate? But so is every version of Word. So why are you doing this retrospective again?

Because it’s worth taking stock as this famous software hits 40 – and recognising how revolutionary it was. In 1983, most people still smashed out words on typewriters. Magazines and newspapers were literally ‘pasted up’ on boards. Word ushered in the era of WYSIWYG word processing, where you could write like you were living in the future. Sort of. At first it didn’t even have spell check.

That’s OK. What proper writer needs spelf chek anyway?

Indeed. That said, even the very first Word came with goodies. Character styles and a graphics mode to view them. Find and replace. The interface was crude, but if you were a whizz with the Tab key you could blaze through settings. Later, as the app evolved on DOS, Mac and Windows, more modern menus rocked up. As did other things… that were not always welcome. For every ‘track changes’, there was a feature that risked making every user hurl their PC into a furnace.

It looks like you’re trying to finish a Stuff column about Word. Would you like help?

Arrgh, stop! Still, at least Clippy/Clippit provoked emotion – rarely the case with Word, which is mostly just grudgingly accepted. Perhaps that’s inevitable in having to keep many disparate audiences happy. It has to do so much and is no longer just about, well, words. And if Microsoft’s AI machinations win out, even your words won’t matter, as countless computers running ChatGPT-infested Word churn out endless garbage until the end of time, locking humans out forever. 

Time to dust off those old typewriters…

Microsoft Word milestones

A brief history of everyone’s favourite word processor. And by ‘everyone’, we mean ‘at least some people’. Probably. 

Microsoft Word 1.0

1981: Former Xerox boffin Charles Simonyi, co-creator of the pioneering Bravo word processor, is hired by Microsoft. Simonyi hires his own ex-Xerox boffin, Richard Brodie, and the pair set about crafting Multi-Tool Word.

1983: Because its corporate moniker isn’t Multi-Tool, Microsoft cunningly renames the app. A demo’s bundled with PC World magazine.

1985: Word arrives on the Mac, which eyes it suspiciously. It has unlimited undos. Mac users are all: “OK, then. We’re good.”

1989: Word arrives on Windows, four years after the Mac. Which seems quite odd now we think about it.

1993: Word for DOS reaches its end. But it does so as part of a coordinated release across all platforms, which includes autocorrect. Alas, the Mac version of Word 6 is terrible. Tsk.

Office Assistant

1996: Office AssistantSigh. (Microsoft eventually saw sense. Clippy lives on only as an emoji these days.)

1997: Bill Gates on a screen looms over Steve Jobs at an Apple keynote. Gates promises not to throw Office for Mac in a bin. 

2003: Fancy new DOCX format is introduced to replace DOC. The world does not end.

2007: The Ribbon interface confuses everyone, despite providing context-sensitive controls that depend on what you’re doing at the time.

2010: Word goes online. Power users grumble about missing features. Normal folks don’t care and immediately start smashing out copy in their browser of choice. Sometimes even with other people – mere years after Google Docs had already rocked up.

And thereafter, everyone lived happily ever after. Apart from people still angry about Clippy, obviously.

Profile image of Craig Grannell Craig Grannell Contributor


I’m a regular contributor to Stuff magazine and Stuff.tv, covering apps, games, Apple kit, Android, Lego, retro gaming and other interesting oddities. I also pen opinion pieces when the editor lets me, getting all serious about accessibility and predicting when sentient AI smart cookware will take over the world, in a terrifying mix of Bake Off and Terminator.

Areas of expertise

Mobile apps and games, Macs, iOS and tvOS devices, Android, retro games, crowdfunding, design, how to fight off an enraged smart saucepan with a massive stick.

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