Random Access Memories: Office Assistant

It looks like you’re writing for Stuff. Would you like help?

Even Microsoft hated Clippit. The feature was referred to in-house as ‘TFC’, with T standing for ‘the’ and C for ‘clown’. We leave you to mull what the F stood for.

We take a trip back to 1996.

Great – thanks for bringing up my worst PC nightmare – the bolshy paperclip of doom.

Sorry. We forgot some Office users have terrifying flashbacks to Clippit (or ‘Clippy’ to its friends – if it had any), who abruptly appeared the second they typed ‘Dear’, intrusively demanding to help layout a letter.

Presumably, the plan was to make Office seem human – or even fun. Instead, we got something that was, broadly speaking, a mash-up of a third-rate Pixar character, an overly strict school teacher, and a sociopath. We at Stuff still can’t hold a box of paperclips without yelling NO, WE DON’T NEED HELP at it.

Whatever made Microsoft think an anthropomorphic paperclip could brighten your day?

To be fair, you didn’t have to sit there and watch a paperclip outlining that you were rubbish at grammar and the like. Microsoft also provided a bunch of alternate options – although those were arguably equally ill-advised.

It was possible to replace Clippit with grinning idiot The Dot (more or less an acid smilie painted red), Einsteinalike The Genius (who wasn’t), Links the cat (seemingly having wandered in from a 1950s Disney knock-off), and, erm, Office’s actual logo, its coloured bits glowing like a demented Simon game.

Still, at least it’s over now, right? Clippit and pals will never darken our doors again!

Don’t be so sure. Not only can you weld a sort-of Clippit to your website (smore.com/clippy-js), but also the black soul of Office Assistant is now everywhere, infused into countless smart devices. It’s there when Alexa randomly pipes up when you’re chatting with friends, or on asking Siri something and getting a daft quip rather than actual help.

Douglas Adams once wrote future tech would require us to sit infuriatingly still to avoid triggering gestural interfaces. Clippit’s legacy is that we’ll soon have to sit in silence too.