The horrible history of Clippy

A Novell engineer has used the example of Microsoft's unpopular Office assistant Clippy to explain the importance of open source. We take a look back at this disastrous chapter in the history of productivity software

"It's probably the most annoying innovation Microsoft has added to Office in years," was one of the more polite descriptions of Microsoft's animated Office assistant, which first reared its two-dimensional head back in Office 97.

But this week Novell distinguished software engineer Michael Meeks resurrected the ghost of Clippy when he used the office assistant to illustrate what he sees as the chief benefit of open source over proprietary code.

"Free software gives you the freedom that, even if you are a one-man shop, you can have it fixed if it is annoying you enough. The example I like to give is "Clippy" — remember? — that whipping boy of journalists. You couldn't turn it off and it came on and you had to talk to it before you came on," said Meeks, in an interview with ZDNet.co.uk.

"Now turning Clippy off, in my estimation, is a single line of code change. With Microsoft you just couldn't do that. You couldn't get into their software, find the piece of code and just fix it. If you think about the software cost of some catastrophic blunder, often it would be way cheaper if you could just get in and fix it. I think that is a huge benefit of the free-software industry," Meeks said.

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