Baby boomer Bill Gates may remember the 1960s "Paul is dead" rumour that dogged Beatle Paul McCartney. Now, the Microsoft chairman is spinning his own urban myth for the millennium generation: Clippy's demise.
Clippy, the cute but much maligned animated paper clip introduced with Office 97, was given his walking orders by Microsoft recently as part of a £20m marketing campaign promoting Office XP.
The software company even set up a special Clippy Web site with his resume, an online poll for his next job, and Macromedia Flash movies starring the outgoing Office assistant. By retiring the Office assistant, Microsoft hoped to emphasize how easy Office XP is to use compared with earlier versions.
But Clippy's demise is more myth than reality. Anyone installing Office XP will find Clippy and seven other animated assistants available with the new version. One of the assistants, Merlin, is even featured during the Windows XP Beta 2 installation. The difference: In Office XP, the software user must choose to install the Office assistants rather than getting them by default.
PC Data analyst Stephen Baker described Clippy's apparent demise as a good marketing gimmick but nothing more. The animated assistant didn't add much value to Office in the first place, he said.
"I think Clippy is for the most part inappropriate for people using Office," he said. "Most people using Office are pretty high-end users, and they don't need an animated thing to help them do that. The biggest issue with that product is there's a lot of stuff in there I can use, if I could figure out what's there and where to find it."
Gartner analyst Michael Silver was one of those cheering for Clippy's retirement.
"It's probably the most annoying innovation Microsoft has added to Office in years," he said.
Still, Microsoft made good sport of booting Clippy during Thursday's Office XP launch gala in New York, calling several times on an actor dressed as the talking paper clip.
Clippy interrupted Gates' keynote speech, drawing cheers from the crowd. Noting the presence of Jay Leno and other notables at the Windows 95 launch, Gates said, "Today, we let Office XP speak for itself -- Clippy is the only star."
"Windows XP is too easy. Nobody needs me," the paper clip complained. "XP stands for ex-paper clip. Please ask Mr. Gates to make me a bigger part of Office XP." Then the forlorn Office assistant was dragged off the stage by a magnet. He chanted: "Bring back Clippy. Bring back Clippy."
But Clippy, whose real name is Clippit, made several morning appearances during the event. During a slide presentation, the Office assistant was shown at some of his recent new jobs, such as taxi driver and UPS deliveryman. In fact, during a presentation made by Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos, Clippy -- wearing a UPS delivery hat -- brought out a package.
After the event, Bezos said, "We'll really miss Clippy."
This isn't the first time Clippy has been prematurely buried. During a presentation demonstrating the programmability of the assistants using Office 97 Developer Edition, Microsoft product managers Neil Charney and Mike Risse demonstrated how to kill the Office assistant. In one demonstration, Link the cat gobbled his tongue until turning inside out. Developers cheered each Office assistant's gory end.
Clippy derives his heritage from Bob, Microsoft's failed attempt to put an animated graphical interface on the Windows operating system. Though Clippy may have been pushed aside for marketing Office XP, animated assistants are likely to continue cropping up in Microsoft products.
Merlin the magician guides people through the Windows XP Beta 2 installation, and animated assistants can be found in other places in the operating system. Four characters -- Merlin among them -- can be set to assist with searching a computer's hard drive or the Internet.
So maybe Clippy isn't gone for good, Silver said.
"Microsoft will certainly use this technology if they think it will help people, as long as it's not annoying," he said. But, he emphasized, "You have to ask for Clippy now. He doesn't come uninvited to the party anymore."
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