Software giant Microsoft is laying off one of its most controversial employees: Clippy.
The software help system, a long-despised feature of Microsoft's popular Office suite of business software, is the star of a new Web marketing campaign launched on Wednesday. The campaign and a companion Web site trumpet Microsoft's forthcoming Office XP software as so easy to use that Clippy is out of a job.
The Web site, designed and hosted by Microsoft, serves as a mock layoff notice and resume for Clippy. "I've taken over this space to share my pathetic story and show off my skills as a Web designer. Not bad, huh? Know anyone who's hiring? Office XP works so easily that it's made Office Assistants like me useless. Obsolete. And, I'm told, hideously unattractive," Microsoft has Clippy saying on the Web site.
The company is bringing Clippy to a light-hearted end. Microsoft is asking customers to take part in an online poll so they can chime in on what Clippy's next job should be.
The site is part of a $30m (£20m) marketing and advertising campaign launched to promote Office XP, which Microsoft is expected to launch this summer. For Microsoft, Office is an extremely important product: its sales make up more than one-third of the company's overall revenue. Microsoft is hoping to appeal to customers with a less-obtrusive, easier to use version of the suite.
In Office XP, Microsoft plans to hide the Clippy character tool from view and help people in a less obtrusive manner. Office customers are wondering why the Redmond, Washington-based company took so long to give Clippy the boot. "Not one person in my office, from the receptionist to the sales people to the engineers to the CEO use the blasted paper clip. Not even my wife, who is an elementary school teacher, uses it," Ketan Deshpande, senior software engineer at Manage.com, wrote in an e-mail to News.com. "In less time than it took MS to put this Web site together, they could have pulled the dumb clip out of their software."
Other Office customers agreed and wondered if Clippy was related to another, much-reviled Microsoft helper. "These guys seem to be a legacy from Microsoft Bob. When they were introduced I thought Microsoft was trying to save face from Bob's dismal acceptance by moving a key piece of technology into the professional products," wrote Steve Mizera, a systems engineer in Silverado, California. "Every time I have to install or reinstall Office the first thing I do on each application is turn off Clippy. I have tried several of the variations of the 'animated helper,' but I have found them all too annoying to leave on," Mizera wrote.
Lisa Gurry, a Microsoft Office product manager, said Clippy has lived a useful life but is no longer needed. "We think Office has so many new features for making it easier to use that Clippy is no longer useful. This is definitely in response to user feedback. We asked ourselves what we could do to help users find features" with the least amount of confusion.
Gurry said if people miss Clippy, they can turn him back on by clicking the "help" tag on the Office XP task bar. Office XP not only plays a critical part in the company's product lineup this year, but is seen as a catalyst for Microsoft's .Net software plan.
But the company will have a battle convincing many customers to upgrade, analysts say. Many consumers and a growing number of business customers don't see the need to upgrade to yet another version of Office, since they use few of the productivity suite's existing features.
The Clippy Web campaign will continue until the Office XP product launch at the end of May, Gurry said.