Microsoft's much-hated Clippy was effectively born on a Mac

Clippy first saw the light of day - by which we mean the Microsoft Office helper was designed - on a Mac, not a Windows PC as you might have expected.

1 minute & 55 seconds read time

Remember Clippy? Of course you do - if you were around in the 90s anyway, when the iconic paperclip was unleashed as Microsoft's assistant for Office. But the helper wasn't created on a Windows 95 PC, as you might imagine.

No siree Bob, as PC Gamer spotted, a YouTube video from Great Big Story, in which Clippy creator Kevan Atteberry is interviewed, reveals that the character was first conceived on a Mac.

Atteberry (now a children's book author and illustrator) actually worked on Microsoft Bob (another high-profile flop) before being asked to come up with an assistant for Microsoft Office.

Atteberry toyed with all sorts of character ideas - including a pencil, stapler, and coffee mug - as well as the paperclip. He explains he would sketch these characters, then scan them in, before working on them on the computer - but that PC was a Macintosh. Gasp, shock, horror, etcetera...

The final design was chosen based on public preferences as researched by social psychologists at Stanford University, and perhaps surprisingly, it was the paperclip that came out on top.

A preference that rather changed when Clippy debuted with Microsoft Office (in 1997), but to be fair, reaction to the real thing was everything to do with its implementation rather than actual appearance.

Atteberry notes, with a smile, that there were certainly folks at Microsoft who were not happy that Clippy won the battle to become the Office helper.

We've come a long way since the nineties, though, and now, Clippy is a rather celebrated figure (in an ironic fashion, admittedly). But some things never change, and even today, Microsoft is working on bringing a new assistant, or helper, or whatever you might want to call it, into Windows.

Forget Cortana, this is Copilot, and a lot more is expected of this integrated assistant than Clippy (what's with all the Cs, by the way)? Copilot is an AI that'll sit at the heart of Windows 11, offering not just responses to queries and suggestions on how to do things, but going ahead and implementing any relevant settings and options in one fell swoop, if you want it to.

In this case, though, Copilot won't be a visual presence, but rather a chatbot-style experience in a side panel.

Unless Microsoft has a change of heart at the last minute, and Copilot swings onto your Windows 11 desktop as an animated coffee cup, sloshing around all caffeinated and crazy-eyed, telling you that you really should sign up for a Microsoft Account, and do it now, right now, or you're not secure, and while you're at it, have you looked at OneDrive for backups, and another thing...


Darren has written for numerous magazines and websites in the technology world for almost 30 years, including TechRadar, PC Gamer, Eurogamer, Computeractive, and many more. He worked on his first magazine (PC Home) long before Google and most of the rest of the web existed. In his spare time, he can be found gaming, going to the gym, and writing books (his debut novel – ‘I Know What You Did Last Supper’ – was published by Hachette UK in 2013).

What's in Darren's PC?

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