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15 Years of Microsoft Bob 191

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the celebrate-good-times-come-on dept.
harrymcc writes "Microsoft Bob — still synonymous in the tech industry with 'embarrassing flop' — shipped fifteen years ago this week, on March 31st, 1995. When the Windows interface featuring animated cartoon helpers was announced, it was hyped to the heavens and briefly accepted as a breakthrough that showed where software was going. Instead, dismal reviews and poor sales killed it after only a year on the market. At Technologizer, we're marking the anniversary with a complete look at how it came to be and why it failed so resoundingly — and how Microsoft tried again with Office's 'Clippy' and other attempts to revive the basic idea."
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15 Years of Microsoft Bob

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  • Oh great... (Score:5, Funny)

    by sixteenraisins (67316) <william@@@purpleandblack...com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:24AM (#31657728) Homepage

    And to think, I was *this* close to actually forgetting about this miserable piece of shit.

    Thanks, Slashdot. \:

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by piripiri (1476949)
      There you are, take some screenies [toastytech.com] in your face.
    • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by c++0xFF (1758032) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:53AM (#31658176)

      How long must keep bringing up such a miserable piece of junk and humiliating Microsoft?

      Forever. And often. They need some humility.

      We should do the same for other companies -- Apple needs some humility, too.

      • by SQLGuru (980662)

        I still have both of my copies. One I turned into a clock. That face with glasses was perfect for a clock face. The other, I'm not sure where it is.....probably in a box somewhere.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Belial6 (794905)
        So, who should be humiliated? Bill , who got to spend the proportional equivalent money on Bob as you would for a Big Mac, and got to bang the Unit Manager?

        Or Malinda, who used it as part of a successful step in sleep her way to being one of the richest people in the world?
        • Egad that is harsh. Of course, being married 16 years and being parents to three kids doesn't automatically qualify them as a successful marriage but at this point I would think you could assume that their motivations for a relationship went much further than getting laid.
          • by Belial6 (794905)
            Harsh? Yes. Unfair? Maybe.

            To be fair though, I would say that more marriages than not start out with trying to get laid, and then move beyond that. That includes the 16 year marriage.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hairyfeet (841228)

        But to be fair (and I hate to even seem to be nice to BOB, as I'm old enough to have given it a spin and boy did it suck) it was 1994 folks, and lots of tech did sucketh back then. And at least it wasn't as bad as driveby Comet Cursors or those damned Geocities pages that would drag shit behind you cursor and turn your PC into a slideshow.

        But if you want to rag MSFT there are a lot worse fuck ups to point out, such as WinME (the only OS that could make win98SE look rock solid) or Vista (you seem to want t

      • Is everyone forgetting the true reason it failed???

        It was coded by Melinda Gates....name sound familiar to anybody out there???

    • Re:Oh great... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by edittard (805475) on Monday March 29, 2010 @12:00PM (#31658272)

      It looks like you're trying to get a first post. Would you like me to:

      * Help you with a template

      * Waste your time so you fail it

      * Just bugger off

  • Bob Who? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Bob_Who (926234) <Bob@@@who...net> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:25AM (#31657758) Homepage Journal
    ...Oh yeah. I always wondered what the heck everyone was talking about.....
  • Hey (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kiehlster (844523) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:26AM (#31657776) Homepage
    I enjoyed Microsoft Bob very much, as a child. The post-modern room was amazing. I spent hours playing around with that program, so it has sentimental value to me you insensitive clod.
    • Re:Hey (Score:5, Insightful)

      by istartedi (132515) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:45AM (#31658050) Journal

      Well, that pretty much sums it up. You enjoyed it as a kid. Trouble is, it was marked to adults.

      • Re:Hey (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Stargoat (658863) <stargoat@gmail.com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:53AM (#31658184) Journal

        I have several adult users who would have loved to have Microsoft Bob. As it was, there was very cranky people well I changed to Office 2007 and they lost their Paperclips or Kitty Cat or whatever the heck they had. These cranky people are not knuckleheads, but rather accountants, loan officers, and other people who like a touchy-feely PC.

        The problem is not that Microsoft Bob was marketed to adults, but rather it is IT guys who buy software for organizations. A PC is a tool and like all tools, works best with the fewest necessary peripheries. IT guys recognize this. They have no use for Bob and they feel (perhaps rightly) that their users should have no use for Bob and Bob like programs bring no real value.

        • Re:Hey (Score:5, Funny)

          by Scrameustache (459504) on Monday March 29, 2010 @12:39PM (#31658752) Homepage Journal

          These cranky people are not knuckleheads, but rather accountants

          You and I have wildly diverging opinions of accountants...

          • by Stargoat (658863)

            These cranky people are not knuckleheads, but rather accountants

            You and I have wildly diverging opinions of accountants...

            If that's the case, where do you classify HR workers?

            • These cranky people are not knuckleheads, but rather accountants

              You and I have wildly diverging opinions of accountants...

              If that's the case, where do you classify HR workers?

              Accountants of humans are more despicable than regular accountants because they inflict their accounting on a "personnel" level ;-)

            • If that's the case, where do you classify HR workers?

              I've never met one that wasn't a moron. Some were nice, most were in the 'think they're all powerful, but don't know how to check email' group of morons. They always need a week of training to do a search in Peoplesoft. They always needed 2 hours of voicemail training, the idiot sheet, and would still call on how to change their outgoing message. They always needed written & verbal instructions (twice) on how to do a save as to rtf so that those without Word could open their files.

              Morons.

              • by mrboyd (1211932)
                I'm more annoyed by the fact that when we request a specific profile they always screw up the selection.

                >> We didn't send you the CV of the ex NASA lunar lander rocket designer because he didn't have word and excel on his CV. You need a technical profile right? So let me do my job and call this guy who sold his bakery six month ago but he has made his own website and the shape of his C and D indicate that he's a strong team player.
        • by westlake (615356)

          A PC is a tool and like all tools, works best with the fewest necessary peripheries. IT guys recognize this. They have no use for Bob and they feel (perhaps rightly) that their users should have no use for Bob and Bob like programs bring no real value.

          A tool works best when it is designed for its users.

          The user who found value in BOB or Clippy was not the geek in IT - and not the poster to Slashdot.

          He won't be attracted to the GIMP by its name or its GUI - whatever horsepower is to found underneath.

          But he

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by einhverfr (238914)

          Looking at the screenshots, I think there were some fairly cool ideas in Bob which the industry could learn from. Like many MS products thought I can say "Great ideas! Terrible Implementations!"

          I particularly like the way it seems to have been designed to mimic paper-and-pen methods for doing things. Even if the approach was childish and gimicky, it looks like some of the basic UI decisions were in the right direction, if implemented badly.

          • by einhverfr (238914)

            Just to note: That was to describe some of the apps. Navigating around the system seems poorly thought out....

      • by dcollins (135727)

        It looks like you're trying to write an English-language forum post. Would you like me to:

        * Change "marked" to "marketed"?

        * Change "For all intensive purposes" to "For all intents and purposes"?

        • by istartedi (132515)

          The former. Neither spellcheck nor my hasty eyes would catch "marked" since it's a perfectly cromulent word. I plainly meant "marketed".

          This leads to the question, "Does Clippy really know everything about grammar?".

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Matrix14 (135171)

      Yeah, Bob was pretty cool when I was a child. I used to spend hours arranging things in imaginary rooms.

      Now I code.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:28AM (#31657806)

    Bullshit technology is defined as tech that appears to be doing something useful but you end up wasting more time with it than you'd ever save.

    BOB is bullshit technology. Voice recognition for the longest time has been bullshit. It's rapidly becoming more useful. Blackberries and the like for business needs can be useful but often becomes bullshit technology when people use them ineffectively.

    • by Thud457 (234763) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:45AM (#31658058) Homepage Journal
      Bob's just a ripoff of Magic Cap [wikipedia.org]. Once again, Microsoft with embrace, extend, extinguish.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by c++0xFF (1758032)

        Searching around I found Apple's Cyberdog [newlaunches.com] a web browser with a similar (but not nearly so pervasive) interface.

        For once I'm grateful for the "extinguish" part of Microsoft's philosophy.

        • If I recall correctly, Cyberdog could have been what firefox became. A basic browser with a rich plugin base. Unfortunately, it came at Apple's nadir and no one built any plugins besides Apple.

          • Cyberdog had some serious problems. It was based on OpenDoc, which made it a resource hog by the day's standards. Also, most absurdly, files saved from it couldn't be opened by non-OpenDoc apps. I actually liked Cyberdog back then, but thinking about those issues... good riddance!
  • he (they) went on to a great career as a downsizing consultants. If you ever hear about a "meeting with the Bobs", better get your resume ready.
    • by toastar (573882)

      he (they) went on to a great career as a downsizing consultants. If you ever hear about a "meeting with the Bobs", better get your resume ready.

      Pffttt...

      After Meeting the bob's I got a promotion!

    • he (they) went on to a great career as a downsizing consultants. If you ever hear about a "meeting with the Bobs", better get your resume ready.

      Although in this case, the project manager of Bob was Melinda French--now known as Mrs. Bill Gates.

  • by Petersko (564140) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:29AM (#31657824)
    I think the problem with Clippy was that he was ten years too early. If the little fellow was around today he wouldn't get nearly as much abuse. People are more used to the wizard idea now, and to being guided through tasks.

    Back then the average user was (I suspect) more technically knowledgeable - the PC as appliance wasn't entrenched. So everybody felt a little insulted when Clippy stuck his nose in their work.

    So yes, my mom liked Clippy. If you actually needed his help he was reasonably helpful.
    • by Deathlizard (115856) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:41AM (#31657982) Homepage Journal

      I agree that it was ahead of it's time.

      If you could replace Clippy with Hatsume Miku, Japanese sales of Office would go through the roof.

    • by Scrameustache (459504) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:44AM (#31658038) Homepage Journal

      I think the problem with Clippy was that he was ten years too early.

      It looks like you're trying to do some work, would you like me to interrupt?

      I had a college friend who called me in a panic once, she had a paper due the following day and Clippy had popped up and WOULD NOT GO AWAY. It completely prevented her from continuing with her work. I drove there, and found the option to get rid of that monstrosity buried in some deep menu so she could continue after that wasted hour... Clippy should have been the focus of a class-action lawsuit that would have put MS out of business as a warning to others, if there was any justice in the world.

      • by nmb3000 (741169) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @12:04PM (#31658332) Homepage Journal

        I had a college friend who called me in a panic once, she had a paper due the following day and Clippy had popped up and WOULD NOT GO AWAY.

        I have to say I find that unlikely considering that the Office assistant does not steal focus away from the program you're using and that moving it out of the way is as difficult as clicking and dragging it to the side of the screen. And the deep, secret menu to get rid of it? Right click and choose "Hide".

        Every time this topic comes up, it seems like the people most vehemently against Clippy and MS BOB were the people who never actually even saw or used them. They just see that it's fashionable to hate them and jump on board.

        • I had a college friend who called me in a panic once, she had a paper due the following day and Clippy had popped up and WOULD NOT GO AWAY.

          I have to say I find that unlikely considering that the Office assistant does not steal focus away from the program you're using and that moving it out of the way is as difficult as clicking and dragging it to the side of the screen.

          Couldn't type anymore, Clippy demanded something, I forget the details, but just closing him didn't work: as soon as you tried to type again he'd pop back up. I had to go find the way to permanently disable him somewhere.

          Trivial for us, workstopper for art chicks. And that's the rub: while it just annoyed us, he was meant to help those less savvy users but they were severely inconvenienced by it.

          [rant]All software needs a "leave me the fuck alone" button to disable all the "helpful" features, like auto comp

          • by tibman (623933)

            ah! the highlighting thing.. Why would any programmer do that? Autocompletion does not bother me when it doesn't cause delay or interpret a tab/space/return as a selection. Also windows needs built-in focus on mouseover.. i shouldn't have to click on a window first before using it.. i'm looking at you, Excel. Makes using dual monitors less useful.

            • by drsmithy (35869)

              Why would any programmer do that?

              Because most of the time, when people start selecting a word, they want to select the whole word.

          • by drxenos (573895)
            One thing you can do, which is what I ALWAYS do, is go into add/remove programs. For office, there is an entry to completely uninstall ALL the animated helpers!
    • Part of the problem was a cost/benefit problem too. It required lots of HD space and good hardware to run. Back then HD space was at a premium and good hardware wasn't cheap. But what was the gain? Most people using computers back then didn't really need it. And it really didn't do a whole lot after all that. The wizards today are focused on doing what you need specifically at the moment. Bob was a wizard for the whole OS.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)
      Nonsense. Bob and Clippy and that annoying little dog are derided because they're so irritatingly, cloyingly, adorably cute. It's bad enough having your intelligence insulted by an obtrusive "wizard" that isn't, but the OMG PONIEZ!! aspect is just the last straw.
    • by blueZ3 (744446)

      I'm pretty sure people would hate Clippy just as much now. Microsoft and just about everyone else misdiagnosed the "Clippy Problem"--the problem wasn't the format (a little animated character) or what they were trying to do (wizards) it was that the software seemed to make its guesses about what you were doing completely at random and then inserted itself in the most annoying way possible. We wouldn't have minded an animated charater/wizard as long as it wasn't popping up like a Vibrant add shouting "I thin

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by jollyreaper (513215)

      I think the problem with Clippy was that he was ten years too early. If the little fellow was around today he wouldn't get nearly as much abuse. People are more used to the wizard idea now, and to being guided through tasks.

      Back then the average user was (I suspect) more technically knowledgeable - the PC as appliance wasn't entrenched. So everybody felt a little insulted when Clippy stuck his nose in their work.

      They're still not getting this stuff right. Last week I had to help someone from another department with a mail merge. Office 2007, oh joy. Now there's the usual problems with the wizard not seeing the data source from excel because it doesn't like characters used to name the worksheet or it wants/doesn't want to see a named range, that kind of thing. But the problem here is that the addresses wouldn't line up right in Word. The problem was that Word wanted the address in an invisible text box and it defaul

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BrokenHalo (565198)
        they just frickin' work. You don't need to know about timing belts and spark plugs and carburetors vs fuel injection. You just have to have some common sense.

        Unfortunately, modern cars seem to make these conditions mutually exclusive. They are designed for people who have no common sense, and discourage its use.

        In the days when we had to double-declutch through every gear and make allowances for iffy brakes or steering, no-one had any expectation that talking on the phone while playing a bouzouki were c
    • Actually. I always like clippy. It sure beat going through the pointless windows help file.

      Rather, clippy was there and I could type in whatever I wanted and he would point me to the right part of the help.

      But yes, the fact that clippy could interrupt you was a problem. Clippy could see the future, he could have learned a lot from Google.

      Google provides a simple natural language text box search (as clippy did), but Google largely stays out of your way... it offers suggestions without being in your face.

      Y

    • by jbengt (874751)

      I think the problem with Clippy was that he was ten years too early.

      Nah, the problem was that it was not very helpful, though it was intrusive.

  • by nweaver (113078) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:29AM (#31657834) Homepage

    How did she meet Bill?

    She was Unit Manager for Microsoft Bob...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:35AM (#31657920)

      How did she meet Bill?

      She was Unit Manager for Microsoft Bob...

      Bill: Well hello there, how'd you like to manage my unit? *strikes pose [gizmodo.com]*

    • by Daltorak (122403) on Monday March 29, 2010 @12:01PM (#31658274)

      How did she meet Bill?

      She was Unit Manager for Microsoft Bob...

      This isn't correct. MS Bob was released in 1995; Bill and Melinda met in 1987. She'd just joined Microsoft and was a programmer -- and by all accounts, a pretty good one at that. Plus, she's pretty hot, and she was 23 that year. Wouldn't you scoop up a girl like that, especially back then when women were still really rare in the field?

      • by dcollins (135727)

        "Wouldn't you scoop up a girl like that, especially back then when women were still really rare in the field?"

        Women are actually more rare in the field now than then. From Wikipedia:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_computing [wikipedia.org]

        In the United States, the number of women represented in engineering and information technology peaked in the late 1980s. Since then, the percentage of women in the computing profession declined from 35.2% in 1990 to 28.4% in 2000.[1] Particularly in computer science, there has been a dramatic drop in women earning bachelor's degrees. A report from the Computing Research Association indicated that the number recently fell below 20%, from nearly 40% in the mid 80s.[2] A similar situation is observed in Canada, where the declination of women in computer science is apparent.

      • by gtall (79522) on Monday March 29, 2010 @02:04PM (#31659940)

        Hi there, I see you are making a pass at a girl half your age. Would you like:

        * some helpful pickup lines 'cause, you know, you've been failing miserably up to now.

        * a butt lift so she won't have premonitions of your commercial with Jerry Seinfeld.

        * a personality adjustment so you don't act like a geek with a developmental disability.

  • by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:30AM (#31657848) Homepage Journal

    Is he any relation to Baghdad Bob?

    Baghdad Bob: "No, there are no allied tanks rolling through Baghdad."
    *background shows tanks rolling through Baghdad*

  • Being on the Microsoft Bob team worked out pretty well for project manager Melinda French [wikipedia.org].
  • It would have been interesting if MS Bob was implemented on Windows NT, particularly because of the multi-user and security features.
  • B.O.B. (Score:3, Funny)

    by Absolut187 (816431) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:33AM (#31657898) Homepage

    Microsoft made a Dildo??

  • by aoshi73 (1545405) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:39AM (#31657966)
    Nice story about MS Bob. Run a search on Bing for "History taking up space." Here is the direct link: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/2008.07.windowsconfidential.aspx [microsoft.com]
  • One reason Bob didn't sell is that it never made it to version 3.0. Most every product Microsoft has ever marketed was a flop until version 3.x where either the people woke up and realized its value, or Mr G found a way to entice the users to try it (i.e. twist their arms a little by preventing them from buying a machine without it). </sarcasm>

    Actually this product was focused on a market segment (children) who don't generally buy computers in the first place. While many of them may be quick to pul

  • And we eventually pounded Clippy into oblivion through ridicule, satire and parody. We must maintain eternal vigilance against this threat. Hold the line, comrades! Hold the line!
  • by l0ungeb0y (442022) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:52AM (#31658162) Homepage Journal

    Since it only lasted a year on the market and quickly fell into disuse, I do not see how we've had 15 years of Bob.
    Instead, we've seen user interfaces and platforms change quite a bit in that time.

    • Since it only lasted a year on the market and quickly fell into disuse, I do not see how we've had 15 years of Bob.
      Instead, we've seen user interfaces and platforms change quite a bit in that time.

      Not 15 years of Bob, 15 years of the specter/memory/nightmare of Bob, that something so bad could ever have been taken seriously. These days when you design software, Bob is still seen as the lowest common denominator, the level below which no application can strive to attain, or not strive, as the case may be.

      • Bob is still seen as the lowest common denominator, the level below which no application can strive to attain, or not strive, as the case may be.

        It's level the average Web designer reaches effortlessly.

  • Clippy love (Score:3, Funny)

    by confused one (671304) on Monday March 29, 2010 @11:57AM (#31658228)
    Give Clippy some love. I thought he was actually kind of fun, in an occasionally annoying pops-up when you don't want him kind of way.
  • Why didn't publish it on the first of April ?

    I'm pretty sure it would have been a success !

  • IIRC, it required something like 8M RAM at a time when 4 was considered generous. Only power-users had that much RAM, and MS admitted that BoB wasn't for power-users.

  • by Bemopolis (698691) on Monday March 29, 2010 @12:34PM (#31658696)
    is that is inspired the creation of Comic Sans.

    Enjoy the licking flames of Hell, Robert.
  • by StefanJ (88986) on Monday March 29, 2010 @12:38PM (#31658740) Homepage Journal

    I used to work a lot of trade shows. Comdex, CES, early multimedia trade shows.

    I attended the shows where Microsoft Bob was announced. The hype was amazing. Taxi had signs. The daily magazines they hand out had adverts.

    The funniest bit of promotion: Microsoft hired a limo driver, or at least a guy in a limo driver costume, to wander around the arrival concourse at McCarren. He was holding a big sign with "BOB" written on it.

    As in, Bob was arriving at CES (or whatever show that was)!

    Of course, as a Pope in the Church of the SubGenius, I knew the greatness of "Bob" all along.

  • What happened to the Einstein helper?

    I loved that character. It was cute and tried to act intelligent. It was useful, and provided some animated relief humor to amuse my train of thought during long hours of working on Word documents or Excel spreadsheets.

  • I still have the Microsoft Bob CD somewhere. If I get around to looking for it, I hope I can find it. I think it even came with stickers.

  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Monday March 29, 2010 @02:02PM (#31659920)
    Anyone ever figure out why they picked the name 'Bob'? Why not 'Paul' or 'Bill' or 'Steve'? There has got to be a story behind it, like 'Google'. When Google was founded, the president of Yahoo was Tim Koogle.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by PPH (736903)
      They named it after the character from Twin Peaks [imdb.com]. The demon that went around possessing other people's souls.
  • It makes me feel so professional when an animated puppy helps me find files.

    Who does there branding? Mr. Rogers?

  • I hate Bob, too.
  • Bob, clippy, and any other gadget that imposes its will upon you by default is a bad idea. People hate being told what to do, especially when something grabs UI focus from you and makes a non-modal process a modal one. Rule No. 1 of UI design is let the user focus on the task. Distracting the user... what were they thinking? I have years of pent up Clippy hatred because my Office technology is stuck at 97 and 2000 (by choice.) First thing I always get to do is try and recall how to turn them off. BOB

It's time to boot, do your boot ROMs know where your disk controllers are?

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