Poor Clippy. The much-maligned paper-clip icon that Microsoft rolled out in the 1990s didn't get much love within the company itself during development. As an entertaining story at Seattle Met recounts, the internal nickname for the animated helper was "the f---ing clown." It stemmed in no small part from Bill Gates himself, who repeatedly used the word "clown" for Clippy in meetings, as he mocked the idea of users being constantly interrupted to receive "help." In fact, the letters "tfc" are embedded in Clippy's source code to reflect the nickname, though outsiders were told they stood for "the friendly character." Consider, too, that Kevan Atteberry, the man who designed the original Clippy—on a Mac—for years opted not to mention it on his resume, though that has now changed.
The story by Benjamin Cassidy runs through the history of how Clippy (formal name Clippit) came to be, as Microsoft explored ways to make computer novices more comfortable. "What a lot of people don’t understand is, in the ’90s, the majority of people had not touched a computer,” says former Microsoft program manager Karen Fries. Cassidy also explores how Clippy turned into a cultural icon, with hundreds of memes, even after Microsoft (mostly) retired it. "These days, an annoying Word creature might seem eminently tolerable compared to the ghouls on Twitter," writes Cassidy. "Now that Alexa’s in our bedroom and Siri’s in our hand, Clippy’s a throwback to what seems like a more benign digital age." Read the full story. (Read more Longform stories.)