This is the story about how I worked with the people who made Clippy's rotund uncle, and how Clippy was almost--but not quite--stillborne.
(It was inspired by the next blog entry, the discussion on MSR and the general role of research).
I worked for a summer--in '97--as an intern at Microsoft. It was a geography/mapping group: they made MapPoint, and Encarta World Atlas, and similar. I was on the "Virtual Globe" project, which had been Encarta World Atlas and would change names again in future years.
Our group was a bunch of Microsoft techies, plus a manager--formerly the lead singer for a fairly prominent band, whose name escapes me right now--and an imported bunch of British gentlemen. They had been part of a buyout; Microsoft had bought their mapping software--and the company with it. But they were off working on driving maps. Different project. (There were three projects: the globe, the nation-level maps that got you the scenic routes along highways, and the city-level maps that got you to 23rd street the fast way. The latter two, of course, would eventually merge.)
My important role was to implement the find button. Not the database search code, but the find button itself. And the distance button. I think there might have been a few other buttons, but I don't recall them offhand. I also ran the weekly overnight build, prepared the weekly gold master and slept on the floor in the office a few times.
Never let it be said that interns don't do cool stuff.
1996 brought the Encarta World Atlas, which had a
We will not comment on the other small projects around us, like Microsoft Julia Child.
When I came to the group, they told me that people loved EWA, and hated Cosmo. Virtual Globe was going to feature a world without Cosmo, without the weird navigation tool, and a few other feature upgrades.
Early in the summer, if I recall, we heard the good news from the Office team. They had heard about how very cool Cosmo was, and they had the Q&A system that would sit behind it and make for a great user experience. Like magic, it would appear and help you out. While Encarta had hired one artist to give Cosmo a few dozen expressions, Office was going all out and creating lots of figures in lots of styles with lots of personalities.
We sent a delegation to Office. The delegation's basic message was "No! What, are you people crazy?"
Office was a Very Big organization. They wanted Clippy. We were a small product group.
Clippy made it.
Virtual Globe was a very good product, even without Cosmo. Office became thej software that you loved to hate. I don't think office software ever had been a stand-up comedian's routine punchline ("Now let's talk about WordPerfect. Control-Shift-F7, anyone?") before Clippy came out.