Tag Archives | Microsoft Office

How Microsoft’s Clippy Got That Way

clippypatents-teaserThink that Microsoft Office’s Clippy was a joke? Microsoft didn’t–Google Patents holds proof of the serious effort that the company poured into ever-unpopular animated “helpers” like Clippy, Microsoft Bob, and the Search Assistant. The whole idea remains baffling, but the drawings that Microsoft filed are weirdly fascinating. I’ve assembled a gallery of highlights.

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The Secret Origins of Clippy: Microsoft’s Bizarre Animated Character Patents

The Secret Origins of Clippy

Of all the peculiar ideas that Microsoft has pursued over its almost 34 years in business, I can’t think of many that are more inexplicable than its long-standing interest in using animated characters to provide help to users of its software products–an aberration best known in the form of Clippy, the “Office Assistant” paperclip who was introduced in Office 97 and only departed the scene completely when the company released Office 2008 for the Mac a year ago. It’s hard to take Clippy, Microsoft Bob, and Windows XP’s Search Assistant doggie seriously. But a dozen years’ worth of patents relating to the basic idea shows that Microsoft takes it very seriously indeed–and I’m convinced that someone, somewhere within the company is still working away at it. Herewith, some images from those patents (click on the filing dates to see the filings in their entirety at Google Patents).


Microsoft Office is Going Online. Now What?

So it’s official: Microsoft will release (if “lightweight”) Web-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. The news came out yesterday at Microsoft’s PDC event in Los Angeles; I was in the audience. And I liked what I saw: The Web-based versions of Word, Excel, and OneNote that Microsoft demoed sported interfaces that looked like real Microsoft Office (including the Ribbon toolbar) and features that looked surprisingly heavy duty (such as conditional formatting in Excel). And there’s plenty of possibility in the notion of folks who use the desktop versions of Office apps and those who work only in the browser being able to collaborate across the Net on shared documents and projects.

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Microsoft Finally Puts Office on the Web

It’s about time, don’t you think? At this week’s Professional Developer’s Conference in Los Angeles, Microsoft business chief Chris Caposella debuted Tuesday Office Web Applications, which are versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that are accessible through the web browser.

This should not be confused with Microsoft’s two other “Office” web products, which are Office Online, Microsoft’s clipart and template website, and Office Live Workspace, a suite of business-centric productivity applications. Instead, these are actual web-based versions of Office programs, something most technology pundits had always assumed the Redmond company was going to pursue anyway.

The new web applications would be available through the Office Live product, which makes a lot of sense (and leads one to ask why this wasn’t done in the first place). No release date has been given, although it is expected to be available as a private technology preview later this year. Final release is expected upon the launch of the “next version of Office,” according to press materials.

Mary Jo Foley suggests this launch date may be either late 2009 or early 2010 according to her post on today’s news.

Caposella had this to say about the company’s strategy:

We are deeply committed to offering our customers the technology they need to succeed. To that end, we’re investing in software plus services for the long term, something that sets us apart from our competitors.

Indeed, “software plus services” has become a major part of Microsoft strategy for dealing with Web 2.0 and beyond. The company seems to disagree with the notion that all software is moving from desktop-based to Web-based, instead arguing that customers want the option of both.

To this end Microsoft has also been especially sensitive in support of web standards. Rather than make Office Web applications based on some proprietary technology such as Sliverlight, it is expected that Ajax would be used, thus making the applications browser and operating system agnostic. That’s a good move if it pans out.

Some have labeled this as a suprise move by the company. While the timing is, the launch of web-based Office should not be. With web applications quickly gaining traction in the marketplace, and the company’s aforementioned strategy, moving one of its key software products to a web-based platform should be no big shock.

Harry’s at PDC, and he’ll have more on this story as well as other news throughout the week.


Okay, What the Heck is Windows Cloud?

As far as I’m concerned, one of the most interesting topics to speculate about in all of personal technology is the fate of Windows in an increasingly Internet-centric world. And Steve Ballmer just gave us more fodder to chew on: This IDG News Service story says that the Microsoft CEO told attendees at a London conference that Microsoft will announce something code-named Windows Cloud in about a month. (That timing would coincide neatly with PDC, Microsoft’s big annual conference for software developers.)

The IDG story describes Windows Cloud as an operating system, but I’m assuming it’s not an OS that’s in any way akin to Windows as we know it as a desktop OS. Rather, it’s more likely a development platform and/or set of services for Net-based apps, possibly in the same vein as some of the stuff Amazon is doing with its Web Services offerings, which are used by lots of significant consumer services. (See Ina Fried’s story at Cnet News for more on this idea.)

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