Kill Mister Paperclip!

As Microsoft prepares to unveil its next-generation software, we offer a few gentle suggestions.

By Kaitlin Quistgaard

Published June 22, 2000 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Mssrs. Gates and Ballmer:

We hope that this missive finds you in good spirits, perhaps celebrating Judge Jackson's decision to postpone any forced behavior modifications until another round of judges can examine the whole antitrust case. Surely, you're delighted that this good news should be delivered just as a sea of analysts and reporters arrive on your doorstep to hear about your "Next Generation Windows Services."

We thought this cheery moment might be a good one in which to make a few requests for Microsoft's new "Internet-based platform" you'll be discussing Thursday. You see, we find quite a number of features in your software to be really quite annoying.

Let's start with the Office Assistant, that animated paperclip that inhabits Microsoft Word; it tries to guess what you're doing, but always gets it wrong -- and then winks at you anyway. Around our office, our system administrators periodically receive a message from a fellow staffer that says something like:

"I have to figure out how to KILL THE PAPERCLIP GUY that keeps popping up."

And our tech department responds by spamming us all, knowing that there are others out there who are also clamoring for a reprieve from Mr. Paperclip's bugged-out eyes. They'll tell us something like:

"With your mouse, right click on Mr. Paperclip. Choose 'Properties' from the pop-up menu, then uncheck the option that says, 'Use Office Assistant.' Click OK to banish him to hell."

And we revel in our power to turn off this useless option. But the next time we're forced to use a Microsoft application, we find ourselves tortured again by some other unnecessary feature. Some of us are incensed by Internet Explorer's insistence that it knows which URL we're headed for before we've finished typing it. Others fume when Word tries to auto-correct our work without having a clue what it is we're trying to say. Worse still, Outlook users have had to banish all executable attachments because you've offered no other solution to stop incoming viruses.

Sure, we know that we can turn off many of the features we find so bothersome. Indeed, more than one book has been devoted to "Windows Annoyances" and how to customize your system to avoid them. But why should we have to waste our time and money learning tricks to undo the troubles you create for us?

Now is the time for you to appeal to the consumer you're spending millions to reach in those cheesy TV ads. We're not asking you to take the fun out of programming in Redmond. You can still create all the useless features you want -- just don't make them the default in your "next generation" software. That way, the people who really want a paperclip on a scooter to teach them the intricacies of correspondence can buy books that will teach them how to bring the Office Assistant back to life. Surely there are fewer of them than there are of us.


A Paperclip Killer

Kaitlin Quistgaard

Kaitlin Quistgaard, Salon's former technology editor, writes frequently about the arts and South America, where she once lived.

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