Classic Clippy Story

This short story that Larry links to is a great reminder of the dangers of trying to create software that’s *too* helpful. It’s evocative of the way many C++ developers feel about the evolution of the IDE experience since Visual C++ 6.0. One customer even told me that they find they gradient menus in VS 200x make the IDE feel too gimmicky, not serious enough. It’s simply amazing when you realize how hard it is to write software that appeals to everyone. As always, looking at reminds us it’s not impossible…

Comments (4)

  1. Steven says:

    I’m one of those who find the gradient menus ugly (especially when they’re blue) and unprofessional looking. Makes me disable themes every time I start VS. Also, I don’t think many developers are waiting for the eye candy. That’s a very subjective term anyway. When I use VS, I am far more concerned with having as much code as possible on the screen and seeing things in the most useful manner when debugging that having the toolbar look cool (read: tacky).

    About the office assistent: It’s not that it was too helpful, but not helpful enough. While it was a good idea in principle, Clippy and consorts just weren’t good enough. I don’t think computer AI has reached the point where it can handle the things a good office assistent would need to do. (Maybe when it reaches the level of intelligence of, say, the Enterprise’s computer on Star Trek TNG). As it was, it simply doesn’t do what people want it to do and shoves itself "in your face" the whole time. I wouldn’t really care about the OA, even at its current level of stupidity, if it didn’t constantly interrupt me with dialogs and "cute" animations. "Cute" generally just doesn’t mesh with office work. Hence, Clippy is the first thing to bite the dust on many an Office installation.

  2. PatriotB says:

    The gradient menus and toolbars in Office 2003 are terrible–just because my theme is XP Blue doesn’t mean that the menus and toolbars should be blue, they should use the same colors as Windows’ menus and toolbars. I haven’t used VS2005 myself, but from what I’ve seen it uses the gradients but gray, not blue. This is definitely an improvement over Office, but I still don’t see what’s wrong with making things look standard–make it look like what the OS provides.

    Also, apparantly the Office-style toolbars (in blue it seems) is being offered as a component in Windows Forms…? Now we’re going to have even more icky-looking apps..

  3. tzagotta says:

    Just to prove your point, Boris…

    I personally like the gradients and other eye-candy. If I have to spend a good deal of time using a particular piece of software like VS200x, I would like it to at least look nice. Better yet, it would be nice to be able to change its appearance/theme from time-to-time to keep it looking fresh.

    This is just part of being human, I think.

  4. borisj says:

    Steven, on the whole I agree with you. I remember really liking web browser customizations that gave me more screen space too (Opera has some good super low footprint themes). As for clippy, even the Enterprise computer wouldn’t bother you with its sultry voice unless you asked it to. On the other hand I don’t think it takes a super AI to pull this kind of feature off, just a better understanding of contextual information and more user customization of how the assistant should behave.