On its fifteenth anniversary, a look back at a legendary software flop.
By Harry McCracken | Posted at 1:54 am on Monday, March 29, 2010
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What’s the most efficient way to deride a technology product as a stinker and/or a flop? Easy: Compare it to Microsoft Bob. Bring up the infamous Windows 3.1 front-end for computing newbies–officially released fifteen years ago this week, on March 31st, 1995–and you need say no more. Everything from OS X to Twitter to Google Wave to (inevitably) Windows Vista has gotten the treatment.
Bob’s pervasiveness as an insult long ago transcended its brief period of prominence as a product. By now, it’s unlikely that the vast majority of people who use it as shorthand for “embarrassing tech failure” ever actually used it–any more than the average person who cracks jokes about the Ford Edsel has spent time behind the wheel of one.
But Bob didn’t start out as one of technology’s most reliable laugh lines. It may strain credulity given Bob’s current reputation, but back in 1995, even pundits who had their doubts about the software seemed to accept the idea that it was a sneak preview of where user interfaces were going. And even though Bob died just one year later, Microsoft continued to Bob-ize major applications for years–most notably every version of Office from Office 97 through Office 2003, all of which featured the notorious Office Assistant helper, better known as Clippy.
My ab Fave Rave Skindoze product - bumbling edge of technology