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Clippy just won’t die — thanks, Windows 11

Clippy
(Image credit: Microsoft)

It's been a long time since we've seen Microsoft's infamous Clippy character in anything other than memes, but over the next few months, he'll return to Microsoft 365 products as part of a big update aimed at making more than 1,800 emoji look cuter and more three dimensional.

Those emoji look pretty good, too — you can check some of them out in the video (embedded below) Microsoft put out this week in a Medium post detailing the big emoji update. The goal is to bring Microsoft 365 products like Office and Teams more into line with the company's Fluent Design System, a design vocabulary the company began publicly rolling out a few years ago to succeed its Metro design language. 

You can see Fluent most clearly in the new softer, rounder look of Windows 11, which — according to a Medium post published by the Microsoft Design team explaining the dramatic redesign — is meant to look "softer, friendlier, and less intimidating" through Fluent Design.

This is potentially a big deal if you have strong feelings about Clippy, a character that was often criticized in the '90s and early 2000s for being an ever-present, often annoying pop-up in Microsoft Office. Originally branded Clippit, the character was the most prominent (and for many users, irritating) face of the Microsoft Office Assistant, which would pop up while customers were using Office when it detected an opportunity to offer help or tips.

As you might expect, most people quickly grew to hate the character, so much so that Microsoft ran a tongue-in-cheek publicity campaign in 2002 promoting the then-newest version of Microsoft Office, Office XP, by touting the fact that Clippy was being removed. The company even published some anti-Clippy ads and at least one browser-based game which let players pelt Clippy with office supplies.

Fast forward to now, and it appears Clippy's resurfaced in the public consciousness as a much-maligned, perpetually meme'd piece of '90s nostalgia that many people remember fondly — so fondly, in fact, that when Microsoft published a picture of the new softer, more 3D Clippy emoji to Twitter this week and threatened to put it in Microsoft 365 if the post broke 20,000 likes, it hit more than 140,000 likes and  14,000 retweets in less than 24 hours.

Of course, replacing the paperclip emoji in Microsoft 365 products with a cuter, more 3D Clippy was all part of Microsoft's marketing plan. In a recent chat with The Verge, Microsoft art director and "Emoji-ologist" Claire Anderson explained that "I grew up using Clippy, and it just seemed like a fun little Easter egg...we just all imagined that delight when you put the paperclip [emoji] in a Microsoft product and then all of a sudden, you get this dose of nostalgia."

Intriguingly, The Verge points out that Clippy actually briefly resurfaced in 2019 as part of an official Microsoft Teams sticker pack update —but he was removed roughly a day later, a decision that (according to a Microsoft source trusted by The Verge) was made by Microsoft "brand police" who were unhappy to see Clippy back at work.

Clippy

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Now it seems Clippy's officially back in action, replacing the extant paperclip emoji across Microsoft 365 products in the coming months as the company continues to try and make them more appealing and fun to use. 

While it may seem frivolous, this push by Microsoft to make Windows, Office, and other products softer, rounder, and cuter could pay big dividends in the years ahead, now that so many of us are integrating our work PCs into our homes and adjusting to semi-permanent remote working arrangements.

Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a lifelong tech and games enthusiast with more than a decade of experience covering both for outlets like Game Developer, Black Hat, and PC World magazine. He currently serves as a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice.