Clippy may be the most reviled feature in the history of Microsoft, but the company may be adding a Clippy-like feature to the next version of Office. Will it be useful this time around?
The Verge reports that that the Office Technical Preview includes a Clippy-like tool that offers quick help for using Office.
The tool already exists in the online version of Office. It's located on the right side of the Office ribbon, and is a text box next to a light bulb. Before you type in it, the text in the box reads "Tell me what you want to do." Type in your question, and then just below the box you'll see links to what you are looking to accomplish. They link directly to menu items or other ways to solve the problem. So you won't have to wade through an explanation of how to accomplish what you want to do. Instead, you'll be able to solve the problem right there.
There's no paper clip involved. No animation. No annoyances. Just straightforward, useful help.
I tested it out on the online version of Office, and it generally did a fine job, at least in Word and Excel. You can use it not just to get help with features you don't know how to use, but as a way to get shortcuts to common tasks. For example when I was in Word and typed in "change margins" the first item was a Margins menu item that let me easily choose among margin options. Typing in the word "Table" brought up the Insert Table menu. I typed in ten questions or words, and every time in Word, it was helpful. Being unobtrusive is a big plus as well.
I tried it in Excel, and found it similarly useful. In PowerPoint, though, it fell down. When I typed in "animate text," it gave me options for aligning text, inserting a text box, and adding shape, but no options for what I wanted to do. Similarly, when I asked it to "add transitions" it offered options for inserting comments, inserting clip art, and adding a new slide.
Microsoft needs to do some work to get it right, at least in PowerPoint. And it'll be more difficult to get it right in the desktop version of Office than it is in the Web-based version, because the desktop version has more features than does the Web-based version.
Still, I'll be glad when the feature makes its way into desktop Office. Unlike Clippy, it won't end up as the punch line of jokes, and may actually make your life easier.