Bill Gates threatens the return of Microsoft Bob

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has raised the possibility of a return of the company’s ill-fated Microsoft Bob product.

“It’s certainly true that the way people use the web, the way people use office, there’s all sorts of capability in there that – if you had the time to explain it to them – they could get more out of it,” Gates said, speaking at the 2013 Microsoft Research Faculty Summit this week.

“And it’s surprising how little we’ve had a breakthrough in terms of how little we take advantage of software. Even if you have a look at what people type into search engines… helping them do that in a way that’s most effective is something we’re not all that great at.”

Gates predicted the gap between software capabilities and users will close as software becomes better at anticipating the needs of users.

“We always make mistakes on these things, when the machine tries to do the table with numbers or the dog comes up and says ‘growl, you didn’t do this thing right’, Microsoft Bob-style,” he says.

Microsoft Bob was an ill-fated replacement interface for Windows 3.1 that replaced the default Windows Program Manager with a picture of a room, in which users could launch programs or tasks by clicking on decorations.

Bob also features a cartoon dog as an assistant, a predecessor of the Clippy feature in Microsoft Office.

Gates says the problems with Bob stem from the fact the concept was too far ahead of its time.

“A long time ago, we tried a little personality [in Bob] that was a little premature. I think it will re-emerge, but with a bit more sophistication. We were just ahead of our time, like most of our mistakes.”


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