Pacifica (autumnwinds) wrote,

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I was up late last night, in one of those times where you start searching idly on Wikipedia and end up reading the entire history of atomics of the course of a few hours, and somehow stumbled on the page about Microsoft Bob.

Does anyone remember Microsoft Bob?

Microsoft Bob was a program that basically took the Windows interface and tried to make it more user-friendly and appealing by likening it to a home. You sign in at the front door, and then you can page through different rooms of the house to find the programs you want. A rolodex in the study takes you to your address book, a checkbook on the end table takes you to your accounting program. A calendar on the wall tells you what day it is. A cube on the bookshelf takes you to Word or Excel or any other program you want. You can have the house all to yourself, or each person in the family can have their own private rooms.

It's widely regarded as Microsoft's worst failure. It never sold well and got terrible reviews. Part of it was security (a hole in the program allowed any user, logged in or not, to delete the entire house). Part of it was that the cutesy facade or the annoying guides seemed condescending to most users, who, if they had wanted a more user-friendly interface, would have gotten Macs (the program was primarily intended for kids or very new computer users who were easily intimidated). Part of it was that the programs designed for Bob didn't really work well, and it was hard to access non-Bob programs while Bob was running. Parts of Bob still exist, of course. The pop-up bubble notifications or help screens, or the animated search and help guides, like Rover...that's all Bob.

But I really liked it, and probably for the wrong reasons. Bob came out when I was 13, and I was perfectly comfortable with computers by that time. Because I had no need for address books and financial planners, I designed a house and promptly deleted all that stuff, then rebuilt it the way I wanted. I didn't realize until last night the Microsoft Bob was my first and only dollhouse.

Bob was designed to be flexible and visually appealing, so the rooms were highly could change the style of any room from a cartoony castle design to a squared-off contemporary to a swooshy retro. You could change the views out the windows, or add clip art of home furnishings, some animated (like fires or lava lamps). My house was awesome. I had a cozy study with a hidden wall safe and a pretty view of the woods, and a cozy mousehole in the corner with some couches. I had a private sunroom that looked out into space, like a conservatory on a space station. I had a pet dragon the snoozed on the couch. I had a playroom with kites, and I had a backyard. I had potted plants everywhere, a kitchen full of books, and trapdoors hidden under rugs, concealing passages to secret rooms. It was loads of fun. I wish I still had it.

I'm amused that one of my favorite creative programs was the worst one Microsoft ever made.

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