The folks at Microsoft Corp. are betting the answer to the ‘90s version of that Rex Harrison-sung question, "Why can't a computer be more like a person," is Bob. That's right . . . Bob, an engaging new social interface for Windows.
Bob is based on the research of two Stanford University professors, Drs. Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves, whose theories are a novel blend of social psychology and computer science. Their concept is twofold. The first part says that we respond to our computers like we would other people—screaming at them when "they" make a mistake, praising and talking sweetly to them when they do what they're supposed to. The second part of the concept is that we'd enjoy working on a computer more if we had an expert fr iend and tutor by our side.
Which is exactly what Bob does with the help of a menagerie of supportive animated characters called guides. Each guide embodies a strong character type from friendly to aggressive, helpful to annoying. How people perceive each character depends on what the person is like. (For more about this, see the sidebar, "What Bob Says About You.") These virtual PC pals literally watch over you and teach you how to use a collection of eight programs: checkbook, letter writer, address book, household manager, calendar, E-mail, financial guide, and a kid's geography quiz game.
Microsoft Bob lets you accomplish a variety of tasks with the help of a guide dog named Rover. From Java, the caffeine-guzzling dragon, to Orby, the animated globe, each personal guide is active and intelligent, offering help when and where it's needed. Some like Rover, the trusty dog, constantly display advice, while others like Scuzz, the annoying rat, let you make your own mistakes a few times before offering assistance. Bob guides are smart enough to remember what modules you used in the past and whether they should be giving you tips or staying out of your way.
User manuals? Bob doesn't need no stinkin' manuals! Banished are abstract and confusing commands, tutorials, and separate help systems. When you need to know how to get things done, information and directions are presented through dialogue, in a conversational, social style, from your trusty guide.