By EW Staff
April 14, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT

Bob

type
  • TV Show

Last year, a wickedly funny ”press release” circulated on the Internet announcing that Microsoft, in its relentless quest for new markets, had purchased the Roman Catholic Church-and was creating a new software package that would allow believers to download heavenly graces. Incredibly, enough naifs swallowed this hoax to force Microsoft to issue a denial-and I’d bet there are still some diehards out there upgrading their PCs in hopes of eternal salvation. Well, having gotten to know BOB (floppy disk or CD-ROM for Windows, $99), Microsoft’s new ”social interface” for novice computer users, I can safely say that the company is most definitely not allied with the Church. Instead- judging by this program’s cute animated characters, tasteful graphics and sound effects, and faintly paternalistic attitude-the software behemoth appears to have purchased the Walt Disney Co. The idea behind Bob is a valid one. Even in this technologically enlightened age, most people are terrified enough of computers to make them wary of shelling out $1,000 or more for a basic multimedia system. Microsoft, whose fate as a corporate giant depends on the American public’s buying more and more computers (many of which come installed with-surprise!-Microsoft DOS and Windows), needed to find a way to make PCs not only functional, but downright friendly. Voila-Bob, a package of five more or less interconnected utility programs (calendar, letter writer, checkbook, address book, and E-mail), two more or less useful compilations of information (Financial Guide and Household Manager), and one humdrum edutainment game for kids (GeoSafari) that’s little more than a nature and geography quiz. If that sounds like a daunting array, it’s not: You see, you can access everything in Bob via graphic interfaces, including one that looks like the living room from a ’50s sitcom. Click on a letter lying on an end table, and you can compose a letter; click on a checkbook, and you can write a check. As if it weren’t easy enough to find your way around, Bob throws in animated ”guides” that suggest shortcuts, decipher menu options, and ask if you really want to delete a file. Your main helpmate is a dog, Rover, but Bob lets you choose among 11 others, ranging from insipid (Orby, a smiling blue globe) to inspired (Scuzz, a guitar-toting rat who occasionally blasts out power chords). Impressively, the characters’ word-balloon interjections carry content and personality -Scuzz, for example, prefaced most of his tips with ”Yo, Strauss!” (That’s what you get for signing in at the beginning.) As for the programs themselves, there’s no faulting the utility package-the address book, checkbook, and calendar are as user-friendly as you could ask for, and I assume the E-mail link is perfectly serviceable (though without the requisite MCI connection, I wasn’t able to give it a whirl). But what really stands out is the letter writer: Not only does it include hundreds of preformatted snail-mail and E-mail addresses (for politicians, magazines, and car-rental companies, among others), but it also offers sample text for use by irate consumers; in the world according to Microsoft, it seems, Americans are most outraged not by rampant crime and drug abuse, but by rude salesclerks and illegal bingo parlors. It’s when you load up Household Manager, though, that you get a glimpse of Bob’s dark, obsessive-compulsive side. The program is basically a series of lists -things to do before you go on vacation, ways to remove stains, books you’d like to read, CDs you own. But there’s more: a Personal Growth section in which you can ”list your values” (in the same type of grid in which you just recorded your CD collection) and ”prioritize your goals so you can spend time on what is really important in your life.” This is more than a little creepy-2001’s HAL reimagined by Martha Stewart. Herein lies Bob’s essential paradox. It seems to me that one reason people are so afraid of computers is that they dread the prospect of technology running their lives. Give Bob half a chance, though, and that’s pretty much what he’ll do: The letter writer will suggest what to gripe about to your congressman; the financial guide will tell you when to liquidate your funds; the calendar will remind you of the day you decided to get your values straight and volunteer at your local charity. And while you still can’t download those heavenly graces, I’d bet the technicians at Microsoft are working on it. B+

Bob

type
  • TV Show
Status
  • In Season
Performers
Complete Coverage
  • Bob
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