In human–computer interaction, WIMP stands for "windows, icons, menus, pointer", denoting a style of interaction using these elements of the user interface. It was coined by Merzouga Wilberts in 1980. Other expansions are sometimes used, substituting "mouse" and "mice" or "pull-down menu" and "pointing", for menus and pointer, respectively.
Though the term has fallen into disuse, some use it incorrectly as an approximate synonym for graphical user interface (GUI). Any interface that uses graphics can be called a GUI, and WIMP systems derive from such systems. However, while all WIMP systems use graphics as a key element (the icon and pointer elements), and therefore are GUIs, the reverse is not true. Some GUIs are not based in windows, icons, menus, and pointers. For example, most mobile phones represent actions as icons, and some may have menus, but very few include a pointer or run programs in a window.
WIMP interaction was developed at Xerox PARC (see Xerox Alto, developed in 1973) and popularized with Apple's introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, which added the concepts of the "menu bar" and extended window management.
In a WIMP system:
- A window runs a self-contained program, isolated from other programs that (if in a multi-program operating system) run at the same time in other windows.
- An icon acts as a shortcut to an action the computer performs (e.g., execute a program or task).
- A menu is a text or icon-based selection system that selects and executes programs or tasks.
- The pointer is an onscreen symbol that represents movement of a physical device that the user controls to select icons, data elements, etc.
This style of system improves human–computer interaction (HCI) by emulating real-world interactions and providing better ease of use for non-technical people—both novice and power users. Users can carry skill at a standardized interface from one application to another.
Due to the nature of the WIMP system, simple commands can be chained together to undertake a group of commands that would have taken several lines of command line instructions.
User interfaces based on the WIMP style are good at abstracting workspaces, documents, and their actions. Their analogous paradigm to documents as paper sheets or folders makes WIMP interfaces easy to introduce to novice users. Furthermore, their basic representations as rectangular regions on a 2D flat screen make them a good fit for system programmers. This generality makes them very suitable for multitasking work environments and this explains why the paradigm has been prevalent for more than 30 years. It has given rise to and benefited from commercial widget toolkits that support this style. However, several human–computer interaction researchers consider this a sign of stagnation in user interface design as the path of least resistance forces developers to follow a particular way of interaction. WIMP is not well suited to some applications, they argue, and the lack of technical support increases difficulty for the development of interfaces not based on the WIMP style. This includes application that require devices that provide continuous input signals, show 3D models, or portray an interaction that has no defined standard widget. Andries van Dam calls these interfaces post-WIMP GUIs.
- Markoff, John (February 16, 2009). "The Cellphone, Navigating Our Lives". The New York Times (New York). Retrieved December 14, 2011. "[...] so-called WIMP interface — for windows, icons, menus, pointer [...]"
- Hinckley, Ken (December 1996). "Haptic Issues for Virtual Manipulation". Microsoft. Retrieved December 14, 2011. "The Windows-Icons-Menus-Pointer (WIMP) interface paradigm dominates modern computing systems."
- Hinckley, Ken. "Input Technologies and Techniques" (PDF). Microsoft. Retrieved December 14, 2011. "Researchers are looking to move beyond the current "WIMP" (Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointer) interface [...]"
- Booth, Charlotte. "Alan Kay and the Graphical User Interface".
- Flynn, Laurie (January 1, 1995). "The Executive Computer; When, Oh When, Will Computers Behave Like People?". The New York Times (New York). Retrieved December 14, 2011. ""We've taken the WIMP interface as far as it can go," he added, referring to the Windows-icon-mouse-pull-down menu."
- Green, Mark; Jacob, Robert (July 1991). "SIGGRAPH '90 Workshop Report: Software Architectures and Metaphors for Non-WIMP User Interfaces". "SIGGRAPH '90". SIGGRAPH. Dallas: ACM SIGGRAPH. CiteSeerX: 10.1.1.121.7982. "The acronym, WIMP, stands for Windows, Icons, Mice and Pointing, and it is used to refer to the desk top, direct manipulation style of user interface."
- Patton, Phil (April 14, 1996). "Facing the Future". The New York Times (New York). Retrieved December 14, 2011. "GUI and WIMP (for window, icon, mouse and pointer) are interfaces based on framed text, drop-down menus and clickable buttons arranged along on-screen panels called tool bars."
- Andries van Dam: Post-WIMP User Interfaces. In: Communications of the ACM, 40(2) (February 1997), pp. 63-67. Citeseer
- Past, Present and Future of User Interface Software Tools. Brad Myers, Scott E. Hudson, Randy Pausch, Y Pausch. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 2000. 
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- Alistair D. N. Edwards: The design of auditory interfaces for visually disabled users. In: Proceedings of ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), 1988, pp. 83–88, http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/57167.57180
- Mark Green, Robert Jacob, SIGGRAPH: '90 Workshop report: software architectures and metaphors for non-WIMP user interfaces. In: ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics, 25(3) (July 1991), pp. 229–235, http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/126640.126677
- Ashley George Taylor: WIMP Interfaces (winter 1997) http://www-static.cc.gatech.edu/classes/cs6751_97_winter/Topics/dialog-wimp/