WIMP (computing)

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Not to be confused with WIMP (software bundle).
Windows, icons, menus and pointer

In human–computer interaction, WIMP stands for "windows, icons, menus, pointer",[1][2][3] denoting a style of interaction using these elements of the user interface. It was coined by Merzouga Wilberts in 1980.[4] Other expansions are sometimes used, substituting "mouse" and "mice" or "pull-down menu" and "pointing", for menus and pointer, respectively.[5][6][7]

Though the term has fallen into disuse, some use it 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.[8]

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. Users can carry skill at a standardized interface from one application to another.


Some human–computer interaction researchers[9] consider WIMP to be ill-suited for multiple applications.

WIMP-style user interfaces place visually impaired users at a disadvantage, especially when alternative text-based interfaces are not made available. Researchers have been exploring other alternatives that make modern computer systems more accessible.[10]

Moving past the WIMP interface[edit]

Multiple studies have explored the possibilities of moving past the WIMP interface, such as using reality-based interaction,[11] making the interface "three-dimensional" by adding visual depth through the use of monocular cues,[12][13][14][15] and even combining depth with physics.[16] The latter resulted in the development of BumpTop desktop and its acquisition and release by Google.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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 [...] 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ 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 [...] 
  4. ^ Booth, Charlotte. "Alan Kay and the Graphical User Interface" (PDF). 
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ 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 accessible. 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. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Andries van Dam: Post-WIMP User Interfaces. In: Communications of the ACM, 40(2) (February 1997), pp. 63-67. Citeseer
  9. ^ 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. [1]
  10. ^ Marcelo Medeiros Carneiro, Luiz Velho, Assistive Interfaces For The Visually Impaired Using Force Feedback Devices And Distance Transforms, Information Technology and Disabilities Journal, Vol. X, No. 2, December 2004
  11. ^ Jacob, Robert J.K.; Girouard, Audrey; Hirshfield, Leanne M.; Horn, Michael S.; Shaer, Orit; Solovey, Erin Treacy; Zigelbaum, Jamie (2008-01-01). "Reality-based Interaction: A Framework for post-WIMP Interfaces". Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. CHI '08. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 201–210. doi:10.1145/1357054.1357089. ISBN 9781605580111. 
  12. ^ Robertson, George; Czerwinski, Mary; Larson, Kevin; Robbins, Daniel C.; Thiel, David; van Dantzich, Maarten (1998-01-01). "Data Mountain: Using Spatial Memory for Document Management". Proceedings of the 11th Annual ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology. UIST '98. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 153–162. doi:10.1145/288392.288596. ISBN 1581130341. 
  13. ^ Cockburn, Andy; McKenzie, Bruce (2002-01-01). "Evaluating the Effectiveness of Spatial Memory in 2D and 3D Physical and Virtual Environments". Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. CHI '02. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 203–210. doi:10.1145/503376.503413. ISBN 1581134533. 
  14. ^ Kyritsis, M.; Gulliver, S. R.; Morar, S.; Stevens, R. (2013-01-01). "Issues and Benefits of Using 3D Interfaces: Visual and Verbal Tasks". Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Management of Emergent Digital EcoSystems. MEDES '13. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 241–245. doi:10.1145/2536146.2536166. ISBN 9781450320047. 
  15. ^ Kyritsis, Markos; Gulliver, Stephen R.; Feredoes, Eva (2016-08-01). "Environmental factors and features that influence visual search in a 3D WIMP interface". International Journal of Human-Computer Studies. 92–93: 30–43. doi:10.1016/j.ijhcs.2016.04.009. 
  16. ^ Agarawala, Anand; Balakrishnan, Ravin (2006-01-01). "Keepin' It Real: Pushing the Desktop Metaphor with Physics, Piles and the Pen". Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. CHI '06. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 1283–1292. doi:10.1145/1124772.1124965. ISBN 1595933727.