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a window, an icon, a menu, a mouse cursor
Elements of a WIMP interface

In human–computer interaction, WIMP stands for "window, icon, menu, pointing device", denoting a style of interaction using these elements. It was coined by Merzouga Wilberts in 1980.[1] Although its usage has fallen out of favor, it is often used as an approximate synonym of "GUI". WIMP interaction was developed at Xerox PARC (see Xerox Alto, developed in 1973) and "popularized by the Macintosh computer in 1984", where the concepts of the "menu bar" and extended window management were added. [2]

This style of interaction uses a physical input device to control the position of a cursor and presents information organized in windows and represented with icons. Available commands are compiled together in menus and actioned through the pointing device. This is intended to reduce the cognitive load to remember the possibilities available, reducing learning times.

Other intended benefits of this style include its ease of use for non-technical people, both novice and power users. Also know-how can be ported from one application to the next, given the high consistency between interfaces.

Since "wimp" in common speech is a derogatory term for a person lacking strength or courage, the acronym WIMP is sometimes used in a likewise derogatory manner[1], especially by those who prefer more traditional command-line interfaces.


Alternative Acronyms

Different sources expand the acronym WIMP differently. The terms may be plural or singular, and the term corresponding to P varies the most. All of the following can be found on the web (as of 2004):

  • W: Window(s)
  • I: Icon(s)
  • M: Menu(s); Mouse/Mice (rarely) (note that mice are a subset of pointing devices)
  • P: Pointing device(s); Pointing; Pointer(s) (note that the term "pointer" is often used as a synonym for mouse cursor); Pull-down menu(s) (note that pull-down menus can be thought of as a subset of menus)

Another possibility is to have the P in WIMP stand for Program, allowing it to be used as a noun (like the noun GUI, for graphical user interface) rather than as an adjective or qualifier.


User interfaces based on the WIMP style are very 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. Generality makes them very suitable for multitasking work environments.

This explains why the paradigm has been prevalent over more than 20 years, both giving rise to and benefiting from the availability of commercial widget toolkits that support this style. Though several HCI researchers consider this to be a sign of stagnation in user interface design, a current lack of innovation in the search for new interaction models.

There are applications for which WIMP is not well suited, they argue, and the lack of technical support increases difficulty for the development of their interfaces. This includes any application requiring devices that provide continuous input signals, showing 3D models, or simply portraying an interaction for which there is no defined standard widget. Andries van Dam calls these interfaces post-WIMP GUIs.

See also


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