RIP: WIMP (1984-2012)

Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointer (WIMP) is a GUI paradigm popularized by Apple in 1984.  Of course Apple didn’t invent WIMP, that was Xerox PARC in 1973.  But Apple did steal borrow the idea and popularize it.  Microsoft gave WIMP its lasting look with the introduction of Windows 95, and until recently, not much changed.  Computing converged, and the WIMP paradigm reined supreme.

With the rise of mobile, full screen became the norm and the concept of windows retreated onto the desktop.  But the seeds for the demise of WIMP were sowed a decade ago.  In 2002 MS released Win XP Media Center Edition, the media center application eschewed the WIMP paradigm in favor of  a clean text based interface.  This new interface was fleshed out further with the first refresh of the Zune media player in late 2007.  The Zune desktop client also went sans menus and focused on a text driven interface.  With the release of  Windows Phone 7 in 2010, sporting a fully Metro-ized interface, the writing was on the wall, WIMP’s days were numbered.

Now, with the soon to be released Windows 8, WIMP’s dominance is challenged and Metro has achieved parity.  Metro is a Microsoft specific UI paradigm based in classic Swiss graphic design, favoring clean typography while removing as much UI chrome as possible.

In Microsoft’s Metro, Windows have been replaced with full screen apps and a (somewhat limited) tiling interface.  Icons have been replaced with text based tiles, providing more information more quickly that was achievable with an icon based system.  Menus have been slowly done away with and a ribbon interface is taking their place.  The pointer is still prominent in mouse driven desktops but is done away with in touch based systems (as well as gesture based systems like MS Surface and MS Kinnect).

Hence the title, RIP:WIMP.  This is not to say that we won’t be using the legacy WIMP UI for quite some time.  Windows 8 gives Metro parity with WIMP.  Windows 9 will move us more fully into the Metro paradigm and it is an open question if WIMP will be anywhere in site when Windows 10 rolls around.

So while WIMP was popularized, but not first implemented in 1984, its replacement is implemented, but not yet popularized, in 2012.

And WIMP is popular, it has been the dominant paradigm for 18 years (an eternity in tech time).  There will be heavy resistance to its replacement in the coming years.  Trial and error will have to occur before its replacement is accepted and completely implemented.  This new UI paradigm is still being fleshed out, it still lacks a catchy acronym/name, and the pieces are not all in place yet.  But they will be.  In the meantime we will have bastardized Frankenstein kludges like Windows 8.

Inertia is strong, but human/computer interaction will progress, and WIMP will be a casualty of that progress.  The writing is on the tile.

Edit: Here is a MS page on Metro that illustrates a lot of what I said above.  Watch the videos, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth ten thousand.


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