Friday, April 01, 2005

What will replace WIMP?

WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, and Pointer) is still pretty much the standard interface technology in today’s computer world. It’s been around for twenty years and it seems there would be something coming up to take its place. I reviewed a number of emerging technologies for Graphical User Interfaces and found there are some interesting efforts out there. The most common approach is to take the two dimensional screen of the computer and convert it into a three dimensional world in which the user participates rather than simply views. Other techniques take the data out of the computer and imbue it into the user’s environment – Ambient
as an example has a lamp that glows a different color based on the current status of the stock market.

I find 3DNA’s tool interesting in which you can turn your files and folders into a 3D view and interact with it as if you were walking through the files and folders in a three dimensional world. They have free downloads if you want to try it out.

Microsoft has a research team working on a similar path.
The Microsoft Task Gallery creates a 3-D room in which documents line the wall and can be retrieved for review. I could see users programming their graphical code by moving the icons around in 3-D. Also, data files could be manipulated this way. Is this a step forward for us? I don't know but it may be interesting to experiment with some of these techniques.

Zui puts an interesting twist on the 3-D perspective by replacing the „windows“ paradigm with a zooming technique that allows one to change the perspective from distant to up close and thus keep track of the files and folders without having to open, close, or manage a series of windows.

With the emergence of ubiquitous computing through the use of handheld devices and mobile phones, comes the need for a different GUI paradigm. Here WIMP won’t cut it. One approach is the use of Software Lenses that makes more efficient use of pixels (there are fewer of them on your phone than your desktop). Also, the WIMP interface is designed for personal use, while the Software Lens concept is designed for collaborative use.

Animation is another technique used to take GUI’s to the next level. In this paper, the author uses animation within an icon to show its status and also describes the use of auditory signals to augment the visual information.

I also looked at the
Project Looking Glass
by Sun. It has some interesting interactivity features though I'm not sure how I would apply this to virtual instrumentation.

If you are working with graphical user interfaces, I would be interested in talking with you about this topic. You can reach me at

Best regards,
Hall T. Martin