Glossary of UI Terminology
accelerator key See shortcut key.
access bar See desktop toolbar.
access key The key that corresponds to an underlined letter on a menu or control (also referred to as a mnemonic or mnemonic access key).
accessibility The principle of designing software to be usable and accessible to the widest range of users, including users with disabilities.
activate To make an object’s state available.
active The state of an object that is the focus of user input, with its operations available.
active end The ending point for a selected range of objects. It is usually established at the object logically nearest the hot spot of the pointer when a user releases the primary mouse button. Compare anchor point.
active voice Sentence construction in which the subject performs the action of the verb—for example, "The administrator reset the password." Active voice is considered preferable to passive voice, although the latter is appropriate when you’re trying to avoid blaming the user. Compare passive voice.
active window The window in which a user is currently working or directing input. An active window is typically at the top of the Z order and is distinguished by the color of its title bar. Compare inactive window.
adornment A control or status area that is attached to the edge of a pane or window, such as a toolbar or ruler.
anchor point The starting point for a selected range of objects. An anchor point is usually established at the object logically nearest the hot spot of the pointer when a user presses a mouse button. Compare active end.
anti-aliasing A graphic design technique that involves adding colored pixels to smooth the jagged edges of a graphic.
apply To commit a set of changes or pending transactions made in a secondary window, typically without closing that window.
auto-exit A text box in which the input focus automatically moves to the next control as soon as a user types the last character.
auto-joining The movement of text to fill a gap that remains after a user deletes other text.
automatic scrolling A technique whereby a display area automatically scrolls without direct interaction with a scroll bar.
auto-repeat An event or interaction that is automatically repeated. Auto-repeat events usually occur when a user holds down a keyboard key or clicks and holds a special control (for example, scroll bar buttons).
balloon tip A ToolTip style design to provide message information about a control or object.
cancel To halt an operation or process and return to the prior state. Compare stop.
caret See insertion point.
cascading menu A menu that is a submenu of a menu command (also referred to as a hierarchical menu, child menu, or submenu).
check box A standard control that displays a setting or a set of non-mutually exclusive settings, either selected (set) or cleared (not set). Compare option button.
child menu See cascading menu.
child node A subordinate node. See also parent node.
child window A document window used within an MDI window. See also multiple-document interface.
chord To press more than one mouse or keyboard button at the same time.
click (v.) To position the pointer over an object and then press and release a mouse button. (n.) The act of clicking. See also press.
Clipboard The area of storage for objects, data, or their references after a user carries out a Cut or Copy command.
code page A collection of characters that make up a character set.
collection A set of objects that share some common aspect.
column heading A standard Windows control that can be used to provide interactive column titles for a list.
combo box A standard Windows control that combines text box and list box functions. Either drop-down or scrolling.
command button A standard Windows control that initiates a command.
composite An aggregated set or group of objects that is recognized as an object itself (for example, characters in a paragraph, a named range of cells in a spreadsheet, or a grouped set of drawing objects).
constraint A relationship between a set of objects, where making a change to one object affects another object in the set.
container An object that holds other objects.
context menu The menu of commands that appears on right-click. See shortcut menu.
context-sensitive Help Information about an object and its current condition that is requested by the user. It answers the questions "What is this" and "Why would I want to use it?" Compare procedural Help and reference Help.
contextual Specific to the conditions in which something exists or occurs.
contiguous selection A selection that consists of a set of objects that are logically sequential or adjacent to each other (also referred to as range selection). Compare disjoint selection.
control An object that enables user interaction or input, often to initiate an action, display information, or set values.
Control menu The menu, also referred to as the System menu, originally displayed on the left end of a title bar in Microsoft Windows 3.1. The context menu of a window replaces the Control menu.
cursor A generic term for the visible indication of where a user’s interaction will occur. See also input focus, insertion point, pointer.
data link A link that propagates a value between two objects or locations.
data-centered design A design in which users interact with their data directly without having to first start an appropriate editor or application.
default An operation or value that the system or application provides, unless a user makes an explicit choice.
default button The command button that is invoked when a user presses the ENTER key. A default button typically appears in a secondary window.
desktop The visual work area that fills the screen. The desktop is also a container and can be used as a convenient location to place objects stored in the file system.
desktop toolbar A toolbar that docks to the desktop, similar to the taskbar (also referred to as an access bar). See also taskbar.
Details view Each item appears as a line in a multicolumn format, with the leftmost column including the icon (optional) and its label. The subsequent columns contain additional information about the item.
dialog box A secondary window that gathers additional information from a user. Compare message box, palette window, and property sheet.
dialog unit (DLU) A device-independent measure to use for layout. One horizontal unit is equal to one-fourth of the average character width for the current system font. One vertical unit is equal to one-eighth of an average character height for the current system font.
dimmed See unavailable.
disabled See unavailable.
disjoint selection A selection that consists of a set of objects that are not logically sequential or physically adjacent to each other. Compare contiguous selection. See also extended selection.
DLU See dialog unit.
dock To manipulate an interface element, such as a toolbar, in order to align it with the edge of another interface element, typically a window or pane.
double-click (v.) To press and release a mouse button twice in rapid succession. (n.) The act of double-clicking to select an object or to perform an operation.
drag To press and hold a mouse button while moving the mouse.
drag-and-drop operation A technique for moving, copying, or linking an object by dragging. The destination determines the interpretation of the operation. Compare nondefault drag-and-drop operation.
drop-down combo box A standard Windows control that combines the characteristics of a text box with a drop-down list box. Compare scrolling combo box.
drop-down list box A standard Windows control that displays a current setting, but can be opened to display a list of choices.
drop-down menu A menu that is displayed from a menu bar. See also menu and shortcut menu.
dynamic text field A text field that displays changing text, most often used in conjunction with a progress bar in order to indicate progress. See also static text field.
edit control See text box.
edit field See text box.
Edit menu A common drop-down menu that includes general purpose commands for editing objects displayed within a window, such as Cut, Copy, and Paste.
ellipsis The ... suffix added to a menu command or button label to indicate that the command requires additional information from the user. When a user chooses the command, a dialog box is usually displayed for the user to input this additional information.
embedded object A data object that retains the original editing and operating functionality of the application that created it, while physically residing in another document.
event An action or occurrence to which an application can respond. Examples of UI events are clicks, key presses, and mouse movements.
explicit selection A selection that a user intentionally makes with an input device. Compare implicit selection.
extended selection A selection technique that is optimized for the selection of a single object or single range using contiguous selection techniques (that is, canceling any existing selection when a new selection is made). However, it also supports modifying an existing selection using disjoint selection techniques. See also disjoint selection.
extended-selection list box A list box that supports multiple selection, but is optimized for a selection of a single object or single range. See also extended selection and list box. Compare multiple-selection list box.
extension Abbreviated form of snap-in extension.
File menu A common drop-down menu that includes commands for file operations, such as Open, Save, and Print.
flat appearance The recommended visual display of a control when it is nested inside another control or scrollable region.
folder A type of container for objects, typically files.
font A set of attributes for text characters.
font size The size of a font, typically represented in points.
font style The stylistic attributes of a font, such as bold, italic, and underline.
glyph A generic term used to refer to any graphical or pictorial image that can be used on a button or in a message box. Compare icon.
grayed See unavailable.
group box A standard Windows control that groups a set of controls.
handle An interface element added to an object that provides a control point for moving, sizing, reshaping, or other operations pertaining to that object.
Help menu A common drop-down menu that includes commands that provide access to online Help or other forms of user assistance. See also context-sensitive Help, procedural Help, reference Help, and task-oriented Help.
heterogeneous selection A selection that includes objects of different types or with different properties. Compare homogeneous selection.
hierarchical menu See cascading menu.
hold To continue to press a keyboard key or mouse button.
homogeneous selection A selection that includes objects of the same type or with the same properties. Compare heterogeneous selection.
hot spot The specific portion of the pointer (or pointing device) that defines the exact location, or object, to which a user is pointing.
hot zone The interaction area of a particular object or location with which a pointer or pointing device’s hot spot must come in contact.
hourglass A standard Windows mouse cursor appearance that indicates process in progress. Used for processes of 2 to 7 seconds. See also progress bar, progress indicator.
hover selection A selection technique designed to optimize selection and activation of an object. Selection is initiated when the user moves the pointer over the object for a length of time that is longer than a time-out.
hover text See InfoTip.
hyperlink A special form of link used to navigate between one object and another.
icon A pictorial representation of an object. Compare glyph.
icon overlay An image superimposed on an icon to indicate a condition or status.
imperative/imperative mood Expresses a command or request. For example, "Run the wizard" and "Shut down Windows now" use the imperative mood. Only use the imperative mood to convey that the user or computer must do something (as opposed to might optionally do something).
implicit selection A selection that is the result of inference or the context of some other operation. See also explicit selection.
inactive The state of an object when it is not the focus of a user’s input.
inactive window A window in which a user’s input is not currently being directed. An inactive window is typically distinguished by the color of its title bar. Compare active window.
indeterminate See mixed-value appearance.
InfoTip A ToolTip used to provide a description for desktop, window, and Start menu commands, in Web views, and in the Windows Explorer Comment column when Details view is used. Do not use the term to refer to ToolTips for toolbar buttons.
input focus The location where the user is currently directing input.
input focus appearance The visual display of a control or other object that indicates it has the input focus.
insertion point The location where text or graphics will be inserted (also referred to as the caret). Also used for text box controls to indicate input focus.
inside-out activation A technique that allows a user to directly interact with the content of an embedded object without executing an explicit activation command. Compare outside-in activation.
interoperating controls When the state of one control affects the state of another.
label The text (or graphic) that identifies a control (also incorrectly referred to as a caption). See also text field.
landscape An orientation where the long dimension of a rectangular area (for example, screen or paper) is horizontal.
leaf node Node with no child objects represented in the tree. May have child objects represented in the results pane. See also tree.
link (v.) To form a connection between two objects. (n.) A reference to an object that is linked to another object. See also linked object, hyperlink.
link pat The descriptive form, or explicit connecting points, of referring to the location of a link source (also referred to as a moniker).
linked object An object that represents or provides access to another object that resides in another location in the same container or in a different container. See also link.
list box A standard Windows control that displays a list of choices. The control comes in many single- and multiple-selection varieties. See also drop-down list box, extended selection list box.
List-view control A standard Windows list box control that displays a set of objects. The control also supports different views and drag-and-drop operations.
locale A collection of language-related user preferences for formatting information, such as time, currency, or dates.
localization The process of adapting software for different countries, languages, cultures, or markets.
marquee See region selection.
maximize To display a window at its largest size. See also minimize.
MDI See multiple-document interface.
menu A list of textual or graphical choices from which a user can choose. See also drop-down menu, shortcut menu.
menu bar A horizontal bar at the top of a window, below the title bar, that contains menus. See also drop-down menu.
menu button A command button that displays a menu.
menu command A choice on a menu.
menu label A text or graphical label that describes a particular menu. For drop-down menus, the label is the entry in the menu bar; for cascading menus, the menu label is the name of its parent menu command.
message box A secondary window that is displayed to inform a user about a particular condition. Compare dialog box, palette window, and property sheet.
milestone page Synonymous with confirmation pages that are used before settings are applied in wizards.
minimize To minimize the size or appearance of a window; in some cases this means to hide the window. See also maximize.
mixed-value appearance The visual display for a control which reflects a mixed set of values.
mnemonic See access key.
modal Restrictive or limited interaction due to operating in a mode. Modal often describes a secondary window that restricts a user’s interaction with other windows. A secondary window can be modal with respect to its primary window or to the entire system. Compare modeless.
mode A particular state of interaction, often exclusive in some way to other forms of interaction.
modeless Non-restrictive or non-limited interaction. Modeless often describes a secondary window that does not restrict a user’s interaction with other windows. Compare modal.
modifier key A keyboard key that, when pressed (and held), changes the actions of ordinary input.
moniker See link path.
mouse A commonly used input device that has one or more buttons for the user to interact with a computer. Also used as a generic term to include other pointing devices that operate similarly (for example, trackballs and digital pens).
multiple-document interface (MDI) A technique for managing a set of windows whereby documents are opened into windows (sometimes called child windows) that are constrained to a single primary (parent) window. See also child window, parent window.
multiple-selection list box A list box that is optimized for making multiple, independent selections. Compare extended-selection list box, single-selection list box.
node Any entry in the tree. Represents objects, containers, etc. See also tree.
nondefault drag-and-drop operation A drag (transfer) operation whose interpretation is determined by a user’s choice of command. These commands are included in a shortcut menu displayed at the destination where the object is dropped. Compare drag-and-drop operation.
noun phrase A group of words containing a noun or a pronoun that functions as the subject or object of a verb.
object An entity or component identifiable by a user that can be distinguished by its properties, operations, and relationships. Also: a self-contained collection of data (and properties) and its associated processing.
object-action paradigm The basic interaction model for the user interface in which the object to be acted upon is specified first, followed by the command to be executed.
OLE (Microsoft OLE) Also known as Object Linking and Embedding, OLE describes the technology and interface for implementing support for object interaction.
open appearance The visual display of an object when the user opens the object into its own window.
operation A generic term that refers to the actions that can be done to or with an object.
option button A standard Windows control that allows a user to select from a fixed set of mutually exclusive choices (also referred to as a radio button). Compare check box.
option-set appearance The visual display for a control when its value is set.
outside-in activation A technique that requires a user to perform an explicit activation command to interact with the content of an embedded object. Compare inside-out activation.
package An encapsulation of a file that enables it to be embedded into a container.
palette window A modeless secondary window that displays a toolbar or other choices, such as colors or patterns. Compare dialog box and message box. See also property sheet.
pane A separate area in a split window.
parallel construction Use the same grammatical structure for sentence elements or phrases that are equal in purpose. Parallel construction is particularly necessary for items in lists and groups of check-box labels or option-button labels.
parent node A node with subordinate node(s), called children or child nodes.
parent window A primary window that provides window management for a set of child windows. See also child window and multiple-document interface.
passive voice Sentence construction in which the subject does not perform the action of the verb—for example, "The password was reset by the administrator."). Passive voice is generally considered undesirable but is appropriate when you’re trying to avoid blaming the user—for example, "The computer was not shut down properly." Compare active voice.
persistence The principle that the state or properties of an object is automatically preserved.
point (v.) To position the pointer over a particular object and location. (n.) A unit of measurement for type (1 point equals approximately 1/72 inch).
pointer A graphical image displayed on the screen that indicates the location of a pointing device (also referred to incorrectly as a cursor).
pop-up menu See shortcut menu.
pop-up window A secondary window with no title bar that is displayed next to an object; it provides contextual information about that object.
portrait An orientation where the long dimension of a rectangular area (for example, screen or paper) is vertical.
press To press and release a keyboard key. See also click.
pressed appearance The visual display for an object, such as a control, when it is being "pressed."
primary window The window in which the main interaction with an object takes place. See also secondary window and window.
procedural Help A type of Help that presents the steps involved in carrying out a particular task. Compare context-sensitive Help, reference Help, and task-oriented Help.
progress bar A standard Windows control that displays the percentage of completion of a particular process as a graphical bar.
progress indicator Feedback that provides the user with information about the state of a process. Includes hourglass mouse pointer, progress bars, and .avi animation. See also hourglass and progress bar.
progressive disclosure A technique for hiding the complexity of an interface by presenting the user with the primary or common options or choices at the topmost level, and then revealing more advanced or complex options through another means, such as explicit user action or navigation.
project A window or task management technique that consists of a container holding a set of objects, such that when the container is opened, the windows of the contained objects are restored to their former positions.
property The data associated with an object.
properties Attributes or characteristics of an object that define its state, appearance, or value.
property inspector A dynamic properties viewer that displays the properties of the current selection, usually of a particular type of object. Compare property sheet.
property page A grouping of properties on a tabbed page of a property sheet. See also property sheet.
property sheet A secondary window that displays the properties of an object when a user chooses its Properties command. Compare dialog box, property inspector. See also property page.
property sheet control A standard Windows control used to create property sheet interfaces.
push button See command button.
radio button See option button.
range selection See contiguous selection.
recognition The interpretation of strokes or gestures as characters or operations.
reference Help A form of online Help that contains conceptual and explanatory information. Compare context-sensitive Help, procedural Help, and task-oriented Help.
region selection A selection technique that involves dragging out a bounding outline (also referred to as a marquee) to define the selected objects.
rich-text box A standard Windows control that is similar to a standard text box, except that it also supports individual character and paragraph properties.
roam The ability for a user to move between different computers and have the same user experience on both computers.
scope The definition of the extent to which a selection is logically independent from other selections. For example, selections made in separate windows are typically considered to be independent of each other.
scroll To move the viewable area of an object or information in order to make a different portion visible.
scroll arrow button A component of a scroll bar that allows the information to be scrolled by defined increments when the user clicks it. The direction of the arrow indicates the direction in which the information scrolls.
scroll bar A standard Windows control that supports scrolling.
scroll bar shaft The component of a scroll bar that provides the visual context for the scroll box. Clicking in the scroll bar shaft scrolls the information screen by screen. See also scroll box.
scroll box A component of a scroll bar that indicates the relative position (and optionally the proportion) of the visible information relative to the entire amount of information. The user can drag the scroll box to view areas of information not currently visible. See also scroll bar shaft.
scrolling combo box A standard Windows control that combines the characteristics of a text box with a scrolling list box. Compare drop-down combo box.
secondary window A window that provides information or supplemental interaction related to objects in a primary window. See also primary window and window.
select To identify one or more objects upon which an operation can be performed. (Usage) Use instead of choose in the UI.
selection An object or set of objects that have been selected.
selection appearance The visual display of an object when it has been selected.
selection handle A graphical control point of an object that provides direct manipulation support for operations of that object, such as moving, sizing, or scaling.
sentence caps Capitalization of only the first letter of the initial word and other words normally capitalized in sentences, such as proper nouns.
separator A line that separates groups of controls (on a surface) or commands (on a menu).
set up (Usage) Use for adding software to a hard disk or hardware to a system. When using the verb set up, spell with two words. Set up and install are generally interchangeable. Setup as a noun is a single word.
shell A generic term that refers to the interface that gives the user control over the system.
shortcut A generic term that refers to an action or technique that invokes a particular command or performs an operation with less interaction than the usual method.
shortcut icon A link presented as an icon that provides a user with access to another object.
shortcut key A keyboard key or key combination that invokes a particular command (also referred to as an accelerator key).
shortcut menu A menu that is displayed for a selected object (also referred to as a context menu or pop-up menu). The menu contains commands that are contextually relevant to the selection.
single-selection list box A list box that supports only selection of a single item in the list.
size grip A special control that appears at the junction of a horizontal and vertical scroll bar or the right end of a status bar and provides an area that a user can drag to size the lower right corner of a window.
slider A standard Windows control that displays and sets a value from a continuous range of possible values, such as brightness or volume.
spin box A control (composed of a text box and spin button control) that allows a user to adjust a value from a limited range of possible values.
split bar A division between window panes in a split window; the split bar visually separates window panes.
split box A special control added to a window, typically adjacent to the scroll bar, that allows a user to split a window or adjust a window split.
static text field A standard Windows control used for instructions, control labels, and all text that the user doesn’t need to horizontally scroll, edit, or select. Compare text box. See also dynamic text field and text field.
status bar An area that displays state information for the content in the window, typically placed at the bottom of a window.
status bar control A standard Windows control that provides the functionality of a status bar.
stop To halt a process or action, typically without restoring the prior state. Compare cancel. (Usage) Use to refer to canceling a hardware operation or service—for example, "stop a print job"; "stop the DHCP Client service."
submenu See cascading menu.
subordinate control A type of interoperating control whose availability is determined by the state of another control (the superior control). Compare interoperating control.
superior control A type of interoperating control that determines the availability of another control (the subordinate control). Compare interoperating control.
tab control A standard Windows control that looks similar to a notebook or file divider and provides navigation between different pages or sections of information in a window.
task Do not use. Use action.
taskbar A special toolbar that docks on an edge of the desktop supplied by the system. The taskbar includes the Start button, a button for each open primary window, and a status area.
task-oriented Help A type of Help that present the steps involved in carrying out a particular task. Compare context-sensitive Help, procedural Help, and reference Help.
template An object that automates the creation of new objects of a particular type.
text box A standard Windows control in which a user can select and/or edit text. Also referred to as an edit control. Compare text field.
text field A standard Windows control that displays static or dynamic text. Compare text box. See also dynamic text field, static text field.
thread A process that is part of a larger process or program.
title bar The horizontal area at the top of a window that identifies the window. The title bar also acts as a handle for dragging the window.
title caps Capitalization of the first letter of the first and last words. Capitalize the first letter of all words in between, with the exception of articles (a, an, and the); coordinating conjunctions (and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet); and prepositions of four letters or fewer (such as at, for, with, and into).
toggle key A keyboard key that alternates between turning a particular operation, function, or mode on or off.
toolbar A frame or special area that contains a set of other controls.
toolbar button A command button used in a toolbar (or status bar).
toolbar control A standard Windows control designed with the same characteristics as the toolbar.
ToolTip A standard Windows control that provides a small pop-up window with descriptive text, such as a label, for a control or graphical object.
transaction A unit of change to an object.
transfer appearance The visual feedback displayed during a transfer operation.
tree A presentation of a set of objects as an indented outline based on their logical hierarchical relationship.
tree pane Do not use. Use tree.
tree-view control A standard Windows control that allows a set of hierarchically-related objects to be displayed as an expandable outline.
unavailable The state of a control in which normal functionality is not presently available to a user (also referred to as grayed, dimmed, and disabled).
unavailable appearance The visual display for a control when it is unavailable.
undo To reverse a transaction.
unfold button A command button used to expand a secondary window to a larger size to reveal additional controls or information.
visual editing The ability to edit an embedded object in place, without opening it in its own window.
white space The background area of a window. (The color need not literally be white.)
window A typically rectangular, separately controllable area of the screen. Types of windows include dialog boxes, wizards, message boxes, and property sheets. See also primary window and secondary window.
wizard A secondary window that steps the user through a complex task.
workbook A window or task management technique that consists of a set of views that are organized like a tabbed notebook.
workspace A window or task management technique that consists of a container holding a set of objects, where the windows of the contained objects are constrained to a parent window. Similar to the multiple document interface, except that the windows displayed within the parent window corresponding to objects that are also contained in the workspace.
Z order The layered relationship of a set of objects, such as windows, on the display screen.