June 26, 2005
Wizard inventor comes forward
Posted 4230 days ago on June 26, 2005
A while back I posed the question Who invented the wizard; as one commenter noted, my question is now the number one hit on Google if you search on that phrase. Thanks to the power of the blog, or the Internet, or something, someone has stepped forward. Peter Bruinsma, now CEO of FutureGlue, emailed me as follows (quoted with his permission):
You are correct, Excel 4.0's chart wizard was the Wizard's debut. The invention took place in 1990/1991 while I was employed at Microsoft Corp. in WA. My job was as an intern providing Excel phone support at PSS in Bellevue, WA. The #1 and #2 call generators were charting and printing. For my fellow colleagues, I created large flow charts which reduced call time for printing from average > 20 minutes to ~5 minutes.
My personal frustration with the UI for printing and charting grew so large that I started designing new user interfaces for these features. I used the XLM macro language and dialog designer that were built into Excel 3.0 to build proofs of concept. I emailed these to PMs in the Excel group. When Excel 4.0 was released, I was happy to see that they had pretty much adopted my design! Unfortunately, printing remained difficult, with tunneling dialogs, presumably because printer drivers are external and could not be easily integrated in a wizard.
The wizard seems straightforward now, but it was quite revolutionary then. I think the reason I was able to come up with it was because by that time I had completely "dissected" the process of both printing and charting in order to create the detailed paper flow charts that covered an entire cubicle wall. It was not a big step for me to "standardize" the process into a set of finite manageable steps which provide real-time feedback along the way (as the chart wizard does). Also, the dialog designer in Excel was a big help because it helped me create screen shots of a mock up that looked like the real deal.
It's also interesting to note that Publisher's Page Wizard followed very soon after. Given the prevalence of wizards in all kinds of software now, I agree that it was a significant step and proves that Microsoft can, on occasion, be innovative.
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