You’ve seen it before. Sometimes it’s during updates, sometimes one comes with a game, but it’s always needed for complex downloads: A “Wizard”. Install Wizard. Design Wizard. But what is a wizard?
Why is it called a “Wizard?”
The actual wizards that the programs are named after were the first generation of computer experts in the field.
Upon first release, many computers were still treated like simple calculators. Even with their limited memory, they could do more than that, it was just a matter of telling the computer how. As computers advanced, and computer manufacturers made their products more accessible and more usable, programs like Lotus spread far and wide, creating demand for expertise. The people who fiddled with the code inside these new programs seemed to make shells and displays appear out of thin air, writing in some arcane language only they and the computer shared. Hence, wizard!
Eventually, computer programs took over the role of wizard from the experts after computer manufacturers realized users needed a more consistent, reliable source of information. While people-wizards were cool, not every company had someone who could just ‘make it work’, and even when they did, sometimes their knowledge was limited. Wizards, as computers got better, started coming with the programming, albeit in a much simpler form than the wizards we have today.
What Does A Wizard Do?
Wizards come from an era where it was very, very possible to brick up a machine by clicking one too many times in certain menus. Menus the user would only be in if they had to follow instructions to, say, link up a printer or fax machine to their computer.
But a wizard can be a lot of things, not just the little popup box that makes installing things easy. In the late 90s, Microsoft wanted their users to be able to make their own pretty pages and nice-looking documents, but they were well aware that the layman – who they were marketing to – would have a hard time really fully utilizing what they were looking at (computers were still new!)
Imagine looking at the top of the Microsoft Word formatting bar again for the first time! And, to be even more accurate, imagine that everybody in your office has the same amount of experience on it, and none of you really want to touch it because Bill in accounting said that something in the Start Menu would make it shut down.
If you were like a lot of people in that era, and had some experience with typing on non-Word software (or hardware, typewriters were still in use) you know what a font is, you know what the size should be, and you understand the basic formatting of the page. But Microsoft wanted to take things a step further, and make it possible for even the newest office go-fer to make a beautifully color-blocked report. The Page Wizard was born.
What Kind of Wizard Are You?
The Page wizard is the first iteration of the wizard we know today. Page wizards were little more than instructions on making a nice-looking page, that broke down the structure of the page into easy to digest chunks of information.
From there, it only got more complex, and an easy way to keep users up to date is to simply keep making wizards, which were especially useful for preventing that “bricking” thing mentioned earlier when it got to settings more complex than the ones found in the start-up manual (which is also kind of a wizard, just on paper, by these standards!) However, eventually they ran into a wall. People are able to follow instructions for tables and spreadsheets, and they’ll still understand what they’re doing – but get into computer language, or trying to configure their local network connection to also hook up to the fax machine, and suddenly the instructions pages are a little too sparse to be understood easily. No problem for Microsoft!
The next iteration of the wizard is more familiar to users today and features the ability to narrow down a user’s potential choices into a clickable menu, maybe two or three for big items. Printers and internet configuration are a breeze when the Wizard simplifies your choices, right at startup. Would you like devices to be able to connect to your computer over the network? That’s three pages deep in settings, but the Wizard’s trawled it up from the menus, just for you.
The Downside to Wizarding
There had to be a downside somewhere. Computer menus get more and more complicated every update, even during the updates that are supposed to make things easier on the user. The path to get to the settings menu is now basically wizard-only, which takes some of the user’s ability to fix issues out of their hands. The wizard just makes things so easy for everyone involved that it’s easier when only the wizard can find files. Fixing issues is now a support issue, not a technical skill.