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A wizard is a user interface element where the user is presented with a sequence of dialog boxes. Through these dialog boxes, the user is led through a series of steps, performing tasks in a specific sequence. Sometimes it may be easier to perform tasks using a wizard, especially for complex or infrequently performed tasks where the user is unfamiliar with the steps involved.
By 2001, wizards had become commonplace in most consumer-oriented operating systems, though not necessarily by the same name. In Mac OS X, for example, they are called "Assistants"; some examples include the "Setup Assistant", which is run when one boots the Macintosh for the first time, and the "Network Setup Assistant", which has similar function to the aforementioned "New Connection Wizard". GNOME also has a similar construct called Druids.
Web applications, such as an airline booking site, also make use of the wizard paradigm to complete lengthy interactive processes. Oracle Designer also uses wizards extensively.
By contrast, expert systems guide the user through a series of (usually yes/no) questions to solve a problem, and tend to make use of artificial intelligence or other complex algorithms. Some consider expert systems as a general category that includes all problem-solving programs including wizards.
Wizards were controversial among user interface designers when they first gained widespread use. This controversy centered around the fact that wizards encourage modal windows, which its opponents consider antithetical to proper human interface design.
Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications (Version 3.0) urges technical writers to refer to these assistants as "wizards" and to use lowercase letters. In countries where the concept of wizard does not convey the idea of helpfulness or is offensive, the manual suggests using the term "assistant" instead.