A tooltip is a small box that appears near an object in a graphical user interface (GUI) when a pointer or other cursor controlled by a mouse passes over or rests on that object and which contains a brief text message identifying or explaining the object.
A GUI is a human-computer interface (i.e., a way for humans to interact with computers) that uses visual objects such as buttons, checkboxes, icons, menus, text boxes and windows, and which can be manipulated by a mouse (and often to a limited extent by a keyboard as well).
Tooltips are commonly used on a wide range of programs, including operating systems, application programs and web browsers. When properly deployed, they can be very useful in making computers more intuitive and easier to use, particularly where the purpose of some GUI objects may not be immediately apparent. They can reduce the frustration of users and lessen the need to hunt through other forms of documentation, something which users are often reluctant to do.
One of the characteristics of a well designed tooltip system is that they are user-configurable, particularly with regard to the ability to turn them on and off. However, in many cases tooltips are not implemented as effectively as they might be, if at all.
A variant of a tooltip that is often found in older software is displaying the description of the item in a status bar at the bottom of the screen. However, such descriptions are not usually called tooltips.
Created July 23, 2005.