Instructions for Using Pie Menus - March 1988

How to Choose with Pie Menus
English 393, Technical Writing Assignment #1
Instructions for Performing a Process
Don Hopkins
March 10, 1988

Q: What is the process?
A: The process is selecting from pie menus.

Q: Whis is the audience?
A: The audience is users of the pie menu software for the NeWS window system.

Q: Where would the document be found?
A: It would be part of the documentation that goes along with the software.


Selecting commands from menus is an easy, straightforward way to operate a computer. You can use a pointing device called a "mouse" to indicate the selection you desire, from a list of choices show on the screen. Pie menus (Figure 1) differ from traditional "linear" menus (Figure 2) in the way that their choices are laid out, and the shape of their selection target areas on the screen.

These instructions will describe how to select a choice from a pie menu, cancel a menu without making a selection, and make selections quickly and efficiently.

Buzz words

Refer to the figures for illustrations of the definitions.

Cursor: The "cursor" is a small symbol superimposed on the computer's display, which points to some spot on the screen. Its shape may change according to where it is pointing. It is the focus of your attention.

Mouse (Figure 3): The "mouse" is a hand-held pointing device, used to move the "cursor" around on the screen. Moving the mouse around on the "mouse pad" produces corresponding "cursor" motion. It has three "buttons", which are used to select and manipulate things.

Mouse pad (Figure 3): A mouse pad is a flat surface that the mouse rests on. The mouse can sense how it's moved around on the pad.

Buttons (Figure 3): The three buttons of the mouse are referred to as the "Left", "Middle", and "Right" buttons. They are used for "clicking" at things on the screen. Each button can have different meanings at different times.

Click: To "click" a button, quickly press and release it, without moving the mouse.

Pie menu (Figure 4): A round menu, initially centered on the cursor, having each of its choices in a different direction. Each wedge shaped "slice" of the menu selects one of the choices. The slices are labeled with the names of the menu selections. There is an "inactive region" in the menu center, which makes no selection.

Inactive region (Figure 4): A small round area in the center of the menu where the cursor starts out, that makes no selection.

Slice (Figure 4): Wedge shaped areas on the screen, centered around the inactive region. They are labeled with the names of the menu choices.

Selection target area (Figure 4): The wedge shaped region of a slice, whose area on the screen actually extends out beyond the menu radius, to the screen edge. To indicate a slice, move the cursor into its selection target region. To choose it, click the Right mouse button there.


  • I. Selecting a choice from a pie menu
    1. Move the cursor into the middle of the screen, by sliding the mouse around on the mouse pad. If the mouse goes off the edge of the path, you can lift it up and place it back onto the pad without moving the cursor.
    2. Click the Right mouse button, by holding the mouse still, and pressing and releasing the Right mouse button with your finger. A menu will pop up on the screen, centered on the cursor. (Figure 1) Notice that the cursor starts out in the inactive region in the center, and none of the labels are highlighted.
    3. Move the cursor into one of the slices, by moving the mouse in the appropriate direction. The cursor may not move the exact same distance that you moved the mouse, but as long as you hold the mouse straight (relative to the mouse pad), the direction will be the same. When the cursor leaves the inactive region and enters one of the slices, that slice will become highlighted, with an inverted rounded rectangle around the choice label.
    4. Browse around the menu, by moving the cursor from slice to slice, and watch how the highlighting changes to indicate which slice at which the cursor is pointing.
    5. Move the cursor out far away from the menu center, and notice how the selection target areas extend out beyond the menu radius, to the edge of the screen. This gives you more precise control over the selection. Because of the slice's wedge shape area, the further away from the menu center the cursor is, the more mouse motion it takes to move into another slice.
    6. Select the choice that is currently highlighted by clicking the Right button down and up. The menu will go away, and the name of the choice you selected will be shown in the window.
  • II. Canceling a menu without making a selection
    If you don't want to select any of the choices in a menu, you may cancel the selection with the middle mouse button.
    1. Pop up a pie menu by clicking the Right mouse button, as before. (As described in step I.2.)
    2. Point the cursor at one of the slices, so its label is highlighted.
    3. Click the Middle mouse button, by pressing it down and releasing it. The cursor will move back into the inactive region in the center of the menu, and the menu will go away without making any selection.
  • III. Making selections quickly and efficiently
    If you are familiar with a menu, and know which direction the slice you want to choose is in, you can make an accelerated choice.
    1. Remember that the "Today" slice is at the bottom of the menu. (To the South.)
    2. Move the cursor near the top of the screen. (North.)
    3. Start moving the cursor towards the bottom of the screen (South). While you are still moving the cursor, press and hold the Right button down. The menu will pop up as you move.
    4. Release the Right button, to select "Today", as soon as you have moved far enough to the South to highlight that label. The name of your selection will be displayed on the screen as feedback.
    5. Practice this, and see how fast you can get. If you are fast enough, and release the button before the menu pops up, you may not even see the menu on the screen -- just the name of the selection. This is a feature that speeds up interaction, when the computer is acting slowly, or you're acting quickly.