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Definition: GUI


(Graphical User Interface) The common method of interacting with a computing device that enables any image to be displayed on screen. A component of the operating system, the major GUIs are Windows, Mac, iOS (iPhone) and Android. Linux supports numerous GUIs such as GNOME and KDE.

Except for entering text on a keyboard, all GUI operations are performed with a pointing device, which is used to select icons, tabs and menus as well as move and resize windows that frame the application and elements within it. On desktop and laptop computers, the pointing device is a mouse or finger-operated touchpad. On phones and tablets, the pointing device is a touchscreen and the user's finger or a stylus.

From Characters to Graphics
With the advent of the Mac in the mid-1980s and Windows in the 1990s, GUIs eliminated the need to enter cryptic commands in a required sequence. In addition, fonts can be changed and resized on screen, providing a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) capability for creating printed materials. While commonplace today, GUIs changed the computer landscape dramatically.

The Command Line Did Not Disappear
All desktop operating systems still include a character-based command line interface that lets programmers and power users enter commands. Some tasks can be performed faster and more easily with commands than with a GUI, while certain adjustments are only possible using the command line (see command line). See user interface, UI types, drag and drop, desktop manager, window manager and Star.




The First Commercial GUI
Xerox's Star workstation was introduced in 1981 and became the inspiration for Apple's Lisa and Mac, which debuted a couple years later. See Lisa and Mac computer. (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation.)








The Mac GUI
The top screenshot is an early Mac GUI ("Power Dude" was the name of the hard disk). Notice the difference between the icons, fonts and window borders on the old GUI compared to the newer one below. (Top screenshot courtesy of Peter Hermsen.)






Early Windows (A Little Gooey)
This was the Windows 2.0 interface in the late 1980s, and although graphics based, it was rather rigid. However, it was an improvement over Windows 1.0 because it supported resizable windows that could overlap. (Image courtesy of Ian Albert, www.ianalbert.com)






Unix Workstations
In the 1980s, the Motif graphical interface was added to the command-line world of Unix workstations. (Screenshot courtesy of The Santa Cruz Operation, Inc.)






A Design Revolution
GUIs enabled imaginative interfaces. In this earlier Bryce 3D modeling program, the bottom left symbols were camera controls (trackball and x, y, z axes). On top were primitive graphic elements. (Screenshot courtesy of MetaCreations Corporation.)






Custom Looks for Windows
Stardock's WindowBlinds allows Windows users to have a unique desktop with many pre-built designs to choose from. (Image courtesy of Stardock Corporation, Inc., www.stardock.com)