GUI (graphical user interface)

A GUI (usually pronounced "GOO-ee") is a graphical (rather than purely textual) user interface to a computer.

Also see HCI (human-computer interaction). 

A GUI (usually pronounced GOO-ee) is a graphical (rather than purely textual) user interface to a computer. As you read this, you are looking at the GUI or graphical user interface of your particular Web browser. The term came into existence because the first interactive user interfaces to computers were not graphical; they were text-and-keyboard oriented and usually consisted of commands you had to remember and computer responses that were infamously brief. The command interface of the DOS operating system (which you can still get to from your Windows operating system) is an example of the typical user-computer interface before GUIs arrived. An intermediate step in user interfaces between the command line interface and the GUI was the non-graphical menu-based interface, which let you interact by using a mouse rather than by having to type in keyboard commands.

Today's major operating systems provide a graphical user interface. Applications typically use the elements of the GUI that come with the operating system and add their own graphical user interface elements and ideas. A GUI sometimes uses one or more metaphors for objects familiar in real life, such as the desktop, the view through a window, or the physical layout in a building. Elements of a GUI include such things as: windows, pull-down menus, buttons, scroll bars, iconic images, wizards, the mouse, and no doubt many things that haven't been invented yet. With the increasing use of multimedia as part of the GUI, sound, voice, motion video, and virtual reality interfaces seem likely to become part of the GUI for many applications. A system's graphical user interface along with its input devices is sometimes referred to as its "look-and-feel."

The GUI familiar to most of us today in either the Mac or the Windows operating systems and their applications originated at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Laboratory in the late 1970s. Apple used it in their first Macintosh computers. Later, Microsoft used many of the same ideas in their first version of the Windows operating system for IBM-compatible PCs.

When creating an application, many object-oriented tools exist that facilitate writing a graphical user interface. Each GUI element is defined as a class widget from which you can create object instances for your application. You can code or modify prepackaged methods that an object will use to respond to user stimuli.

This was first published in October 2006

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