Graphical User Interface

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graphical user interface

[¦graf·ə·kəl ‚yü·zər ′in·tər‚fās]
(computer science)
A user interface in which program features are represented by icons that the user can access and manipulate with a pointing device. Abbreviated GUI.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Graphical User Interface

(operating system)
(GUI) The use of pictures rather than just words to represent the input and output of a program. A program with a GUI runs under some windowing system (e.g. The X Window System, MacOS, Microsoft Windows, Acorn RISC OS, NEXTSTEP). The program displays certain icons, buttons, dialogue boxes, etc. in its windows on the screen and the user controls it mainly by moving a pointer on the screen (typically controlled by a mouse) and selecting certain objects by pressing buttons on the mouse while the pointer is pointing at them. This contrasts with a command line interface where communication is by exchange of strings of text.

Windowing systems started with the first real-time graphic display systems for computers, namely the SAGE Project nd Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad (1963). Douglas Engelbart's Augmentation of Human Intellect project at SRI in the 1960s developed the On-Line System, which incorporated a mouse-driven cursor and multiple windows. Several people from Engelbart's project went to Xerox PARC in the early 1970s, most importantly his senior engineer, Bill English. The Xerox PARC team established the WIMP concept, which appeared commercially in the Xerox 8010 (Star) system in 1981.

Beginning in 1980(?), led by Jef Raskin, the Macintosh team at Apple Computer (which included former members of the Xerox PARC group) continued to develop such ideas in the first commercially successful product to use a GUI, the Apple Macintosh, released in January 1984. In 2001 Apple introduced Mac OS X.

Microsoft modeled the first version of Windows, released in 1985, on Mac OS. Windows was a GUI for MS-DOS that had been shipped with IBM PC and compatible computers since 1981. Apple sued Microsoft over infringement of the look-and-feel of the MacOS. The court case ran for many years.

This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (


(Graphical User Interface) The common method of interacting with a computer that allows any image to be displayed on screen. Except for entering text on the keyboard, the primary way the computer is operated is with a mouse or touchpad pointing device. The mouse/touchpad is used to select icons and menu options as well as move and resize windows that frame the application and elements within it. The major GUIs are Windows and Mac along with GNOME and KDE for Linux.

From Characters to Graphics
With the advent of the Mac in the mid-1980s and Windows in the 1990s, GUIs replaced the character-based display with a graphics display that eliminated the need to enter cryptic commands in a required sequence. In addition, fonts could be changed and resized on screen, providing a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) capability for creating printed materials. However, all major operating systems still include a command line interface that lets programmers and power users enter commands to perform certain tasks faster and more easily than with a mouse (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 the first commercial implementation of the GUI. Introduced in 1981, the Star was the inspiration for the Mac, which debuted in 1984. (Image courtesy of Xerox Corporation.)

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

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

Early Windows
This was the Windows 2.0 interface in the late 1980s. As rigid as it looks, it was an improvement over Windows 1.0 because it supported resizable windows that could overlap. (Image courtesy of Ian Albert,

Unix Workstations
The Motif graphical interface was added to the command-line world of Unix workstations in the 1980s. (Screen shot 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 thousands of pre-built designs to choose from. (Image courtesy of Stardock Corporation, Inc.,
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