look and feel


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look and feel

(operating system)
The appearance and function of a program's user interface. The term is most often applied to graphical user interfaces (GUI) but might also be used by extension for a textual command language used to control a program.

Look and feel includes such things as the icons used to represent certain functions such as opening and closing files, directories and application programs and changing the size and position of windows; conventions for the meaning of different buttons on a mouse and keys on the keyboard; and the appearance and operation of menus.

A user interface with a consistent look and feel is considered by many to be an important factor in the ease of use of a computer system. The success of the Macintosh user interface was partly due to its consistency.

Because of the perceived importance of look and feel, there have been several legal actions claiming breech of copyright on the look and feel of user interfaces, most notably by Apple Computer against Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard (which Apple lost) and, later, by Xerox against Apple Computer. Such legal action attempts to force suppliers to make their interfaces inconsistent with those of other vendors' products. This can only be bad for users and the industry as a whole.

look and feel

The user interface of an operating system, application or Web page. The look refers to how logos, graphics, menus and other elements are laid out on the page. The feel refers to the interactions: the way menus are organized and the way functions are selected and performed (the "method of operation").

Copyright the Look, Not the Feel
There have been two landmark cases regarding the look and feel of software. In the late 1980s, Apple sued Microsoft, claiming that Windows copied the Mac OS look and feel. However, due to a previous licensing agreement between both companies, the case never resulted in a statute, and both parties settled.

In the mid-1990s, Lotus sued Borland, claiming that Borland's Quattro Pro spreadsheet emulated the look and feel of Lotus 1-2-3. Much to the woe of proprietary software vendors, the court decision resolved that although visual elements of the graphical user interface could be copyrighted, the method of operation (menus and functions) could not. See user interface.