The graphical user interface
The interim Dynabook GUI (Smalltalk-76 running on the Xerox Alto
User interface and interaction design
The graphical user interface is presented (displayed) on the computer screen. It is the result of processed user input and usually the main interface for human-machine interaction. The touch user interfaces
popular on small mobile devices are an overlay of the visual output to the visual input.
Designing the visual composition and temporal behavior of a GUI is an important part of software application
programming in the area of human–computer interaction
. Its goal is to enhance the efficiency and ease of use for the underlying logical design of a stored program
, a design discipline named usability
. Methods of user-centered design
are used to ensure that the visual language introduced in the design is well-tailored to the tasks.
The visible graphical interface features of an application are sometimes referred to as chrome
Typically, users interact with information by manipulating visual widgets
that allow for interactions appropriate to the kind of data they hold. The widgets of a well-designed interface are selected to support the actions necessary to achieve the goals of users. A model–view–controller
allows flexible structures in which the interface is independent of and indirectly linked to application functions, so the GUI can be customized easily. This allows users to select or design a different skin
at will, and eases the designer's work to change the interface as user needs evolve. Good user interface design relates to users more, and to system architecture less. Large widgets, such as windows
, usually provide a frame or container for the main presentation content such as a web page, email message, or drawing. Smaller ones usually act as a user-input tool.
By the 1980s, cell phones
and handheld game systems also employed application specific touchscreen GUIs. Newer automobiles use GUIs in their navigation systems and multimedia centers, or navigation multimedia center combinations.
A GUI uses a combination of technologies and devices to provide a platform that users can interact with, for the tasks of gathering and producing information.
A series of elements conforming a visual language
have evolved to represent information stored in computers. This makes it easier for people with few computer skills to work with and use computer software. The most common combination of such elements in GUIs is the windows, icons, menus, pointer
) paradigm, especially in personal computers
The WIMP style of interaction uses a virtual input device
to represent the position of a pointing device's interface
, most often a mouse
, and presents information
organized in windows and represented with icons
. Available commands are compiled together in menus, and actions are performed making gestures with the pointing device. A window manager
facilitates the interactions between windows, applications
, and the windowing system
. The windowing system handles hardware devices such as pointing devices, graphics hardware, and positioning of the pointer.
In personal computers
, all these elements are modeled through a desktop metaphor
to produce a simulation called a desktop environment
in which the display represents a desktop, on which documents and folders of documents can be placed. Window managers and other software combine to simulate the desktop environment with varying degrees of realism.
As of 2011, some touchscreen-based operating systems such as Apple's iOS
) and Android
use the class of GUIs named post-WIMP. These support styles of interaction using more than one finger in contact with a display, which allows actions such as pinching and rotating, which are unsupported by one pointer and mouse.
There are also actions performed by programs that affect the GUI. For example, there are components like inotify
to facilitate communication between computer programs.
The Xerox PARC user interface consisted of graphical elements such as windows
, radio buttons
, and check boxes
. The concept of icons
was later introduced by David Canfield Smith
, who had written a thesis on the subject under the guidance of Kay.
The PARC user interface employs a pointing device
along with a keyboard. These aspects can be emphasized by using the alternative term and acronym for windows, icons, menus, pointing device
). This effort culminated in the 1973 Xerox Alto
, the first computer with a GUI, though the system never reached commercial production.
The first commercially available computer with a GUI was 1979 PERQ workstation
, manufactured by Three Rivers Computer Corporation. Its design was heavily influenced by the work at Xerox PARC. In 1981, Xerox eventually commercialized the Alto in the form of a new and enhanced system – the Xerox 8010 Information System – more commonly known as the Xerox Star
These early systems spurred many other GUI efforts, including Lisp machines by Symbolics
and other manufacturers, the Apple Lisa
(which presented the concept of menu bar
and window controls
) in 1983, the AppleMacintosh 128K
in 1984, and the Atari ST
with Digital Research
, and Commodore Amiga
in 1985. Visi On
was released in 1983 for the IBM PC compatible
computers, but was never popular due to its high hardware demands.
Nevertheless, it was a crucial influence on the contemporary development of Microsoft Windows
GUIs were a hot topic in the early 1980s. The Apple Lisa
was released in 1983, and various windowing systems existed for DOS
operating systems (including PC GEM
). Individual applications for many platforms presented their own GUI variants.
Despite the GUIs advantages, many reviewers questioned the value of the entire concept,
citing hardware limits, and problems in finding compatible software.
, accompanied by an extensive marketing campaign,
was a major success in the marketplace at launch and shortly became the most popular desktop operating system.
In 2007, with the iPhone
and later in 2010 with the introduction of the iPad
Apple popularized the post-WIMP style of interaction for multi-touch
screens, and those devices were considered to be milestones in the development of mobile devices
The GUIs familiar to most people as of the mid-late 2010s are Microsoft Windows
, and the X Window System
interfaces for desktop and laptop computers, and Android
, Apple's iOS
, BlackBerry OS
, Windows Phone
/Windows 10 Mobile
, and Firefox OS
for handheld (smartphone
) devices.
Comparison to other interfaces
A modern CLI
Since the commands available in command line interfaces can be many, complex operations can be performed using a short sequence of words and symbols. This allows greater efficiency and productivity once many commands are learned,
but reaching this level takes some time because the command words may not be easily discoverable or mnemonic
. Also, using the command line can become slow and error-prone when users must enter long commands comprising many parameters or several different filenames at once. However, windows, icons, menus, pointer
) interfaces present users with many widgets
that represent and can trigger some of the system's available commands.
GUIs can be made quite hard when dialogs are buried deep in a system or moved about to different places during redesigns. Also, icons and dialog boxes are usually harder for users to script.
WIMPs extensively use modes
, as the meaning of all keys and clicks on specific positions on the screen are redefined all the time. Command-line interfaces use modes only in limited forms, such as for current directory and environment variables
Most modern operating systems
provide both a GUI and some level of a CLI, although the GUIs usually receive more attention. The GUI is usually WIMP-based, although occasionally other metaphors surface, such as those used in Microsoft Bob
, 3dwm, or File System Visualizer
Graphical user interface (GUI) wrappers find a way around the command-line interface
versions (CLI) of (typically) Linux
software applications and their text-based user interfaces
or typed command labels. While command-line or text-based applications allow users to run a program non-interactively, GUI wrappers atop them avoid the steep learning curve
of the command-line, which requires commands to be typed on the keyboard
. By starting a GUI wrapper, users
can intuitively interact
with, start, stop, and change its working parameters, through graphical icons
and visual indicators of a desktop environment
, for example. Applications may also provide both interfaces, and when they do the GUI is usually a WIMP wrapper around the command-line version. This is especially common with applications designed for Unix-like
operating systems. The latter used to be implemented first because it allowed the developers to focus exclusively on their product's functionality without bothering about interface details such as designing icons and placing buttons. Designing programs this way also allows users to run the program in a shell script
Three-dimensional graphical user interfaces (3D GUIs)
Several attempts have been made to create a multi-user three-dimensional environment or 3D GUI, including Sun's Project Looking Glass
, which was similar to Project Looking Glass, BumpTop
, where users can manipulate documents and windows with realistic movement and physics as if they were physical documents, and the Croquet Project
, which moved to the Open Cobalt
and Open Croquet efforts.
The zooming user interface
(ZUI) is a related technology that promises to deliver the representation benefits of 3D environments without their usability drawbacks of orientation problems and hidden objects. It is a logical advance on the GUI, blending some three-dimensional
movement with two-dimensional
vector objects. In 2006, Hillcrest Labs
introduced the first zooming user interface for television.
For typical computer displays, three-dimensional
is a misnomer—their displays are two-dimensional, for example, Metisse characterized itself as a "2.5-dimensional
" UI. Semantically, however, most graphical user interfaces use three dimensions. With height and width, they offer a third dimension of layering or stacking screen elements over one another. This may be represented visually on screen through an illusionary transparent effect, which offers the advantage that information in background windows may still be read, if not interacted with. Or the environment may simply hide the background information, possibly making the distinction apparent by drawing a drop shadow
effect over it.
Some environments use the methods of 3D graphics
to project virtual three-dimensional user interface objects onto the screen. These are often shown in use in science fiction films
(see below for examples). As the processing power of computer graphics hardware increases, this becomes less of an obstacle to a smooth user experience.
The use of three-dimensional graphics has become increasingly common in mainstream operating systems, from creating attractive interfaces, termed eye candy
, to functional purposes only possible using three dimensions. For example, user switching is represented by rotating a cube that faces are each user's workspace, and window management are represented via a Rolodex
-style flipping mechanism in Windows Vista
(see Windows Flip 3D
). In both cases, the operating system transforms windows on-the-fly while continuing to update the content of those windows.
In science fiction
"UI" by itself is still usually pronounced /
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Last edited on 13 June 2021, at 02:14
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