The graphical user interface, or GUI, is the most common way in which people interact with modern computers. It is so common and universal these days that most people many not even think about it. However, the GUI was not invented until the early 1980s, and did not become widespread until later in that decade.
The Best Known Graphical User Interface Examples
Some of the best known graphical user interface examples include Microsoft Windows, the Apple user interface, and the touchscreens used on smartphones and tablets. In each of these cases, users interact with the computer by manipulating icons that appear on the screen. This is in contrast to the older use of typed commands on a command line.
While the earliest computers had to be controlled directly by manipulating switches or using punch cards, designers quickly realized the advantages of having some sort of higher level user interface. The earliest attempts to do so involved the use of a command line. The user would then type in a command that would be executed by the operating system.
This style of interface remained widespread for several decades. The earliest graphical user interface examples are the Apple II, the IBM PC, and the Commodore 64, and they all used such interfaces. For example, someone who was using an IBM PC running DOS would be faced with a command line prompt such as “C:>” when their computer started up.
To do anything, they would then have to type in a command and hit the Enter key. The computer would then execute this command, and once it had finished, a new command prompt would be displayed.
Keeping It Simple
Remembering all of the commands could be difficult for many ordinary users, so computer software companies began exploring alternatives. The earliest graphical user interface examples were developed at Xerox PARC, a research center, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These involved the display of icons on a screen that represented programs or files on the computer.
The user would then interact directly with the operating system by manipulating these icons. For example, to run a program, the user would not type in the name of the executable file. Instead, they would click or tap on the icon representing the program to run it.
While there were early experiments with touchscreens, the technology was not yet up to the task. Instead, the use of the mouse quickly became standard. By moving the mouse around, the user could move a cursor on the screen. Mice also had at least one, and often two, buttons that could be used to perform various actions.
The use of the GUI became widespread after Microsoft released Windows 3.1 in 1992 to replace MS-DOS. Today, virtually all home computers come with operating systems that use these interfaces. Windows, Apple, and Linux machines all use GUIs.
In addition, other good graphical user interface examples are the many smartphones and tablets. Touchscreen technology has finally reached the point where it is cheap and practical enough for broad use. In the future, it seems likely that the GUI will continue to be the standard.