Updated: 11/16/2019 by Computer Hope
Illustration: Elements of an operating system GUI.

A GUI (graphical user interface) is a system of interactive visual components for computer software. A GUI displays objects that convey information, and represent actions that can be taken by the user. The objects change color, size, or visibility when the user interacts with them.

GUI objects include icons, cursors, and buttons. These graphical elements are sometimes enhanced with sounds, or visual effects like transparency and drop shadows.

A GUI is considered to be more user-friendly than a text-based command-line interface, such as MS-DOS, or the shell of Unix-like operating systems.

The GUI was first developed at Xerox PARC by Alan Kay, Douglas Engelbart, and a group of other researchers in 1981. Later, Apple introduced the Lisa computer with a GUI on January 19, 1983.

GUI overview

Below is a picture of the Windows 7 desktop and an example of a GUI.

Windows 7 Desktop


If you need an example of a command line for comparison, see our command line page.

How do you pronounce GUI?

GUI is pronounced by saying each letter (G-U-I). It sometimes is also pronounced as "gooey."

How does a GUI work?

A GUI uses windows, icons, and menus to carry out commands, such as opening, deleting, and moving files. Although a GUI operating system is primarily navigated using a mouse, a keyboard can also be used via keyboard shortcuts or the arrow keys.

As an example, if you wanted to open a program on a GUI system, you would move the mouse pointer to the program's icon and double-click it.

What are the benefits of GUI?

Unlike a command-line operating system or CUI, like Unix or MS-DOS, GUI operating systems are much easier to learn and use because commands do not need to be memorized. Additionally, users do not need to know any programming languages. Because of their ease of use and more modern appearance, GUI operating systems have come to dominate today's market.

What are examples of a GUI operating system?

Are all operating systems GUI?

No. Early command line operating systems like MS-DOS and even some versions of Linux today have no GUI interface.

What are examples of a GUI interface?

  1. GNOME
  2. KDE
  3. Any Microsoft program, including Word, Excel, and Outlook.
  4. Internet browsers, such as Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Firefox.

How does the user interact with a GUI?

A pointing device, such as the mouse, is used to interact with nearly all aspects of the GUI. More modern (and mobile) devices also utilize a touch screen. However, as stated in previous sections, it is also possible to navigate a GUI using a keyboard.

Does a GUI require a mouse?

No. Nearly all GUI interfaces, including Microsoft Windows, have options for navigating the interface with a keyboard only.

Aero, Computer acronyms, Front end, Interface, Microsoft Windows, MS-DOS, Operating system terms, UI, WIMP