Updated: 04/12/2021 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.

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.

How do you pronounce GUI?

GUI is most often pronounced by saying each letter (G-U-I or gee-you-eye). It sometimes is also pronounced as "gooey."

GUI overview

A GUI includes GUI objects like icons, cursors, and buttons. These graphical elements are sometimes enhanced with sounds, or visual effects like transparency and drop shadows. Using these objects, a user can use the computer without having to know commands.

Below is a picture of the Windows 7 desktop and an example of a GUI operating system. In this example, you could use a mouse to move a pointer and click a program icon to start a program.

Windows 7 Desktop


For an example of a command line for comparison, see our command line page.

What are the elements of a GUI?

To make a GUI as user-friendly as possible, there are different elements and objects that the user use to interact with the software. Below is a list of each of these with a brief description.

  • Button - A graphical representation of a button that performs an action in a program when pressed
  • Dialog box - A type of window that displays additional information, and asks a user for input.
  • Icon - Small graphical representation of a program, feature, or file.
  • Menu - List of commands or choices offered to the user through the menu bar.
  • Menu bar - Thin, horizontal bar containing the labels of menus.
  • Ribbon - Replacement for the file menu and toolbar that groups programs activities together.
  • Tab - Clickable area at the top of a window that shows another page or area.
  • Toolbar - Row of buttons, often near the top of an application window, that controls software functions.
  • Window - Rectangular section of the computer's display that shows the program currently being used.

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. With a command line interface, you'd need to know the commands to navigate to the directory containing the program, list the files, and then run the file.

What are the benefits of GUI?

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.

Unlike a command-line operating system or CUI, like Unix or MS-DOS, GUI operating systems are 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. Apple macOS
  2. Microsoft Windows
  3. GNOME
  4. KDE
  5. Any Microsoft program, including Word, Excel, and Outlook.
  6. 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.

Does a GUI require a mouse?

No. Nearly all GUI interfaces, including Microsoft Windows, have options for navigating the interface with a keyboard, if you know the keyboard shortcuts.

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