Updated: 12/10/2023 by Computer Hope
Windows My Computer, Computer, and This PC

An icon is a small symbol or image that represents a program, file, or function. They are commonly found in GUI (Graphical User Interface) operating systems, including Apple macOS, Microsoft Windows, and Linux variants. They are essentially visual shortcuts that allow users to quickly access and interact with various items on their desktop, Dock, or in file management systems.

Icons are helpful because they allow users to identify the purpose of an object on a computer system. They also save users time because they bypass the need to navigate through many folders or type a specific command to access a program or other object. The image shows My Computer icons in different versions of Microsoft Windows, an example of a traditional icon.

Why are icons designed how they are?

Computer icons are often designed to resemble flattened versions of everyday objects using a technique called skeuomorphism. This method is utilized because it makes icons relatable to items users have interacted with in the real world. For example, the My Computer icons shown on this page depict a desktop computer. As such, it would be safe to assume that activating one of these icons would display a computer's contents.

How do Icons work?

Chrome logo

When you click or double-click an icon, the associated file or program opens or another action is performed. You can think of icons as executable images. For example, if you were to double-click the Chrome icon on your desktop, Google's Internet browser would open.


Users can quickly rename any highlighted Windows icon by pressing F2, typing a new name, and then pressing Enter.

What is the small arrow on some icons?

Windows shortcut

Some icons have a small curved arrow in the lower-left corner. This symbol indicates the icon is a shortcut, meaning it points to another location on your computer where the original file is stored. A shortcut is useful in that it eliminates the need for you to remember where the file is on your computer.

A shortcut icon can link to an executable file that opens a program, document, or even a web page. If the shortcut is for a software, double-clicking it opens that program. If the shortcut links to a document or web page, the document opens in the appropriate editing program and the web page opens in your default Internet browser.

Apple Touch Icon, External icon, Favicon.ico, ICO, My Computer, Operating system terms, Shortcut, Sprite, Tile