Graphical User Interface (GUI)
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Graphical User Interface (GUI)

As the saying goes ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, cryptic commands gave way to graphical representation. Such an interface is called a graphical user interface (GUI)

Poor human-computer interface has always been a problem area in using computers. However good a user interface is, there is always something that is wanting according to users who use it and thus a scope for improvement.

In the earlier days when computers made a beginning, they were not very powerful. They were also intended for use by users who were computer literates. Thus only cryptic commands were provided as a user interface to the operating system. The problem with these commands was that the users had to remember them and know exactly what each one stood for. The advent of personal computers brought about a new paradigm. Computer users were no longer only computer literates and so users no longer wanted the cryptic human-computer interface. The interface ought to become more user-friendly. As the saying goes ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’, cryptic commands gave way to graphical representation. Such an interface is called a graphical user interface (GUI). For example, MS-Windows and X-Windows.

Windowing Technology

Computers of today are very powerful. They can do more than one job at a time. With any windows product, the screen can be split into many partitions of different sizes. Each of these partitions is called a window. Hence the name windowing technology. Each window can run an application and is independent of others. Characteristics of a window are title, borders, work areas and command area. Users running an application in a window can configure it to have specific settings. Windows can overlap. The windowing software reserves separate areas in memory for different windows and allow execution on them as if each were executed on a separate terminal. But screen display shows all windows simultaneously. A user can use only one input device at a time. Then where does the user input go? Or in which window will user interaction show up? The user has a choice of selecting a window and bringing it on the top of the screen. The window on top is said to be in-focus and hence will receive user interaction.

Graphical user interface came into existence as a substitute to the less user-friendly cryptic commands. Also cryptic commands were difficult to remember especially when commands had several options. In a GUI, commands are grouped into various levels of hierarchy and when the user selects a group, commands belonging to that group are displayed. This makes a GUI user-friendly and the user runs an application without having to know about the computer and its working.

An important feature supported by all GUI-based applications is the ‘HELP’. HELP assists the user in getting to know everything about the application. A fundamental concept of windowing environment is what is called ‘event-driven programming’. An application running in a windows environment responds to each command from the users and waits for the next. Events could be a mouse click, mouse movement, keyboard input and so on. The mouse is a very handy input device used in a windowing environment since it gives the user ease in navigation.


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