What is a Graphical User Interface?


Note. Image is from DATA UNIT AG. (https://www.dataunit.ch/was-ist-eine-grafische-benutzeroberflache/)

Despite its frequent use in the computer science and electronics fields, it is not always clear what is meant by the term “graphical user interface”.

Here we explain this term and present some of its best applications.

What is a graphical user interface?

A graphical user interface, or GUI, is an interface that allows electronic devices to be controlled interactively using visual representations.

Some history

The first GUI was developed in the 1970s at the Xerox Palo Alto research lab and commercialized in the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows operating systems.

As you probably know, the first computers worked with text commands. That is, in order to execute anything in a computer, you had to type a text such as “open document” or the fabulous “delete”.

This process was, of course, somewhat clumsy and computers rather hostile environments for users who had to know these commands in advance if they wanted to perform simple tasks.

A graphical interface is the screen that sits between the user and the actions. That is, by moving a cursor over the screen and double-clicking something, you can open a file (send the command to open the file).

This possibility of operation is done using icons such as buttons, scroll bars, windows, tabs, menus and cursors. Interactive features such as voice commands and touch screens are integrated into many current graphical user interfaces.


What is a graphical user interface?

How does a graphical user interface work?

Without giving a very technical explanation, the principles by which a graphical user interface works correspond to a Model View Controller type software model that separates the internal representation of the information from how it is presented to the user, resulting in a platform that shows users what functions are possible rather than asking them to type command lines.

Users interact with the information through the operation of visual elements designed to respond in a way that corresponds to their data content and supports the actions required to complete the user’s task.

Example of a graphical user interface

Sketchpad, probably the first computer-based graphic design program, was developed by Ivan Sutherland in 1962 when he was at MIT. It consisted of an optical pen that allowed users to create and modify objects in engineering drawings in real time using guided graphics.

Modern operating systems and graphical user interfaces are integrated into virtually all interactive applications. Examples of graphical user interfaces can be found in ATMs, self-service checkouts, airline ticket check-ins, video games, smartphones, and computers.

Advantages of graphical interfaces

The clearest advantage is that the user can more easily use the device in which this type of interface is implemented. The metaphor corresponds to the everyday user experience, such as “drag and drop” to move documents from one place to another, or in appropriate icons, such as a recycle bin, which clarifies that the user is going to delete a file.

Difference between command line interface and graphical user interface

Textual user interfaces, also called command-line interfaces or non-graphical user interfaces, use text commands to communicate with a computer program.

In general, system developers and administrators rely on command line interfaces to configure computers, manage computer files, and open program functions that would otherwise not be available in a graphical user interface.

Difference between WebUI and graphical user interface

A WebUI, or web-based graphical user interface, refers to a user-software interaction that runs on a web server, with the web browser and downloaded and displayed web page forming the user interface.

Thanks to technologies such as Flash, Java, JavaScript, and Silverlight, interactions such as “drag and drop,” audio playback, drawing on the screen, and keyboard and mouse access are possible.

Graphical web interfaces are platform-independent, require no installation or software development, are user-independent and therefore easy to update, provide a dynamic user experience, and are cost-effective.

Now that you are aware of the importance of a graphical user interface, you can discover what the differences are between the various interfaces and what purpose they serve.

At Data Unit, we can provide customized graphical user interfaces for our products within our SAP Business One industry-specific offering. You can always contact us if you would like more information.

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