What is GUI or Graphical User Interface?

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By Vijay Singh Khatri

In a world where the Command-line Interface (CLI) was ruling, GUI (Graphical User Interface) made its debut and became the new normal. Before it, only those who knew the commands could operate a computer, but GUI made it possible for even kids to access the computer functions easily with its easy-to-use icons.

This guide is for everyone who wishes to learn about GUI, how it works, how it differs from the command-line interface, and why it should be used.

What is GUI?

Graphical User Interface is a technology that makes it easy for users to operate computers, laptops, and mobile phones. It uses interactive icons, windows, buttons, tabs, menus, cursors, dialog boxes, etc., which guide a user to the related actions that one can perform. A user does not need to learn commands to access the functions. Instead, by clicking on an icon or reading the text in a dialog box, one can understand the action that needs to be taken.

In simple words, it is the graphical representation of commands or applications and their functions that a user can perform by merely reading them rather than learning the commands.

History of GUI

Today, most operating systems incorporate a GUI, but do you know who invented it?

It was invented by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. It was 1979, and Alan Kay was the mind behind it. But it made its commercial debut with Apple’s Lisa computers in 1983. The price was high, and no one showed any interest. Then later, Macintosh adopted it in 1984, and GUI saw the light of success.

Young Bill Gates couldn’t keep his hands off this technology that could change the way personal computers could work. The Mac GUI was copied and incorporated into MS-DOS computers. Apple and Microsoft fought over it, but Apple lost, and Microsoft made a fortune from a stolen idea and is ruling the market even today.

How Does GUI Work?

It works on a model-view-controller software program. It separates the commanding codes from how the user interacts with data. It means that a user talks to the computer in its own language, and the action taken by the user is translated into the machine language to display the desired output.

To perform different functions in a GUI, a user uses the cursor. By clicking, a drop-down menu displays the possible actions. These instructions are written in human-readable language. So, even if the user does not understand the nitty-gritty of the application, he can take suitable action.

The GUI of software differs from the GUI of an OS. They work independently of each other. When you touch an icon on your phone, it displays a different GUI with separate commands. Your smartphone’s GUI does not interfere with applications’ GUI but works in the background.

Elements of GUI

The different objects and elements that constitute a GUI are:

  • Cursor or Pointer: This is your mouse that guides you through the screen. It helps you to point on an icon and access the application.
  • Icon: The graphical program or file allows you to enter the program or take related actions.
  • Button: It is a simple button that gives you an option to perform or not perform a function.
  • Menu: A menu of actions that a user can take based on the program.
  • Ribbon: It is a bar that includes several icons depicting several actions that can be taken.
  • Dialog Box: It is a box that appears to incite further action like clicking OK or asking for input.
  • Window: It is a rectangular area on the screen where a program runs.

The other elements are toolbars, menu bars, tabs, etc. These, when combined, make it easier for a user to operate a computer system.

Examples of GUI

Examples of the GUI include macOS, Windows OS, Linux’s Ubuntu, Chrome OS, Android OS, etc. Are you a Windows User? Then you can see a live example. Power up your Windows PC.

The home screen displays several icons on the left-hand side. There is a taskbar in the nether area, which includes the Windows icon, a search bar, and other icons that can be accessed through a single click.

To access an application, you move your cursor, and as you hover it over an icon, it displays the name, e.g., My Computer, Recycle Bin, Chrome, Skype, etc. Right-click on the icon, and it will display a series of actions you can take, such as open, delete, properties, manage, etc. If you double-click the icon, it will open up the window where the program runs. This window is different from the home screen. It also has different icons for taking different actions related to the program.

This is how a GUI practically works. It’s simple. Even a novice can use it.

How Does it Differ from CLI?

There are some significant differences between Command-Line Interface and Graphical User Interface, which are discussed here.

  • For using CLI, you must be well-versed with commands. In GUI, you don’t need to remember anything, as a menu appears and guides you further.
  • If you don’t remember a command, it isn’t easy to access the output. In GUI, you can learn about the possible actions from the menu.
  • CLI is faster as the user can directly access the program required. In GUI, you must go through different windows to reach your destination.
  • CLI requires lesser memory when compared to GUI.
  • CLI displays the information in textual or file format, while GUI can present it in any form; text, image, video, etc.
  • CLI is meant for advanced users, while GUI is for all classes of users, be it a novice or an expert.
  • Only a command can prompt an output, while in GUI, there is no need for a written command.
  • In CLI, there is no use of pointing devices while GUI needs it. Although, it can also work smoothly with keyboard shortcuts if you remember them.
  • In CLI, typing mistakes can cause problems, while in GUI, there is no risk of a failed command due to typos.

Advantages of GUI

The various benefits of using GUI are:

  • It is simple, beautiful, and can be used by anyone.
  • Even a beginner can navigate through the GUI with a bit of help.
  • Everything is displayed in the form of icons, so even if you don’t understand what it does, you can click on the icon, go through its menu, or click it open to learn about it. It encourages exploring the system.
  • The computer communicates every response to the user through its interactive dialog boxes, inciting further action or withdrawal.

Disadvantages of Using GUI

GUI is no exception when it comes to disadvantages. So, here are some of them.

  • One can only perform the functions which have been displayed.
  • The speed is slower than CLI.
  • Programmers prefer CLI.
  • A user cannot change the basic functions of the program. If they want to perform any other tasks not displayed on the menu, they must know the commands to perform them.


A GUI is more user-driven, while CLI is more programming-driven. Earlier, when only programmers or those who knew commands could use a computer, GUI changed the scenario. Today, if people can use computers in every household, the reason is GUI. The market today is consumer-driven. Thus, those looking forward to making a career in GUI development have a great scope.

Even in non-technical jobs, a computer has become necessary, and GUI makes it easier for people to explore a PC and use it. It is a technology that has a great future ahead and is beneficial for those who learn it.

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