Acronym Monday: GUI

What does GUI mean in plain English?

GUI is pronounced like “gooey.” It stands for graphical user interface, and it’s a computer term that I think we can all be thankful for. The first GUI paved the way for all the easy-to-use programs we take advantage of every day.

What is a GUI?

Think about what you see when you start up your computer and log in. You don’t see a place to enter commands line-by-line. You see a series of buttons and icons you can click on with a mouse. There are windows you can drag around, resize, minimize, close, and stack on top of other windows. There are menus you can navigate by clicking, and you can drag files from one place to another. These features of the modern computer we all have come to know are aspects of a GUI.

History of the GUI

GUIs in computers go back even to the 1970s and 80s when Apple was the first to make a successful commercial product with a GUI. Previous to that, computers weren’t really used by the average person, not only because they were large and expensive, but also because it was difficult to learn to use them. With command line interfaces (CLI), the predecessor to the GUI, you had to type commands to do everything.

Think of it this way: every time you click something with your mouse now, you would have had to enter in a command to do it on a CLI. It gets tedious really fast, and you have to remember all the commands. The GUI made it easier for the average person to pick up a computer and start using it quickly. It was so influential, in fact, that its features helped Microsoft name Windows, their excessively popular operating system, since one of the biggest selling points of the original Windows machine was that you could have overlapping windows.

GUIs didn’t just make computers a better consumer product. It even made it easier for programmers to work. Instead of wasting time navigating with commands, they could click between windows and save lots of time.

GUIs Today

As personal computers continued to develop, the GUI grew with them. Now, we can have so many windows open at once, that we scarcely remember what’s at the bottom. We even transitioned from using a mouse to using our fingertips with touch-screens. GUIs are in some ways responsible for the commercial explosion of smartphones. If they weren’t easy to use, they would never have been as popular as they are now.

We all have the GUI to thank for the mobile-first lifestyle we all participate in today.