What is a Computer Icon

A computer icon is a small image used in graphical user interfaces (GUI) to supplement the presentation of textual info to users. Most modern computers can handle bitmap graphics easily, so icons are widely used on most operating system to assist users. Icons usually ranges from 16x16 pixels up to 256x256 pixels (Windows Vista or later). Some operating systems feature icons up to 512x512 pixels. Icon size can be related to the size of the video device or to the amount of information that must be displayed.

Computer icons may represent applications, files, folders or devices on computer operating systems. In modern usage today, icons can represent anything that the users want it to: website URLs, macro commands or processes, or any other indicators. User friendliness also demands error-free operations, where icons are self-explanatory, distinct from each other, and easily visible under all possible user setups.

Icons may also be found on the desktop, menus, toolbars and most of professional computer software. Icons are made more user-friendly by being very distinct from each other. Additionally, an icon set may also have unifying features that show that similar icons are related to each other. Actually, all of the major modern computer operating systems have the ability to use an icon-based GUI to display information to end users. This is evident in the usage of the term "icon" in the WIMP computing paradigm (for Windows, Icons, Menu, Pointers).

Most functions in a GUI computer operating system or application are represented by an icon. Placing the cursor on the icon, and clicking or double-clicking the mouse button starts the corresponding function or program. A computer icon must be original, distinctive and tiny. It must be useful on a wide variety of monitors set at different resolutions. This work is further complicated by the need to create several sets of function icons for several types of views in several types of computer operating systems. For example, the GUI guidelines in one operating system might specify the need to create sets of 16, 32, and 48 pixel icons for any program while the GUI guidelines in another system might specify sets of 16, 24, 48 and 128 pixel icons.

Icon Software

Icon software, such as an icon editor or icon manager, is software for creating, editing, extracting or organizing computer icons.

The main function performed by an icon editor is generation of icons from images. An icon editor resamples a source image to the resolution and color depth required for an icon. Other functions performed by icon editors are icon extraction from executable files (exe, dll), creation of icon libraries, or saving individual images of an icon.

Icons underwent a change in appearance from the early 8-bit pixel art to a more photorealistic appearance featuring effects such as sharpening, softening, edge enhancement, a glossy or glass-like appearance, or drop shadows which are rendered with an semitransparency alpha channel.

Icon editors used on these early computer operating systems usually contain a rudimentary raster image editor capable of modifying images of an icon pixel by pixel, by using simple drawing tools, or by applying simple image filters. Professional icon designers seldom modify icons inside an icon editor and use a more advanced drawing or 3D modeling application instead.

Icon manager software allows users to easily categorize their favorite icons with a tree-structure organizational system for fast icon browsing and finding. Additionally, users're able to import or export icons between their icon database and icon containing files, such as ICO, ICL, EXE, DLL, or popular image formats.

Icon software is generally only used on Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh operating systems. Unix-like operating systems generally use standard image formats such as PNG, SVG, and XPM for icons, which are created and edited with standard image programs like GIMP or Inkscape.

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