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What Are Icons?

Many independent vendors are offering custom icons in sizes and resolutions standard to certain computer platforms. The article explains what icons are, how they are used and implemented in various systems, and what standards exist for Windows icons, Mac icons, and PNG icons.

Computer icons are incorporated into any graphical user interface. Icons are small pictures of standardized resolutions that visually represent objects, actions, and symbols. In window-based systems, icons are used as a faster, more intuitive way to communicate with the user. Icons representing common elements of a user interface are better visible than text, can be recognized faster, and are easier for new computer users.

Originally developed in 1970 by the Xerox Research Center and widely popularized by the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows platforms, icons make computer novices feel more comfortable with computer systems, learn quicker and interact more efficiently. Icons can be employed to replace or supplement text commands. Commonly used in menus, toolbars, on buttons and in the latest ribbon-style user interfaces, icons have come a long way from the original concept.

There are multiple file formats for storing icons. The Windows systems store Windows icons in the platform-specific ICO format. Mac OS systems store Mac icons in their specific formats, while Unix-based systems employ PNG icons for most applications. As such, icon software is generally available for the Windows and Apple systems, while Unix users can create their icons with any image editor.

As a rule of thumb, icons are square images that come in a number of standard sizes and color resolutions. Most systems use icon sizes of 16x16 to 128x128 pixels, while some platforms readily accept icon images as large as 512x512 pixels. The high-resolution 512x512 pixel icons were first used in Mac OS Leopard.

Pixel dimensions of all icons are platform dependent. For example, Windows icons are specified as pictures in 16 and 256-color gammas as well as True Color pictures with alpha channel. Windows icons are supplied in standard resolutions of 16x16, 32x32, and 48x48 pixels. Windows Vista defines new standards for Windows icons, including icons in resolutions of up to 256x256 pixels in True Color only. Optionally, icons of 128x128 and 512x512 pixels are supported. Interestingly, the high-resolution Windows Vista icons are stored in compressed PNG format instead of Windows ICO used in previous versions of Windows and for lower resolution icons. Other platforms such as Windows Mobile can use standard icons of other sizes, such as 24x24 pixels.

Many independent vendors are offering custom icons. Aha-Soft offers a wide selection of Windows icons, Mac icons, and PNG icons in all sizes and resolutions common to those platforms. The company sells royalty-free icons individually and in matching sets that include icons drawn a common style or theme.

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Standard Software Icons Standard Software Icons is set of eye-caching software icons meticulously created by professional artists. This set is the best selection for navigation panels and toolbars of all sorts.

32x32 Free Design Icons 32x32 Free Design Icons collection has everything that are required for your web page or software toolbar.

Large Weather Icons Large Weather Icons represent different weather conditions that are common for software, weather Web sites, and mobile gadgets. The images come in all resolutions standard to Windows, Mac OS, and other platforms. The largest versions are huge 512x512 pixel icons with vector sources in Adobe Illustrator (.ai) format easily affordable and ready to be printed or used in presentations in highest resolution.

Business Icon Set Business Icon Set is a library of top- quality stock icons for use in programs and on websites. They are delivered in a variety of formats, sizes and color schemes.

Database Icon Set Database Icon Set brings you lots of bright and colorful icons for database software development. The images are available in all the typical icon sizes and file formats include PNG, BMP, ICO and GIF.