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What Are Icons?

A number of independent vendors are supplying 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 are defined for Windows icons, Mac icons, and PNG icons.

Computer icons are an integral part of any modern GUI. Icons are small pictograms of standardized sizes that depict objects, actions, and symbols. In graphical user interfaces, icons are used as a faster, more intuitive way to communicate with the user. Icons representing standard elements of a user interface are better visible than text, can be recognized faster, and are certainly easier on the eyes.

Originally developed in 1970 by the Xerox Research Center and widely deployed by the Mac OS and Microsoft Windows platforms, icons make new users feel more comfortable with operating systems, learn faster and interact more efficiently. Icons can be employed to replace or supplement text messages. Commonly used in menus, toolbars, on buttons and in new ribbon-style user interfaces, icons have come a long way from the original concept.

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

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

Pixel dimensions of all icons are operating system dependent. For example, Windows icons are defined as pictures in 16 and 256-color gammas as well as True Color images with alpha channel. Windows icons come in standard resolutions of 16x16, 32x32, and 48x48 pixels. Windows Vista implements new standards for Windows icons, including icons in sizes of up to 256x256 pixels in True Color only. Optionally, images 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 older versions of Windows and for lower resolution images. Other platforms such as Windows Mobile can employ standard icons of other resolutions, e.g. 24x24 pixels.

Numerous independent designers are offering custom icons. Aha-Soft offers a variety of Windows icons, Mac icons, and PNG icons in all sizes and resolutions standard to those systems. The company sells royalty-free icons individually and in matching sets incorporating icons drawn a common style or theme.

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Free Business Desktop Icons Free Business Desktop Icons is a collection of 10 stock icons to be used in commercial and personal projects, including software applications, webpages, blogs, and presentations. The graphics are free for personal, frequent and commercial use.

Program Toolbar Icons Add professionally designed toolbar icons to your recent projects. Program Toolbar Icons are readily available, royalty-free graphics of items, actions and symbols that are commonly used in application toolbars.

Standard Chess Icons develop chess games and Web sites easier with Standard Chess Icons! All white and black figures are provided as 2D and 3D icons, the images of chess board and timer are also present.

Classic Hardware Icon Set Hardware Icon Set is a pack of hardware-related icons in a traditional Windows style, available in PNG, ICO, BMP and GIF formats and 16x16, 24x24 and 32x32 sizes.

16x16 Free Application Icons 16x16 Free Application Icons pack contains everything that are required for your web site or software toolbar.