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What Are Icons?

Computer icons are incorporated into any graphical user interface. Icons are small pictures of standardized resolutions that depict objects, actions, and other concepts. In graphical user interfaces, icons are used as a quicker, more intuitive way to communicate with the user. Icons representing typical elements of a user interface are more visually appealing than text, can be recognized faster, and are easier for new computer users.

Originally introduced in 1970 by the Xerox Research Center and widely popularized by the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows systems, icons make new users feel more comfortable with computer systems, learn faster and work more efficiently. Icons can be used 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 graphic formats for storing icons. Microsoft Windows systems use Windows icons in the platform-dependent 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 Apple platforms, while Unix users can design their icons with any graphic editor.

As a rule of thumb, icons are square pictures that come in a variety of standard sizes and color resolutions. Most platforms support icons of 16x16 to 128x128 pixels, while some platforms readily accept icon images as large as 512x512 pixels. The large 512x512 pixel icons were first employed in Mac OS Leopard.

Pixel dimensions of all icons are platform dependent. For example, Windows icons are defined as pictures in 16 and 256-color gammas as well as True Color pictures with alpha channel. Windows icons come in standard sizes 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, images of 128x128 and 512x512 pixels are supported. Interestingly, the higher resolution versions of Windows Vista icons are stored in compressed PNG format instead of Windows ICO used in older versions of Windows and for lower resolution icons. Other systems such as Windows Mobile can use 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 platforms. The company sells royalty-free icons individually and in matching sets incorporating icons drawn a common style or theme.


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Large Weather Icons Large Weather Icons depict a number of weather conditions that are common for software, weather Web sites, and mobile gadgets. The icons arprovided in typical sizes standard to Windows, Mac OS, and other platforms. The largest versions are huge 512x512 pixel images with vector sources in Adobe Illustrator (.ai) format easily affordable and ready to be printed or used in presentations in highest quality.

Windows Toolbar Icons Windows Toolbar Icons will give a new twist to your GUI replacing the regular icons with fine-looking royalty-free icons in Vista style. The icons have bright colors and smooth edges.

Medical Icon Set Icons for medicine and chemistry: ambulance car, snake cup, pill, tablet, tooth, phial, syringe, test-tube, skull, bones, molecules and others.

Plastic Toolbar Icons Give your database, software or Web application a unique, attractive look with a stunning new set of icons. Plastic Toolbar Icons are professionally designed and hand-crafted in all the available sizes.

Accounting Development Icons Refine an accounting package or financial application with beautifull graphics. Accounting Development Icons illustrate various concepts and objects associated with accounting and bookkeeping, such as currencies, financial symbols, files, customers, and more.