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What Are Windows Icons?

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

Computer icons are incorporated into any graphical user interface. Icons are small pictograms of standard sizes that depict objects, actions, and symbols. In window-based systems, 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 introduced in 1970 by the Xerox Research Center and widely deployed by the Mac OS and Microsoft Windows platforms, icons make computer novices feel more comfortable with operating systems, learn faster and interact more efficiently. Icons can be used to replace or supplement text commands. Widely 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 several graphic formats for storing icons. Microsoft Windows systems use Windows icons in the platform-dependent 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 editing software is generally available for the Windows and Mac OS systems, while Unix users can create their icons with just about any graphic editor.

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

Pixel dimensions of all icons are platform dependent. For example, Windows icons are specified as images in 16 and 256-color gammas as well as True Color images with alpha channel. Windows icons are supplied 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, icons 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 images. Other platforms such as Windows Mobile can use standard icons of other sizes, such as 24x24 pixels.

Numerous independent vendors 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 provides royalty-free icons individually and in matching sets incorporating icons drawn a common style or theme.

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Classic Hardware Icon Set Hardware Icon Set is a library of hardware related icons, available in ICO, PNG, BMP and GIF formats and 16x16, 24x24 and 32x32 sizes. The library features both 32-bit and 256-color icons.

People Icons for Vista People Icons for Vista illustrate people of various jobs, social and family roles. They are created in Vista style and are available with or without shadows. Icons are delivered in various formats and sizes.

Business Software Icons Business Software Icons bring you a wonderful pack of XP-style icons for bookkeeping software and alike. The set is of fine quality and illustrates the whole world of business.

16x16 Pixel Toolbar Icons 16 x 16 Pixel Toolbar Icons collection contains everything that are necessery for your web project or software toolbar.

20x20 Free Toolbar Icons 20x20 Free Toolbar Icons library has everything you need for your web site or software toolbar.