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What Are Mac Icons?

Computer icons are an integral part of any graphical user interface. Icons are small pictures of standard resolutions that depict objects, actions, and other concepts. In window-based systems, icons are used as a quicker, more intuitive way to communicate with the user. Icons depicting common elements of a user interface are more visually appealing than text, can be recognized faster, and are certainly easier on the eyes.

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

There are several file formats for storing icons. Microsoft Windows systems store Windows icons in the platform-dependent ICO format. Mac OS systems store 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 their icons with any image editor.

Generally speaking, icons are square pictures 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 ultra-high definition 512x512 pixel icons were first used in Mac OS Leopard.

Pixel resolutions of all icons are operating system dependent. For example, Windows icons are defined as images in 16 and 256-color gammas as well as True Color pictures 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, 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 older versions of Windows and for lower resolution images. Other systems such as Windows Mobile can use standard icons of other sizes, such as 24x24 pixels.

Numerous independent designers are providing custom icons. Aha-Soft offers a variety 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 incorporating icons drawn a common style or theme.

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