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How Windows Displays itself

Before you read on as to how Windows displays itself you should have basic understanding of how screens work. I've written a very basic one-page article that accompanies this page.

The Windows graphical interface appears on your screen in a manner that is dictated by screen size, resolution and through the Graphical User Interface (GUI pronounced gooey) or the Windows Icons Menus Pointer (WIMP) system. I prefer the latter acronym but it's a bit out of date and it doesn't cover all of the new Windows 'widgets' including text boxes, check boxes, drop-down lists and so on.


You probably already know that you can control Windows' display of these widgets through changing the colour scheme or font size scheme, or by fine-tuning it using a list of 'items' in the Advanced section of the Display control panel applet.

Windows 3.0 Screenshot

Windows 3.0, released in 1989, had fewer widgets than Windows XP. You can count the widgets in the screenshot on the left quite easily. They are as follows:

  1. window borders
  2. control button
  3. maximise/minimise button
  4. title bar
  5. title bar text
  6. icons
  7. icon text
  8. menus
  9. workspace
  10. pointer
Windows Vista Screenshot

The forthcoming Windows Vista will have similar GUI make-up to Windows XP. I'm not going to try and list the widgets, but fortunately we now have much faster processors than back in 1989.

There will be some important changes in the Windows Vista GUI.


Icon measuring 32 pixels by 32 pixels

Standard Icon 32x32

Icon measuring 48 pixels by 48 pixels

Enlarged Icon 48x48


Here's where things get a bit messy. In the Control Panel Display applet one can select 'items' or 'GUI components' from a list and apply properties to each one such as font size, border width, fore colour and so forth. This has been available since Windows 3.1 (maybe 3.0 I can't remember) all the way through to Windows XP. Unfortunately Microsoft has never given us a definitive list containing all their widgets so instead we have a list of fewer 'items' that effect the many 'widgets'. Although this worked in the uncomplicated days of 1989 this list hasn't changed much since then and it doesn't really work any more. It's oversimplified and many of the options don't do what their name would indicate that they should. Some of the problems are down to the programmers (like me) who make software that runs on the Windows platform. A conscientious programmer should make sure that every widget he or she places on his program is correctly linked to the correct item from which it derides its visual properties. Many don't, but even with those who do Microsoft's messy attitude towards this means that the system is limited and astonishingly unpredictable.

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