I have been in the field long enough to remember when the term "screen" entered our lexicon. As difficult as it is to believe, the early systems on which I worked had no user interface (UI). These systems ran as "card image" production jobs back in a day when being a computer operator required a reasonably deep understanding of how computers worked.

Flashing forward to today: I cringe every time I hear a systems practitioner use the term "screen." The metaphor no longer fits the medium. The term somewhat fit back when the user dialog consumed 100% of available monitor real estate; however, the term lost its relevance the moment we moved to windowed environments.

With the above said, does your organization still use the term "screens" to describe an application's UI? Has anyone successfully purged the term from an organization? For those who do not use the term to describe UI dialog elements, what term do you use in place of “screen.”

  • 1
    Great question for ui.stackexchange.com (I don't think it's bad here either)
    – Nicole
    Mar 16, 2011 at 17:43
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    I call them tea bags - sounds more cool & modern. Old farts are not catching on though.
    – Job
    Mar 16, 2011 at 17:55
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    I love it when people want to change stuff, without themselves even knowing the reasons for doing so.
    – Rook
    Mar 16, 2011 at 19:11
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    @bit-wtiddler - Well, too bad you weren't there when it was first introduced to show them the error of their ways ;) Why do you think it's bad? I find it perfectly fitting, and very intuitive to most people.
    – Rook
    Mar 16, 2011 at 21:09
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    What problem are you trying to solve?
    – Jim G.
    Mar 16, 2011 at 21:20

6 Answers 6


Screen and Window are fairly interchangeable IMO. Screen isn't really outdated. Its just a name. Why do we call software problems bugs? Is it a real bug or something that resembles a bug? Not really... again just a name.

  • Other words that I have heard used depending on the program or window shown are: popup, dialog, view, etc.
    – Kenneth
    Mar 16, 2011 at 17:54
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    Can't resist ... we call it a bug because ... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper#Anecdotes Mar 16, 2011 at 21:29
  • hahaha... Harald I knew someone was likely to post that! I've never seen it in writing though... I half thought it was a myth! :)
    – Kenneth
    Mar 16, 2011 at 22:04
  • @Harald Scheirich: I met Admiral Grace "Nanosecond" Hopper when I was just a lowly enlisted computer programmer in the U.S. Navy. She was Captain Grace Hopper at the point in time. Mar 17, 2011 at 2:11
  • and I think the term bugs has passed its use-by date. Call them "defects", its a far more accurate term. Mar 17, 2011 at 3:07

My company and I still use screen because that it is well-understood. I am curious what words might be used by others. However, I doubt they are as useful when communicating to non-programmers. If you say "screen" it is clear as to what you are describing.

  • I can tell you that the term "screen" did not mean much to users when it was first introduced. System users were used to hand coding data on coding sheets. Completed coding sheets were sent to data entry where they were punched onto Hollerith-encoded cards. The resulting card deck became input to a nightly file update process. The update process produced a set of printed reports that were sent to the originating department. Mar 16, 2011 at 19:10
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    @bit, so did "cookie", "internet", "text box", and "mouse". But it doesn't take that many years for words in technology to spread. Once they stick it is hard to change it.
    – jzd
    Mar 16, 2011 at 19:16
  • @bit, also I am not even sure what a "System user", "Coding Sheets", or "Hollerith cards" even mean.
    – jzd
    Mar 16, 2011 at 19:18
  • @jzd: "System User" is a person who uses an application system. Back then, most jobs ran as sequence of programs that made up a system. Coding sheets where forms that were laid such that a user could enter data in boxes that mapped to positions on Hollerith-encoded punch cards. columbia.edu/acis/history/026.html Mar 16, 2011 at 19:38
  • @jzd: I found a wikipedia entry that explains what like was like when I first entered the field. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Mar 16, 2011 at 19:48

We do use the term "screen" in our team quite a lot, which - taking into account that our backend is a mainframe system almost as old as myself, written in COBOL - should not really come as a big surprise :-) There are hundreds of them in the system, and they are indeed called "screens" in the official user manual. For me it is a fitting name, I couldn't think of anything significantly better.

Our own frontend system is a Java web app, with a fairly small UI, consisting of about a dozen... pages. And we also have a client, run on a handheld device or a PC, whose manual AFAIR also uses the term "screen". Again these consume the full screen real estate on the handheld, so the term fits well to me.

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    +1 it may seem dated or colloquial, but it is generally apt. The screen is the primary output device for the operator, and becoming a primary input more and more. The fact a form takes up less than the entire real estate is irrelevant because in terms of the application, there is one active app and one element with focus within the context of most operating environments I am familiar with (multitouch might be different but I have little experience with them). This is not much different than how terminal/CLI behaved at a fundamental level.
    – JustinC
    Mar 17, 2011 at 3:56
  • @JustinC yeah, the upgrade to make people able to type on two screens at once like in the movie LUCY is still in development.
    – user251748
    Apr 12, 2017 at 18:17

I built an app that does take up the entire screen, so I'll stick with it. Watch the typical user and they end up maximizing all their windows anyway. Ask a Mac user to refer to a window? Most mobile devices are full screen as well.

Now with multiple monitors you have to specify which screen.


Yes. We use Screen, Window and Form to refer to UI in desktop applications.


In dev side of things, we tend to use Form. But in our group, its interchanged w/screen, because those not on the dev side, particularly client facing people, still refer to them as screens. Makes sense, because as users, they still like the browser (in our case) to take up the whole screen when they're working.

  • It is very common for domain experts to use different terms than users. And: that's OK.
    – user251748
    Apr 12, 2017 at 18:23

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