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Computer Terminology

Computer Terminology

(Compiled by William Hand of PC Assistants, Inc.)

802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n    802.11 refers to a set of standards that define how wireless networks operate and how devices connect to and send data over the wireless network.  The “b”, “g” and “n” portion refers to the speed of the wireless connection.  The “b” networks can operate up to 11 MBPS (megabits per second), “g” up to 54 MBPS, and “n” up to 108 MBPS.

Access    x

Access Point     A wireless device that allows other wireless devices such as laptop computers or iPads to connect to a network.  Access points are usually connected via a cable to a router or other wired network device.

Add-On    A software module that helps a browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome work with a particular website or type of data stream, such as a video.

Adware    Small software programs that can sneak onto a computer to “pop-up” advertising windows.

Application    A software program designed to accomplish a specific set of functions.  For example, Word is a word processing application, while Excel is a spreadsheet application.  Applications can be stand-alone or part of a suite of applications, such as Microsoft Office.

ASCII    x

Backup    To make a copy of vital information onto some media other than where the information is currently stored.  Examples of backup methods include floppy disks, external disks, CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, and “cloud” storage.

Bandwidth    x

Beta Software    Software that has not been officially released for distribution to users.  Frequently, beta software is made available to computer users who have agreed to use and test the software and report any errors or problems found.

BIOS    An acronym for Basic Input Output System.  The BIOS is a collection of software usually contained in non-volatile memory on a computer main circuit board (also known as the “motherboard”).  When a computer is initially powered on, it is the BIOS that interacts with the keyboard and video display, configures various settings for how the computer will behave, and begins the process of loading the operating system (Windows, OSX, Linux, etc.) from the hard disk drive.

Bit    The smallest unit of data a computer uses.  A bit can have a value of 1 or 0, sometimes referred to as On / Off or True / False.  Collections of bits can be used to represent numeric values, text characters, video properties, computer instructions, and so on.  Bits are frequently organized into bytes (8 bits) and words (16, 32 or 64 bits.)

Bitmap    A type of image file format.  Bitmap file names usually have the .BMP extension.

Blog    Short for weblog.

Bluetooth    A standard and a methodology for short-range (~3 feet) wireless communication between computer devices.

BMP    See Bitmap.

Boot    Computer speak referring to the process of starting a computer and loading its operating system.  Boot is a contraction of bootstrap, a reference to “pulling oneself up by his/her bootstraps.”

Boot Disk    A disk (floppy, hard disk, CD, DVD, etc.) that has information in the very first portions of the media that tell a computer where to find the operating system software, how to load it, and how to transfer control to the operating system

Boot sector    Frequently, the first sector or sectors of a boot disk.

BOT    Short for robot, an automated process of some sort.  For magnetic tape, BOT is beginning of tape.

BPS    Bytes per second, a measure of the speed at which data or binary information can move from one location to another.

Broadband    x

Browser    A software application designed to help the user access the Internet, find websites, and display web information.  Examples of browsers include Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera and many others.

Bug    Computer slang referring to a problem, usually in software.  For example, if one is using a calculator program and the calculator gives the wrong answer when attempting to add a negative number, one would say that the addition code (software) has a bug in it.  Poorly written and tested software may be called buggy.

Burn    To write data to a CD or DVD.

Byte    A  collection of binary information (bits), usually 8 bits.

Cable Modem    A hardware device that attaches to a cable TV network and translates specific information to and from a computer network.  One can think of the cable modem as a special TV tuner that knows how to access the Internet channel on a cable TV system.

CD, CD-R, CD+R, CD-RW    Types of compact disks, initially known as CD ROMs, where ROM means Read Only Memory.  The characters after the “–” refer to different data storage and access techniques.

Checksum    A simple technique to check the validity of a collection of computer information.  For example, assume you are downloading a small software program.  The sending device, usually a server, can calculate the sum of all the bytes sent to your computer and attach that sum as the last piece of information sent.  Your computer can calculate the sum of all data received (except the last byte) and compare that sum to the checksum value sent by the server.  If the two calculated vales do not match, the received data probably contains errors and should be resent.

Chip    An integrated circuit.  Chips can be simple logic elements, read only memory devices, disk controllers, video displays, computer processors, and so on.

Chipset    A family of chips, designed to work together, to implement a specific hardware function.  A computer chipset may include the main processor (the computer or CPU), a buss interface, a video controller, a disk controller and a keyboard / mouse controller.  With just a handful of chips, one can design a computer system.

Clean Install    Basically, starting over.  This refers to installing an operating system from time zero with no regard to what may already be on the hard disk.

Client    x

Clip Art

Clipboard    A special portion of system memory (usually RAM) designated for short-term storage of information.  One can copy information from one location or application and then paste that information into another location or application.

Clock Speed    The speed at which a computer steps through its instructions.  Clock speeds are usually given in units of megahertz (MHz, which is equivalent to “millions of cycles per second”) or gigahertz (GHz.)

Cloud    x

Compact Flash    A form of memory chip made popular with early digital cameras.

Configuration    The collection of hardware and/or software options for a particular hardware or software system.  For example, a computer can be configured to boot from the hard disk or a CD.  A program can be configured to have certain functions enabled or disabled.

Control Panel    A software module found in most operating systems and many hardware devices where one can examine and alter the configuration.

Cookie    x

CPU    Central Processing Unit.  In modern personal computers, the CPU is the computer chip on the motherboard.

Crop    To select just a portion of an image, as in a digital photograph.

CRT    Cathode Ray Tube.  The display tube found in older televisions, computer monitors, oscilloscopes, radar displays, etc.  Manufacturers have been phasing out CRTs in favor of flat panel displays (LCD, LED, Plasma, etc.) due to reduced cost, size, power consumption and, in some cases, image quality.

Cursor    x

Data Type    This refers to what a collection of bits represents.  For example, a byte or word can represent integers, real numbers, software program instructions, image data, etc.  In math functions, data type usually refers to integers, real numbers, complex numbers, degrees, etc.

Database    A collection of information organized by a set of rules and definitions.  The basic units (called fields) in a simple address book database, for example, would be first name, last name, middle initial, address, city, state, zip code, phone number, and e-mail address.  A database organizes fields into records.  So each person in this simple database would have a record with the 9 fields mentioned.  Database applications usually have the ability to list records based upon the contents of one or more of the fields.  For example, sort the records by state and then city.

Default    x Also what will happen if you do not make your mortgage or car payments.

Defragment    x

DHCP    x

Dial-up    x

Dialog Box    x

Directory    x

Disk Drive    A hardware device used to store information.  Typical disk drives are “hard disk,” meaning a hardware element mounted inside a computer wherein the media is comprised of rotating metal discs that have a magnetic coating used to record and read back bits of data.  Other disk drives are floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, and even thumb or flash drives.  Some disks, know as solid state disks, have no rotating media at all.

Disk Image    x

DLL    Dynamic linked library.

DNS    Domain Name Server.  A special server accessible via a network (Internet in this case) that can translate a website name into the IP (internet protocol) address.  For example, www.google.com translates into  Computers and other network devices using the Internet Protocol only use IP addresses, whereas we humans like to use names and words.  The DNS takes in www,google.com and translates that into

Domain    x

Domain Name    x

Domain Suffix    The two, three, or more characters following the period (.) in a website name.  For example, gov is the domain suffix for www.irs.gov.  Generally, the domain suffix indicates what kind of website the address refers to.  For example, .com is commercial, .gov is government, .edu is educational institutions, .org is non-profit organizations, and .net usually is a network site.  But the suffix is not an absolute indicator of the type of website.  A company website can have a .com suffix, .net suffix, or .org suffix.

DOS    Disk Operating System.

Double Click    To depress a mouse button twice in rapid succession.  To double-click a desktop icon means to quickly click the left mouse button twice when the cursor is over an icon.

Download    To move data from a host (server) to a client (computer.)

DPI    Dots Per Inch.  This is typically a measure of printing quality.

Drag    x

Driver    A specialized software module that allows an operating system to communicate with and use a hardware device such as a disk drive, printer, CD drive, etc.

Drop Down Menu    x

DSL    Digital Subscriber Line.  A technique for allowing a standard phone line to send and receive digital information at rates that are better than the typical dial-up rate.  Where dial-up data rates usually are limited to a maximum of 56 kbps (kilobits per second), a DSL line typically can operate up to 768 kbps.

Dual Core    A computer chip containing two CPUs or “processors.”


DVI    Digital Video Interface

DVR    Digital Video Recorder

Dynamic Address    x

EIDE    Extended Integrated Drive Electronics

Encryption    x

External Hard Drive    x

File Extension

The portion of a filename following the period (.)  The file extension of winword.exe is exe.  Typical file extension are .exe (an executable file), .sys (a system file), .pdf (an Adobe portable document format file), .jpg (a compressed didital image) and so on.

File Format    x

File System    x

Filename    x

Firewall    x

Firmware    x

Flash Drive

Gigibyte    x

Hard Copy    x

Hard Disk    x

HDMI    x

Heat Sink    x

Hibernate    x

HTML    x

I/O    x

Inkjet    x

Java    x

KBPS    Kilobytes per second, a measure of how fast data transfers.

Keyboard Shortcut    x

Keylogger    x

Kilobyte    One thousand bytes.

KVM Switch    Keyboard / Video / Mouse switch.  Used to connect these to two or more computers.

LAN    Local Area Network.

Laser Printer    x

LCD    Liquid Crystal Display, one of several technologies used for computer monitor and TV displays.

LED    Light Emitting Diode, a solid-state method of creating small points of light with little heat or power consumption.

MAC Address    Media Access Control Address.  Every network interface has a MAC address that uniquely identifies that connection point.

Macro    x

Mainframe    x

Malware    Short for malicious software.  Software that makes its way onto a computer with the intent to steal information or annoy the user with pop-up ads or false virus reports.

MBPS    Megabits per second, a measure of how fast data transfers.

Megabyte    One thousand bytes.

Media    Usually refers to storage methods such as floppy diskette, hard disk, thumb drive, CD, DVD, etc.

Memory Module    x

Name Server (DNS)    A server (computer) that translates a URL (Internet location name) to the IP address.

NAS    Network Attached Storage.  A storage device that is part of a network and is accessible to computers and devices on that network.

NAT    Network Address Translation.

Network Topology    x

NIC    Network Interface Card.

Node    x

NTFS    x

OCR    Optical Character Recognition.

Optical Drive    A disk drive that employs laser light to read and write data; e.g. CD or DVD.

OSD    On-Screen Display.

Output Device    x

Page Orientation    The display aspect of a page of information.  Portrait (11″ high x 8.5″ wide) and Landscape (8.5″ high x 11″ wide) are common page orientations.

Parallel Port   x

Parse    x

Partition    x

Path    The description of the location of a file or data or program.  For example, the digital image is on the main disk in documents & settings in my pictures.  This is usually shown as C:\Documents & Settings\My Pictures.

PCI    x

PCI Express    x

PDF    Portable Document Format.

Quad Core    A computer chip that houses four processors.

Queue    x

QuickTime    x

QWERTY    A reference to the standard keyboard layout.  The left-most six keys on the top row of letters on a standard keyboard are QWERTY.

RAM   Random Access Memory.  Data storage methods where data can be stored or retrieved individually without regard to the last or next memory location to be accessed.  Contrast this to sequential memory methods such as magnetic tape.

Real-Time    x

Remote Access    x

Remote Desktop    x

Safe Mode    A start-up option in Windows whereby only the minimum software necessary to run is loaded.  Safe Mode is used for troubleshooting problems thought to be caused by hardware or software such as printers or driver updates.

SATA    Serial ATA.  One of the two most common interface techniques for storage devices such as disk drives.

SD    Secure Digital.  One of many memory card designs used by devices such as digital cameras and cell phones.

Spyware    x

Static Address    x

T1 / T3    x

Task Bar    x

TCP/IP    Transfer Control Program / Internet Protocol.

Terabyte    x

UPS    Uninterruptable Power Supply.  A fancy name for a device that can quickly switch over to use batteries to make AC power.  Also know as a battery backup.

VGA    x

Video Card    x

VOIP    Voice Over Internet Protocol.  Used in Internet phone technology, this is a method to convert audio (voice) to digital data, send it over the Internet to another VOIP device and have the receiving device convert the digital data into audio.

WAN    Wide Area Network.

Web Host    x

Webcam    x

WEP    Wired Equivalent Privacy.  One of several methods to implement secured access over wireless networks.

X64    Shorthand for a 64-bit processor / memory / buss architecture.

X86    Shorthand for a 32-bit processor / memory / buss architecture.

ZIP    x