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Common Computer Terms


Application/program - a specially-created piece of software intended to do a particular task, such as wordprocessing, creating graphics, or number crunching.
Bit - short for binary digit; the smallest unit of data that a computer can read or understand.
Browser - a client program that retrieves documents and other materials from a server and displays them in
accord with the computers specifications.
Byte - a group of binary bits. Eight bits is equal to one byte. It takes eight bits to form one character, so one byte
is generally equal to one letter, number, or graphic symbol.
CD-ROM Drive (Compact Disc Read Only Memory) - A CD-ROM drive is a CD player for your computer,
only its better because it doesnt just play music CDs. It also plays game CDs and CDs with computer
programs on them as well.
CD-RW Drive (Compact Disc Re-Writeable) - A CD-RW drive does the same thing as a CD-ROM drive, but
it also lets you record CDs. You can record music CDs, game CDs, and CDs with computer programs on them
with a CD-RW drive. Most importantly, you can back up a huge amount of data.
Character - a letter, number, or symbol found on a computer keyboard.
Chip - the heart of a microcomputer on which thousands of electronic elements are implanted.
CPU (Central Processing Unit) - the heart of the computer. All input goes into the CPU where all processing
tasks are actually performed. Any output -printed, on screen, or on disk- comes out of the CPU.
Command - an instruction given to the computer from an input device.
Cursor - a visual indicator on the screen that lets you know where your mouse is positioned. The cursor allows
you to insert text where you wish, or to select existing items to be deleted, copied, or modified.
Data - the information entered into or received from a computer.
Dial-up - a computer connection that is brought up and brought down as needed by dialing through the
telephone
Download - the process in which data is sent to your computer. Whenever you receive information from the
Internet, you are downloading it to your computer. For example, you might have to download an upgrade for
your computer's operating system in order to play a new game (especially if you're using Windows). Or you
might download a demo version of a program you
are thinking about buying from the software company's Web site. The opposite of this process, sending
information to another computer, is called uploading.
Drive - any part of the computer where disks reside and operate, temporarily or permanently. See floppy
disk/diskette and hard disk/hard drive.
Email - a software application that allows one to exchange messages with someone else.
FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions answers questions about various subjects.
File/document - any single item created with an application, whether it is a single chart, a five-page essay, or an
entire thesis with graphics and footnotes.
File server - a large computer to which others are connected in order to share information and processing
ability. For example, an academic department might have a file server containing student records and course
information, to which individual computers in other parts of the same building could connect to access this
information. File servers are often part of a network.
Floppy disk/diskette - a portable disk of plastic coated with chromium oxide, on which information is
magnetically written, and from which that information can be read, copied, or deleted. The disk is protected by
a shell or cover of some kind. Floppies are beginning to become obsolete at this writing.
Gigabyte - A gigabyte is 2 to the 30th power, or 1,073,741,824 bytes. It can be estimated as 10 to the 9th power,
or one billion (1,000,000,000) bytes. Hard drive sizes are typically measured in gigabytes, such as a 160GB or
250GB drive. The term gigabyte is often abbreviated as simply a "gig" in speech. For example, if you have a
250GB hard drive, you could say, "I have 250 gigs of disk space." The prefix "giga" comes from the Greek
word "gigas," meaning giant.

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Graphic interface - the standard commands under which Macintosh computers operate. Instead of entering
commands on the keyboard, the user manipulates icons and windows, usually with a mouse.
Hard disk/hard drive - a fixed permanent storage unit containing a rigid disk (or disks) made from metal; most
computers contain built-in hard disks. Hard drives are much more expensive than floppies, and can hold a great
deal more information. CDs and/or memory sticks are inserted in the hard drive to hold filed information.
Hardware--The physical components of a computer, including cables, the keyboard, the CPU, monitors, etc.
HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) - the language that Web pages are written in. Also known as
hypertext documents, Web pages must conform to the rules of HTML in order to be displayed correctly in a
Web browser.
Icons - Icons are a visual representation of something on your computer. For example, a blue "e" on your screen
most likely represents the Internet Explorer program. An icon that looks like a sheet of paper is probably a text
document. By clicking and dragging icons, you can move the actual files they represent to various locations on
your computer's hard drive. By double-clicking an application icon, you can open the program. Icons are one of
the fundamental features of the graphical user interface (GUI). They make computing much more user-friendly
than having to enter text commands to accomplish anything.
Initialize/format - the terms are synonymous. Initializing erases all information on a disk (if there is any) and
prepares the disk to receive whatever information you wish to save on it.
Input - any information you put into the computer through typing, copying files, or whatever. Output is any
results that emerge from the computer, whether on screen, printed, on disk, etc.
Install - Most software programs require that you first install them on your computer before using them. For
example, if you buy Microsoft Office, you need to install it on your computer before you can run any of the
included programs such as Word or Excel. You can install software from a CD or DVD, an external hard drive,
or from a networked computer. You can also install a program or software update from a file downloaded from
the Internet.
Installing a software program writes the necessary data for running the program on your hard drive. Often the
installer program will decompress the data included with the installer immediately before writing the
information to your hard drive. Software updates, which are typically downloaded from the Internet, work the
same way. When you run the update, the installer file decompresses the data and then updates the correct
program or operating system. Installing software is usually a simple process. It involves double-clicking an
installer icon and then clicking "I Agree" when the license agreement pops up. You may have to choose what
directory on your hard disk you would like to install the software in, but often the installer will even choose that
for you. Some software can be installed by simply dragging a folder or application program onto your hard
drive.
Internet - The Internet was created in 1969 during the Cold War by the United States military. It was meant to
be a "nuke-proof" communications network. Today, the Internet spreads across the globe and consists of
countless networks and computers, allowing millions of people to share information. Data that travels long
distances on the Internet is transferred on huge lines known collectively as the Internet backbone. Many people
think the Internet and the World Wide Web is the same thing. They're not! The World Wide Web is one of the
many features of the Internet. E-mail, FTP, and Instant Messaging are also features of the Internet.
Log-in - If you are ever asked to enter your username and password, you are being asked to enter your login
information. A login is a combination of information that authenticates your identity. This could be a name and
password or an ID number and security code. Many secure Web sites use login information to authenticate
visitors before allowing them access to certain areas of the site.

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Modem - a device that plugs into a standard telephone jack and allows a computer to transmit and receive
information over commercial telephone lines. A cable modem
Monitor - the screen on which you see your work, whether in color, grayscale, or black-and-white.
Mouse - a small tool that duplicates the movements of your hand on the computer's screen, allowing you to
rearrange items, perform actions, select words or letters, etc.
Network - a group of computers spread out over a large area that are connected with each other whether by
telephone lines, fiber-optic cables, or some other linkage. Once connected, computers on a network can share
files, send large amounts of information very quickly, and enable multiple users to communicate at one time.
Password - a string of characters used for authenticating a user on a computer system. For example, you may
have an account on your computer that requires you to log in. In order to successfully access your account, you
must provide a valid username and password. This combination is often referred to as a login. While usernames
are generally public information, passwords are private to each user. Most passwords are comprised of several
characters, which can typically include letters, numbers, and most symbols, but not spaces. While it is good to
choose a password that is easy to remember, you should not make it so simple that others can guess it. The most
secure passwords use a combination of letters and numbers and do not contain actual words.
Platform - the type of computer you use; the term refers to the operating software not to the manufacturer.
RAM (Random Access Memory) - RAM is made up of small memory chips that are connected to the
motherboard of your computer. Every time you open a program, it gets loaded from the hard drive into the
RAM. This is because reading data from the RAM is much faster than reading data from the hard drive.
Running programs from the RAM of the computer allows them to function without any lag time. The more
RAM your computer has, the more data can be loaded from the hard drive into the RAM, which can help speed
up your computer. In fact, adding RAM can be more beneficial to your computer's performance than upgrading
the CPU.
ROM (Read-Only Memory) - ROM is memory containing hardwired instructions that the computer uses when
it boots up, before the system software loads. In PCs, the instructions are read from a small program in the
ROM, called the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). Please do not confuse this term with RAM or a hard drive.
Some ROM is built into your computer to help it get started when you turn it on.
Server - As the name implies, a server serves information to computers that connect to it. When users connect
to a server, they can access programs, files, and other information from the server. Common servers are Web
servers, mail servers, and LAN servers. A single computer can have several different server programs running
on it.
Software - any information a computer uses to perform a task; also, any information saved on a disk.
System - specific pieces of software that your computer needs to run; for instance, it is the system that converts
your keystrokes into letters and displays them on the monitor screen.
Template - A template is a pre-formatted document that has already been created.
Upload - See download.
URL (Uniform Resource Locator) - the address of a specific Web site or file on the Internet. A URL cannot
have spaces or certain other characters and uses forward slashes to denote different directories. The first part of
a URL indicates what kind of resource it is addressing. Here is a list of the different resource prefixes:
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http

- a hypertext directory or document (such as a web page)

ftp

gopher

telnet

- a Unix-based computer system that you can log into

news

- a newsgroup

- a directory of files or an actual file available to download


- a gopher document or menu

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WAIS

file

- a database or document on a Wide Area Information Search database

- a file located on your hard drive or some other local drive

The second part of a URL (after the "://") contains the address of the computer being located as well as the
path to the file. For example, in "http://www.cnet.com/Content/Reports/index.html," www.cnet.com" is the
address or domain name of the host computer and "/Content/Reports/index.html" is the path to the file.
Virus - Computer viruses are small programs or scripts that can negatively affect the health of your computer.
These malicious little programs can create files, move files, erase files, consume your computer's memory, and
cause your computer not to function correctly. Some viruses can duplicate themselves, attach themselves to
programs, and travel across networks. In fact, opening an infected e-mail attachment is the most common way
to get a virus. There are many anti-virus programs available that scan incoming files for viruses before they can
cause damage to your computer. Some of these programs include Norton AntiVirus, McAfee VirusScan, and
Virex. It is a good idea to have one of these programs on your computer to prevent a virus attack. It is also
important to update your virus definitions file at least once a month so that your anti-virus program can check
for all the latest viruses.
Wi-fi - Short for "Wireless Fidelity." (Yes, it is pretty much a rip-off of the term "Hi-Fi," or High Fidelity, which
refers to high-quality audio or surround sound.) Wi-Fi refers to wireless network components that are based on
one of the Wi-Fi Alliance's 802.11 standards. The Wi-Fi Alliance created the 802.11 standard so that
manufacturers can make wireless products that work with
other manufacturers' equipment. So, if you have a "Wi-Fi Certified" wireless network card, it should be
recognized by any "Wi-Fi Certified" access point and vice-versa.
Windows - Microsoft Windows is the most popular operating system for personal computers. There are several
versions of the Windows operating system, including Windows XP (for home users) and Windows 2000 (for
professional users). The operating system allows you to view the contents of different disks or files as you
would view loose pages on a desk. Windows can be opened and closed like their namesakes, but they can also
be stacked, sorted, resized, and moved.
Wireless Network - a method using infra-red, ultra-violet, or radio waves to connect computers into a network.
Wizard - a part of a program that guides you through certain steps. For example, a wizard in Microsoft Word
would help you create and format a new document according to your needs. This is helpful when creating a
rsum, outline, invoice, etc. Some other examples of wizards are the Finale 2000 wizard, which helps you
create a new music composition with your desired instruments and the PowerPoint wizard, which helps you set
up a presentation using a certain theme.