Ever been confused by computer terminology? I have, and I’m in the technology business!
I believe strongly in using plain old English to explain technical concepts to my customers. I think it's important to give people as much information as they want about computer concepts, mostly because it empowers the user to become independent in their use of the computer.
If a computer support person uses computer terminology during a training session with a user, I think it makes it much harder for the user to learn, because they are thinking about what the term means, instead of listening to the instruction.
Some PC techs will use computer terminology anyway, maybe because it makes sense to them. More likely, some techs use computer terminology to make it seem like they know more than they do. It seems to me that if you know a subject really well, you can speak about it plainly. That’s the mark of a true computer professional, in my opinion.
Here’s a basic computer terminology dictionary that will help you in those situations when someone is trying to obscure the facts with computer speak:
Application: Application is another term for software program; basically a program you use on a computer, like Word, TurboTax, Outlook, etc.
Bandwidth: A measurement of a data line's transmission speed, or the amount of data a network can transfer from one computer to another in a given amount of time.
BIOS: Basic Input/Output System. This term is used to refer to ROM BIOS chip inside the computer. This chip starts and manages the computer bootup process.
Bootstrap Loader: A small program that manages a computer boot up process until the operating system can take over. The bootstrap loader’s only job is to load other software, usually in a sort of sequential chain up to the point when the operating system can get loaded into memory and start. The name "bootstrap loader" comes from the idea that the computer is pulling itself up by its "bootstraps".
Broadband: A bandwidth term that means a data line that will allow large amounts of data to be transferred very quickly. Basically a broadband line will be much, much faster than an old dial-up line.
Burn: To “burn” a CD or DVD means to write data files to it using a special piece of hardware.
Bus: A collection of (usually copper) wires through which data is transmitted from one part of a computer to another. You can think of a bus as a "highway" on which data travels within a computer.
Computer terminology is confusing to users sometimes simply because it uses everyday words to mean something completely different. Burn and Bus are two examples.
Cable vs DSL: Cable and DSL are types of broadband data lines. Cable internet access uses the same lines that bring cable television cable to your house, and DSL (Which stands for Digital Subscriber Line) is a type of high speed data compression which runs over plain old telephone service (POTS) lines.
CMOS: A type of computer chip which is able to operate with a very small amount of electricity from a battery. The term also refers to the contents of a CMOS chip within the computer, which holds information about the computer boot devices, the date and time and its peripherals even while the system is turned off.
Computer Resource: This is a general computer terminology for the components that comprise the processing flow of a computer, including the memory, CPU, etc. You might hear someone say "this program is a resource hog", meaning it takes up a lot of the computer processing ability, and might make the computer run slower overall.
CPU: This stands for Central Processing Unit, and it can mean the box that holds the guts of the computer, or the processor “brain” of the computer. The CPU is the place where all the computer calculations happen.
CPU Sink: CPUs heat up as they work. A CPU sink is a mechanism to keep the CPU cool while it does its calculations. It usually consists of a cooling fan and an aluminum heat sink which draws the heat away the CPU chip.
Defrag: Computers write information to a hard drive by filling in open places on the drive. They don’t write files all in one big block, which means your Word document might be spread out all over your hard drive.
To defrag your computer means to basically rearrange the files on your computer’s hard drive so that file parts are closer together. Once rearranged, the computer will take less time to access the files. Defragging is usually recommended to speed up a slow computer.
DVD+RW: A DVD drive which can not only play DVDs (movies!), it can record and write movie files to a DVD disc.
Hard Drive: This is the central storage space for your computer. Almost always, the hard drive is designated as C: drive. If the drive is partitioned (i.e., split up into different sections), there might also be a D: drive.
The hard disk is comprised of stack of magnetic disks that record and store information. Because the data is stored magnetically, information recorded to your hard drive stays put after you turn your computer off.
This is the difference between hard drives and RAM, or memory.
RAM is dependent on electricity, meaning it is cleared or reset when the computer's power is turned off. That’s why when your computer loses power or freezes up while you are writing an unsaved document, the document is lost. My advice is to get in the habit of pressing Control + S to save your documents when you are working on them. Saving documents writes them to the hard drive magnetically.
IP address: IP (Internet Protocol) addresses are assigned to each and every computer on a TCP/IP network. They work like your home address. Mail or any other package could not get to you if you had no address. IP addresses basically insure that data on a network goes where it is supposed to go. IP addresses look something like this: 192.168.1.25.
Did you know that the Internet is really just a HUMONGOUS TCP/IP network? When you are connected to the internet, your computer has access to literally BILLIONS of computers all over the world.
Isn't that mind boggling? I just thought I'd throw in some trivia with the computer terminology.
ISP: Internet Service Provider: This would be the company that provides your internet access.
Malware: a general term for any malicious piece of software, such as a virus, worm, or trojan.
Mother Board: The green board inside of a computer that allows all of the internal computer components to interact. Some would call it the "heart" of the computer. It routes data to and from all the other parts, including the CPU chip, the RAM, the power supply, etc.
Sometimes computer terminology can be really obscure.. I have NO idea why it's called a MOTHER board. Why not a father board, or a master board? Hmmm..
Network Interface Card (NIC): This is a part of the computer that allows it to talk to other computers (aka, a network) via a network “protocol” or language like TCP/IP.
Operating system: This is the basic software that a computer runs on. Windows 98, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Linux, Unix, and Apple’s Mac OS X Leopard are all operating systems.
Peripherals: This is a general term for computer add-ons like printers, mice, keyboards, scanners, monitor, etc..
POST: This stands for Power On Self Test. When you first turn on a computer, it checks to make sure all its parts are working; it makes sure a keyboard is attached, that memory loads, and that in general, its hardware is working and ready to load the operating system. This test is called the POST.
Processor chip (or just processor): This is the brain of the computer. You’ve probably heard the commercials for the "Intel" chip or the "Xeon" chip. They are talking about the "brain" of the computer, which does all the calculations and task processing.
RAM: this stands for Random Access Memory and is used generically as “memory”. This is the memory on a computer that allows you to hold and run a program so that you work with it on the monitor. More RAM is better.
At the risk of repeating myself, RAM is dependent on electricity, meaning it is cleared or reset when the computer's power is turned off.
So when your computer loses power or freezes up while you are writing an unsaved document, the document is lost. Train yourself to remember to press Control + S to save your documents when you are working on them. Saving them writes them to the hard drive where they will stay when the computer is turned off.
ROM: Read Only Memory. Usually seen in conjunction with BIOS, as in ROM BIOS. Usually a chip onto which the information is permanently burned. Also denotes memory that can be accessed and read, but not written to.
Routine: A series of instructions written to complete a specific but limited computing task.
TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol. These are the basic data transmission protocols on which the internet and most commercial networks run.
Uninterruptible Power Source (UPS): A constantly charging battery which will act as a fail safe if the electricity shuts down while you are using your computer.
In the event of a total power failure, a UPS usually has just enough charge to power your computer for the time it takes you to save your work and shut down safely.
URL: Universal Resource Locater. The address of any website on the internet. For instance, my website home page has a URL of http://www.thecomputerhealeronline.com.
Worm: A worm is a virus that does not infect other programs. It makes copies of itself, and infects additional computers, usually via network connection. It does not attach itself to other programs, but it might alter, install, or destroy files and programs. It's also used in computer terminology as a short word any malware in general.
See? Computer terminology is like any other industry specific language. You just have to know what the terms mean, and then it all makes sense.
If you want to know the meaning of a specific computer term, send me a request via my contact form. Computer terminology is no mystery to me, and I'm happy to share with you what I know.
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