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 Computer - Glossary of Terms

AOL - America Online, Inc.; One of the largest Internet service providers in the world, connecting over 30 million people to the Internet.

Backup - Duplicate copy of a disk or program.

Bandwidth - A data transmission rate; the maximum amount of information  (bits/second) that can be transmitted along a channel.

Booting - Loading the operating system from hard or floppy disk into memory when the computer is turned on.

Broadband - A communications network in which the bandwidth can be divided and shared by multiple simultaneous signals (as for voice or data or video).

Browser - A program that accesses and displays files and other data available on the Internet and other networks.

Byte - a sequence of 8 bits (enough to represent one character of alphanumeric data) processed as a single unit of information.

Cache Memory - Area of random-access memory (RAM) set aside to store the most frequently accessed information.  Acts as a temporary high-speed holding zone between memory and CPU.

Cathode-Ray Tube - Desktop type monitor built in the same way as a television set.

CD-ROM - Compact Disk Read-Only Memory; A small optical disk on which data such as music, text, or graphic images is digitally encoded and can be read but not recorded.

Computer Virus - A computer program that is designed to replicate itself by copying itself into the other programs stored in a computer. It may be benign or have a negative effect, such as causing a program to operate incorrectly or corrupting a computer's memory.

Conventional Memory - First 640K of RAM.

CPU - Central Processing Unit; Part of the computer that holds the data and program instructions for processing the data.  The CPU consists of the control unit and the arithmetic-logic unit.  In a microcomputer, the CPU is on a single electronic component, the microprocessor chip.

Data compression/decompression - Method of improving performance by reducing the amount of space required to store data and programs.  In data compression, entering data is scanned for ways to reduce the amount of required storage space.  One way is to search for repeating patterns, which are replaced with a token, leaving enough so that the original can be rebuilt or decompressed.

Database - One or more large structured sets of persistent data, usually associated with software to update and query the data. A simple database might be a single file containing many records, each of which contains the same set of fields.

Diagnostic Routine - Program stored in the computer's electronic circuitry that starts up when the machine is turned on.  It tests the primary storage, the CPU, and other parts of the system.

Digital Camera - A camera that captures and stores still images as digital data instead of on photographic film.

DOS- The standard operating system for IBM and IBM-compatible microcomputers.

DVD - Digital Versatile Disk; a high-density compact disk for storing large amounts of data, especially high-resolution audio-visual material.

E-mail - A system of world-wide electronic communication in which a computer user can compose a message at one terminal that is generated at the recipient's terminal when he logs in.

Fax Machine - Device that scans an image and sends it electronically over telephone lines to a receiving fax machine, which converts the electronic signals back to an image and recreates it on paper.

Fiber-Optic Cable - Special transmission cable made of glass tubes that are immune to electronic interference.  Data is transmitted through fiber-optic cable in the form of pulses of light.

Firewall - Any of a number of security schemes that prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to a computer network or that monitor transfers of information to and from the network.

Floppy Disk - A plastic disk coated with magnetic material and covered by a protective jacket, used primarily by computers to store data magnetically. Also called diskette.

Formatting  - Preparation of a disk so that it will accept data or programs in a computer.  Also called initializing.

FTP - File Transfer Protocol; protocol that allows users to copy files between their local system and any system they can reach on the network.

GIF - A standard for digitized images compressed with the LZW algorithm defined in 1987 by CompuServe (CIS).

Gigabyte (GB, G-Byte) -  A unit of information equal to one billion (1,000,000,000) bytes or one thousand megabytes.

Graphical User Interface (GUI) - Special screen that allows software commands to be issued through the use of graphic symbols (icons) or pull-down menus.

Hard drive - Computer hardware that holds and spins a magnetic or optical disk and reads and writes information on it.

Hardware - Equipment that includes a keyboard, monitor, printer, the computer itself, and other devices.

HTML - Hypertext Markup Language; Used to structure text and multimedia documents and to set up hypertext links between documents, used extensively on the World Wide Web.

HTTP - Hypertext Transfer Protocol; A protocol used to request and transmit files, especially webpages and webpage components, over the Internet or other computer network.

Inkjet Printer -  A printer that forms an image by using electromagnetic fields to guide electrically charged ink streams onto the page.

Internet - Worldwide network of computer computer networks that use the TCP/IP network protocols to facilitate data transmission and exchange.

Internet Explorer - Microsoft's free World Wide Web browser for Microsoft Windows, Windows 95,  Windows NT, and Macintosh. Internet Explorer is the main rival to Netscape Navigator (which runs on many more platforms). Both support the same core features.

JPEG - Designed for compressing either full-color or grey-scale digital images of "natural", real-world scenes. It does not work so well on non-realistic images, such as cartoons or line drawings. JPEG does not handle compression of black-and-white (1 bit-per-pixel) images or moving pictures.

Keyboard - A hardware device consisting of a number of mechanical buttons (keys) which the user presses to input characters to a computer.

Laser Printer - A printer that uses a laser to produce an image on a rotating drum before electro-statically transferring the image to paper.

Liquid-Crystal Display (LCD)- Display consisting of liquid crystal molecules whose optical properties can be altered by an applied electrical field.

Machine Language - Language in which data is represented in 1s and 0s.

Megabyte - A unit of information equal to one million (1,048,576) bytes.

Megahertz (MHz) - Unit representing1 million beats (cycles) per second.

Memory - Part of the microcomputer that holds data for processing, instructions for processing the data, and information (processed data) waiting to be output or sent to secondary storage.

Modem - (from MOdulate-DEModulate) A device for transmitting usually digital data over telephone wires by modulating the data into an audio signal to send it and demodulating an audio signal into data to receive it.

Monitor - Output device like a television screen that displays data processed by the computer.

Motherboard - The main board of a computer, usually containing the circuitry for the central processing unit, keyboard, and monitor and often having slots for accepting additional circuitry.

Mouse - A hand-held, button-activated input device that when rolled along a flat surface directs an indicator to move correspondingly about a computer screen, allowing the operator to move the indicator freely, as to select operations or manipulate text or graphics.

MPEG - Any of a set of standards established for the compression of digital video and audio data.

MS-DOS - A single user operating system that runs one program at a time and is limited to working with one megabyte of memory, 640 kilobytes of which is usable for the application program. Add-ons to DOS, such as Microsoft Windows, allow the user to have multiple applications loaded at once and switch between them.

Multimedia - Technology that can link all sorts of media into one form of presentation.


Network - A system of computers interconnected by telephone wires or other means in order to share information.

NIC - Network Interface Card; An adapter circuit board installed in a computer to provide a physical connection to a network.


Operating System - Often abbreviated 'OS'; the foundation software of a machine; that which schedules tasks, allocates storage, and presents a default interface to the user between applications.


PDA - Personal Digital Assistant; A lightweight, hand-held, usually pen-based computer used as a personal organizer; can be used to write notes, track appointments, store addresses, and much more.

Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) - Bus Architecture that combines the capabilities of MCA and EISA with the ability to send video instructions at speeds to match the microprocessor.

Peripheral Device - Hardware that is outside the system unit, such as speakers or a printer.

Personal Computer Memory Card International Association (PCMCIA) card - Credit card-sized expansion boards developed for portable computers.

Port  - Connecting socket on the outside of the system unit.  Used to connect input and output devices.

Printer -Device that produces printed-paper output.

Protocol – Rules for exchanging data between computers.




RAIDs - Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive Disks; Group of inexpensive hard disks drives related or grouped together using networks and special software.  They improve performance by expanding external storage.

RAM - Random Access Memory; The most common computer memory which can be used by programs to perform necessary tasks while the computer is on; an integrated circuit memory chip allows information to be stored or accessed in any order and all storage locations are equally accessible.

Read-Only - Refers to a disk that cannot be written on or erased by the user.

Resolution - Measures the crispness of images and characters on a screen, usually specified in terms of the number of pixels in a row or column.

ROM -Read-Only Memory;Refers to chips that have programs built into them at the factory.  The user cannot change the contents of such chips.


Scanner - An input device that takes in an optical image and digitizes it into an electronic image represented as binary data. This can be used to create a computerized version of a photo or illustration.

SCSI Card - Small Computer System Interface Card; This card uses only one slot and can connect as many as seven devices to the system unit.

Search Engine - A software program that searches a database and gathers and reports information that contains or is related to specified terms;  A website whose primary function is providing a search engine for gathering and reporting information available on the Internet or a portion of the Internet.

Software - Written programs or procedures or rules and associated documentation pertaining to the operation of a computer system and that are stored in read/write memory.

Spreadsheet - A type of application program which manipulates numerical and string data in rows and columns of cells. The value in a cell can be calculated from a formula which can involve other cells. A value is recalculated automatically whenever a value on which it depends changes. Different cells may be displayed with different formats.

Surge Protector - Device separating the computer from the power source of the wall outlet.  When a voltage surge occurs, a circuit breaker is activated, protecting the computer system.


TCP/IP - Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol; The two standard protocols for all communications on the Internet.




Virtual Memory - Feature of an operating system that increases the amount of memory available to run programs.


Windows -  Microsoft's proprietary operating system and user interface software released in 1985 to run on top of MS-DOS.

Winzip - A Microsoft Windows archiving and compression program; has a graphical user interface front-end; can be obtained as shareware, on evaluation, or as a licensed copy; includes a helpful help file.

Word Processor - A program used to create and print (chiefly textual) documents that might otherwise be prepared on a typewriter. The key advantage of word processor is its ability to make changes easily, such as correcting spelling, changing margins, or adding, deleting, and relocating entire blocks of text. Once created, the document can be printed quickly and accurately and saved for later modifications.  Today most popular word processors, such as Microsoft Word, offer a much greater range of facilities than the first such programs.

World Wide Web (WWW) - The complete set of documents residing on all Internet servers that use the HTTP protocol, accessible to users via a simple point-and-click system.






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