Glossary of Computer Terms
Bit – short for binary digit, describes the fundamental unit of information. A bit is either
a 0 or a 1. Groups of bits represent other symbols, such as letters of the alphabet.
• 1,024 (approximately one thousand) bytes = 1 kilobyte (Kb)
• 1,048,576 (approximately one million) bytes = 1 megabyte (Mb)
• 1,073,741,824 (approximately one billion) bytes = 1 gigabyte (Gb)
• 8 bits = 1 byte, which is enough to store one character.
Boot – To start a computer and load its operating system software (usually Windows)
Browser – see Web Browser.
Byte – A group of 8 bits that usually represents a character or a digit. For example, the
byte 01000001 represents the letter A.
CD-R – Stands for Compact Disc–Recordable. A storage technology in which a CD drive
not only reads data from compact discs but also writes data to CD-R discs. A standard CD-
ROM drive can only read data from a disc. See Also CD-ROM and CD-RW.
CD-ROM – Stands for Compact Disc – Read-Only Memory. Can store up to 700
megabytes of data on a single disk. Most software comes on CD-ROMs.
CD-RW – Stands for Compact Disc – Re-Writable. Writes data to a disc, and erases data
from CD-RW discs to make them reusable.
CPU – Stands for Central Processing Unit. A chip or circuit that interprets and executes
programs by processing a list of machine instructions which perform arithmetic and
logical operations and decode and execute instructions. In microcomputers, the entire CPU
is on a single chip.
Cache – A temporary storage area in memory or on a disk that computer components and
various programs use to quickly access data. Pronounced “cash”.
Chat – To talk to another person by typing at your computer. What you type appears on
the other person’s screen, and what the other person types appears on your screen. You
can chat on the Internet or on an online service, such as America Online.
Clipboard – A temporary storage area in Windows that holds text and graphics. The Cut
and Copy commands put text or graphics on the Clipboard, replacing the Clipboard’s
previous contents. The Paste command copies Clipboard data to document.
Cookie – An electronic identification ‘badge’ that many websites store on your computer
to help identify you when you return to the site or to record items you buy as you shop
Crash – The failure of a system or a program. Usually, you realize that your system has
crashed when you can’t move the mouse pointer or type anything. A condition where a
program (either an application or part of the operating system) stops performing its
expected function and also stops responding to other parts of the system. Often the
offending program may simply appear to freeze. If this program is a critical part of the
operating system the entire computer may crash (a system crash). See Also Virus,
System Crash .
Copy and Paste – The facility to copy a portion of text in a computer program and add it
to another place or document. Similar to Cut and Paste, except copying will duplicate
the selected text, whereas Cutting removes it from the original area.
Cut and Paste – To move something from one place in a document to another. Cutting
and pasting is the computer equivalent of using scissors to clip something and glue to
paste the clipping somewhere else. See Also Copy and Paste.
DVD – Stands for Digital Versatile Disk, originally Digital Video Disk. An optical storage
medium that provides greater capacity than CD-ROM; DVDs are frequently used for
multimedia as well as data storage.
DVD-R – Stands for Digital Video Disk, or Digital Versatile Disk; Discs that can store
more than seven times as much data as a CD, making them useful for storing full-length
feature films. DVD drives are designed to handle both DVDs and CDs.
DVD-RW – Stands for Digital Versatile Disk Rewritable; A storage technology in which a
DVD drive reads, writes, and erases data from a (DVD-RW) disc to make them reusable.
DSL – Stands for Digital Subscriber Line; A method for moving data over regular phone
lines. A DSL circuit is much faster than a regular phone connection, and the wires coming
into the subscriber's premises are the same (copper) wires used for regular phone service.
Desktop – The area on the display screen where icons are grouped is often referred to as
the desktop because the icons are intended to represent real objects on a real desktop.
Disk Drive – A device that writes data to a magnetic disk and reads data from the disk.
Think of a disk drive as a cassette recorder/player for a computer.
Download – To copy files form another computer to your computer, usually through a
modem. See Also Upload .
E-mail – Stands for Electronic Mail; A system that lets people send messages to and
receive messages from other computers. E-mail is available on networks, online
information services, and the Internet.
Emoticon – a text-only symbol commonly used in e-mail messages or chatting to quickly
express an emotion or physical gesture. :P for example represents sticking out your
tongue. Also known as Smilies.
File – A collection of information stored as a single unit on a floppy or a hard disk, etc.
Files always have a file name to identify them.
Floppy Disk – A removable, portable magnetic disk on which data and programs can be
stored. Also called diskettes, floppies are flexible plastic. The 3-1/2 inch disks have a hard
protective case around them.
Folder – The Windows name for a directory, a division of a hard disk/floppy etc. that
stores groups of related files.
Font – Any set of characters of the same typeface (design) and type size (measured in
points). For example, Times New Roman 12-point is a font, Times New Roman is the
typeface, and 12-point is the size. There are 72 points in an inch.
Format (disk) – To prepare a disk for storing data. Formatting creates a map on the
disk that tells the operating system how the disk is structured. The operating system uses
this map to keep track of where files are stored.
Freeze – Either a single computer program or the whole system may "hang" or become
unresponsive to keyboard and/or mouse input. The term "hang" is synonymous with
"freeze," the more commonly used term. In a hang, the window affected or the whole
computer screen becomes static, the latter case including the mouse cursor. It is contrast
with crash, where a program stops working and is not responding, or exits abnormally
after encountering a problem. When no other input works, the power cycle must be
restarted by an on/off or reset button.
GUI (“gooey”) – Stands for Graphical User Interface; allows the user to click on menus or
icons to start programs and perform tasks instead of typing in commands. A program
interface that takes advantage of the computer's graphics capabilities to make the
program easier to use. Well-designed graphical user interfaces can free the user from
learning complex command languages.
Hard drive – Hard disk drive. A disk drive that reads from and writes to a hard disk.
The hard drive also is called the hard disk. You'll probably never see it because it is
nestled inside your computer. It's the computer's electronic filling cabinet, and it stores
the computer's operating system, files, programs and documents.
Hardware – The hardware is the physical part of a computer system; the machinery and
equipment. Hardware includes the monitor, tower, mouse, keyboard, speakers, and
printer. It can also include other devices that communicate with the CPU such as
scanners or digital cameras.
Highlight – To select text in order to cut, copy, delete, move, or format it. When you
highlight text, it typically appears white on a black background. To highlight using the
mouse, click the cursor next to the text, click and hold the left mouse button then drag the
mouse across the chosen text. To highlight all text, click Edit -> Select All from tool bar in
Home Page – The first page on a World Wide Web site, to which supporting pages are
linked. Typically, the home page serves as an index or table of contents to other
documents stored at the site. The home page can also be the Web page that your browser
is set to use when it starts up, or the main Web page for a business, organization, person,
or simply the main page out of a collection of Web pages.
Hyperlink (or hotlink or link) – An element in an electronic document that links to
another place in the same document or to an entirely different document. Typically, you
click on the hyperlink to follow the link. Hyperlinks are the most essential ingredient of all
hypertext systems, including the World Wide Web. Hyperlinks are usually underlined or
shown in a different color.
Icons – Small pictures that represent commands, files, or windows. By moving the pointer
to the icon and pressing a mouse button, you can execute a command or convert the icon
into a window. You can also move the icons around the display screen as if they were real
objects on your desk.
IM – Stands for Instant Message; A private message that reaches the recipient almost
immediately after the user sends it. IMs are commonly used in America Online, Microsoft,
Interface – the keyboard, mouse, menus of a computer system. The user interface allows
the user to communicate with the operating system. See Also GUI.
Internet – The Internet is not synonymous with World Wide Web. The Internet is
decentralized by design. Each Internet computer, called a host, is independent. Its
operators can choose which Internet services to use and which local services to make
available to the global Internet community. Remarkably, this anarchy by design works
exceedingly well. A network of networks; a group of networks interconnected via routers.
The Internet (with a capital I) is the world's largest internet. This worldwide information
highway is comprised of thousands of interconnected computer networks, and reaches
millions of people in many different countries. The Internet was originally developed for
the United States military, and then became used for government, academic and
commercial research and communications. The Internet is made up of large backbone
networks, and smaller networks that link to them. The Internet functions as a gateway
for electronic mail between various networks and online services. The World Wide Web
facility on the Internet makes possible almost instantaneous exchange of information by
linking documents around the world. Internet computers use the TCP/IP (Transmission
Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). There are over six million hosts on the Internet:
mainframes, minicomputers or workstations that support the Internet Protocol.
ISP – Stands for Internet Service Provider ; An ISP is a company or organization that
provides Internet access to individuals and institutions, usually for a fee. The service
provider gives you a software package, user name, password, and access phone number.
With a modem, a user can log on, browse the World Wide Web, and communicate with
others through chat and email. A company that provides individuals and companies
access to the Internet at varying speeds and other related services such as email.
Keyboard – The set of typewriter-like keys that enables you to enter data into a
computer. Computer keyboards are similar to electric-typewriter keyboards but contain
additional keys. The keys on computer keyboards are often classified as follows:
• alphanumeric keys -- letters and numbers
• punctuation keys -- comma, period, semicolon, and so on.
• special keys -- function keys, control keys, arrow keys, Caps Lock key, and so on.
Log Off – To disconnect from a network or from the Internet
Log On – To enter your user name and password in order to establish a connection to a
network or the Internet.
Menus – Most graphical user interfaces let you execute commands by selecting a choice
from a menu.
Modem – MOdulator/DEModulator - A simple analog data communications device for
transmitting data over a POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) line. Digital signals are
converted to analog signals and vice versa. Modems are used to send data signals (digital)
over the telephone network, which is usually analog. The modem modulates the digital
data of computers into analog signals to send over the telephone lines, then demodulates
back into digital signals to be read by the computer on the other end; thus the name
"modem" for MOdulator/DEModulator.
Monitor – Another term for display screen. The term monitor, however, usually refers to
the entire box, whereas display screen can mean just the screen. In addition, the term
monitor often implies graphics capabilities
Mouse – A device that controls the movement of the cursor or pointer on a display screen.
A mouse is a small object you can roll along a hard, flat surface. Its name is derived from
its shape, which looks a bit like a mouse, its connecting wire that one can imagine to be
the mouse's tail, and the fact that one must make it scurry along a surface. As you move
the mouse, the pointer on the display screen moves in the same direction. Mice contain at
least one button and sometimes as many as three, which have different functions
depending on what program is running. Some newer mice also include a scroll wheel for
scrolling through long documents.
Operating System – The main control program of a computer that schedules tasks,
manages storage, and handles communication with peripherals. Its main part, called the
kernel, is always present. The operating system presents a basic user interface when no
applications are open, and all applications must communicate with the operating system.
Examples of operating systems are Windows, DOS, MacOS, Linux, UNIX, etc.
PC – Stands for Personal Computer. However, there are many kinds of personal
computers; PC usually refers to personal computers that conform to the standard of the
IBM PC. There are more IBM PCs and PC clones in use worldwide than any other type of
computer. The IBM PCs and PC clones are based on the Intel microprocessors and mostly
are run with DOS or Windows. Some makers of PC clones are Compaq, HP, and Dell.
Plug-and-Play -- The ability of a computer to automatically detect and configure new
hardware components when they are plugged in, without requiring the user to go through
complicated installation procedures. With plug and play, it should be possible to
immediately use a new peripheral as soon as it is plugged in. Example, a mouse or Flash
drive. Macintosh equipment has always been plug-and-play; PC users have it since
Plug-in -- A (usually small) piece of software that adds features to or enhances a larger
piece of software. The idea behind plug-ins is that a small piece of software is loaded into
memory by the larger program, adding a new feature, and that users need only install the
few plug-ins that they need, out of a much larger pool of possibilities. An example is the
set of additional tools and effects available to Photoshop image editor in the Plug-ins
folder. There are many plug-ins for Netscape Navigator such as Shockwave player that
give the browser special capabilities, especially for multimedia websites.
Pointer – A symbol that appears on the display screen and that you move to select
objects and commands. Usually, the pointer appears as a small angled arrow. Text
-processing applications, however, use an I-beam pointer that is shaped like a capital I.
Pointing device – A device, such as a mouse or trackball, which enables you to select
objects on the display screen.
Port – A receptacle on the computer (usually but not limited to the back of the tower). It
gets its name from the ports where ships pick up and deliver cargo. In this case, a port
allows information to enter and leave the system. Example, USB Flash Drives plug into
Presentation software – A type of business software that enables users to create highly
stylized images for slide shows and reports. The software includes functions for creating
various types of charts and graphs and for inserting text in a variety of fonts. Most
systems enable you to import data from a spreadsheet application to create the charts and
Printer – A device that prints text or illustrations on paper.
Pull-down Menu – A menu that appears near the top of the screen, on the menu bar,
listing various options. A menu’s contents are not visible until you click the menu. The
menu then drops down, covering a small part of the screen.
RAM – Stands for Random Access Memory. The working memory of the computer. RAM
is the generic term for read/write memory, memory that permits bits and bytes to be
written to it as well as read from it, in any order or sequence. RAM is the memory used for
storing data temporarily while working on it, running application programs, etc. Access to
and from RAM is very fast. "Random access" refers to the fact that any area of RAM can
be accessed directly and immediately, in contrast to other media such as a magnetic tape
where the tape must be wound to the point where the data is. RAM is called volatile
memory; information in RAM will disappear if the power is switched off before it is saved
ROM – Stands for Read-Only Memory. Memory that can be read but not changed. Read-
only memory is non-volatile storage; it holds its contents even when the power is turned
off. Data is placed in ROM only once, and stays there permanently. ROM chips are used
for storage of the essential software of the computer, called firmware.
Recycle Bin – A virtual trash can into which Windows places files and folders when you
choose to delete them. The Recycle Bin is a temporary storage area that acts as a safety
net for deleted files. If you delete a file or folder by mistake, you can usually retrieve it
from the Recycle Bin. Once you Empty the Recycle Bin, all files and folders within will be
Screen Saver – A program that displays a moving picture on your computer screen when
the computer is inactive. Screen savers are typically used as decorative novelties and to
prevent passersby from snooping.
Scrollbar – A band, typically displayed along the bottom and right edge of a window,
used to bring the contents of the window into view.
Search Engine – A tool to find documents on the Web. At great speeds, the search
engine will search through millions of Web pages and select those with specific words and
phrases as chosen by the user.
Shortcut – A cloned version of an icon that points to a document or program on your
computer. Shortcuts let you place programs and documents in more than one convenient
location on your computer.
Software – A program or set of programs that tells a computer system what to do. There
are two types of software: operating system software and application software. Operating
system software (such as Windows) gets your computer up and running. Application
software lets you do something useful, such as type a letter or manage your finances.
Other types of software include games and utilities (programs for maintaining and
optimizing your computer).
Spreadsheet software – Spreadsheet applications (sometimes referred to simply as
spreadsheets) are computer programs that let you create and manipulate spreadsheets
electronically. In a spreadsheet application, each value sits in a cell. You can define what
type of data is in each cell and how different cells depend on one another. The
relationships between cells are called formulas, and the names of the cells are called labels
Spreadsheets – A program used for keeping schedules and calculating numeric results.
Common spreadsheets include Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel. A table of values arranged
in rows and columns. Each value can have a predefined relationship to the other values. If
you change one value, therefore, you may need to change other values as well.
Start menu/button – The button in the lower-left corner of the opening Windows screen
that provides access to all the programs on your computer.
Status bar – The area at the bottom of a program window that shows you what is going
on as you work. A status bar might show the page and line number where the insertion
point is positioned or show the progress of an opening program or webpage.
Surfing – By analogy with riding waves in the ocean, traveling from place to place on the
Internet. The idea "Internet surfing" may come from "channel surfing" on the television,
which means switching from channel to channel looking for something interesting. By
that example, surfing the internet is traveling from site to site, exploring the Internet for
System Crash – A breakdown of either the operating system or the hardware, resulting
in the systems halting, often very abruptly. See also Crash, Virus.
System Unit – (CPU, or Tower) The central component of any computer, the system unit
contains the computer’s CPU, memory, disk drives, and other essential components. See
also CPU .
Taskbar – Runs across the bottom of the computer screen. Contains the clock, Start
button, and any open programs or windows. You can use the taskbar to switch between
open programs or windows.
Toolbar – A strip of buttons typically displayed near the top of a program window, below
the menu bar. The toolbar contains buttons that you can click to enter common commands,
allowing you to bypass the menu system.
Undo – A feature in most programs that lets you reverse one or more actions. For
example, if you delete a paragraph by mistake, you can choose the Undo command to get it
Upload – To send data to another computer, usually through a modem and a telephone
line or over a network connection. See Also Download.
URL – Stands for Universal Resource Locator, or Uniform Resource Locator. The global
address of documents and other resources on the World Wide Web. Universal Resource
Locator is a means of identifying an exact location on the Internet. A URL is comprised of
four parts: Protocol Type (HTTP), Machine Name (webtrends.com), Directory Path
(/html/info/), and File Name (default.htm). A resource identifier that describes its target
by presenting a pathway for retrieving it. URL may include a protocol, a host computer,
and how to find the target resource on that computer.
USB – Stands for Universal Serial Bus, or Port. USB is a "plug and play" interface
between a computer and add-on devices such camera and microphone. With USB, a device
can be added to your computer without having to turn the computer off.
Utility – A program designed to optimize, protect, or maintain a computer rather than
perform a task for the user. Utilities include backup programs, antivirus software, and
Virtual Memory – Disk storage used as RAM (memory).
Virus – A program that attaches itself to files on a floppy or hard disk, duplicates itself
without the user’s knowledge, and might cause the computer to do strange and sometimes
destructive things, such as reformatting your hard drive. See Also Crash.
Wallpaper – A graphical design that appears as the background for the Windows
desktop. Also known as desktop background.
Web Browser – A software application used to make navigating the Internet easy for the
user by providing a graphical user interface so the user can click menus, icons, or buttons
rather than learning difficult computer commands. Also called a web client because the
browser application resides on the client, or the computer of the individual using it, rather
than residing on a web server. Two widely used web browsers are Microsoft's Internet
Explorer and Netscape Navigator.
Web Site – A site (location) on the World Wide Web. A group of similar web pages linked
by hyperlinks and managed by a single company, organization, or individual. A web site
may include text, graphics, audio and video files, and hyperlinks to other web pages. Each
Web site contains a home page, which is the first document users see when they enter the
site. The site might also contain additional documents and files. Each site is owned and
managed by an individual, company or organization.
Wi-Fi – Stands for Wireless Fidelity. A wireless network standard for connecting
computers via radio-frequency signals rather than network cables. Commonly referred to
as a means to connect to the Internet.
Windows – A way of displaying information on different parts of the screen. When
capitalized, used as an abbreviated form of Microsoft Windows. In each window, you can
run a different program or display a different file. You can move windows around the
display screen, and change their shape and size at will.
Word Processing – Word Processor. Using a computer to create, edit, and print
documents. Of all computer applications, word processing is the most common. To perform
word processing, you need a computer, a special program called a word processor, and a
printer. A word processor enables you to create a document, store it electronically on a
disk, display it on a screen, modify it by entering commands and characters from the
keyboard, and print it on a printer.
Word processing program - The preparation of text documents by means of a computer
program. Word processing is a stage of desktop publishing: the preparation of text, rather
than the design or typography. Some features provided by word processing software
include word wrap, text editing functions, type styling, page formatting, search and
replace, spelling and grammar checking, style sheets, headers and footers, page
numbering, sorting, and mail merge.
World Wide Web – World Wide Web is not synonymous with the Internet . A system of
Internet servers that support specially formatted documents. The documents are
formatted in a markup language called HTML (HyperText Markup Language) that
supports links to other documents, as well as graphics, audio, and video files. This means
you can jump from one document to another simply by clicking on hot spots. Not all
Internet servers are part of the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web (WWW or simply
Web) is all the resources and users on the Internet that are using the Hypertext Transport
Protocol (HTTP). The Web gives universal access to a vast collection of documents. The
Web's protocols are a superset of many of the most common Internet application services.
Web servers exist for libraries, corporations, and a wide variety of other sites. An easy (but
powerful) global-information system based on a combination of information retrieval and
hypertext techniques. The Web is a hypertext-based, distributed system developed to
provide Internet users an easy, intuitive means of accessing information.