Glossary of Computer Terms

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These pages contains definitions of a number of computer terms.
To search for the term that you require please click the letter that the term starts with in the alphabetical links above.

As the subject of computers is a rather large one, even this list only covers a small portion of the number of terms that are used in the industry. If the term that you want defined is not included or you think that you have a better definition of one of the terms that is defined, please send us an email so that we can update this list.

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Numerics

10base2
Ethernet networking (10 megabit/second) using 50 ohm coaxial cable attached to T junctions on each computer and terminated at each end
10baseT
Ethernet networking (10 megabit/second) using 4 wire twisted pairs to connect the computers to a hub
100BaseTx
Ethernet networking similar to 10baseT but capable of 100 megabit/second

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A

Access time
The amount of time for data requested from memory or disk to become available after the request was issued.
ACPI
Advanced Configuration and Power Interface, allows components of the system to be powered down when they are not in use.
Active Window
the window that appears in front of any other windows on the screen. Any keyboard entry into the computer will be processed first by this window.
ADSL
asynchronous digital subscriber line, a broadband connection to the internet that works independently of your telephone but using the same line to give you a high speed permanent connection. Asynchronous means that the download speed is faster than the upload speed so its still not suitable for hosting your own site.
AGP
accelerated graphics port, a new type of slot specifically designed for high speed graphics card
Applications
The programs that you run on the computer to perform the tasks that you require.
ASCII
American Standard Code for Information Interchange, the method of encoding characters used by most smaller computers.
ASP
Active server pages, a web page scripting language produced by Microsoft.
ATA
the most common bus used to provide access to hard drives, also called IDE, more recent versions are ATA-2 (also called EIDE) and ATA-3

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B

Backing Up
the process of copying your files onto removable media. This gives you a copy of the files that you can recover from if something happens to the original copy.
Bandwidth
the process throughput of the given device usually measured in bits or bytes per second.
BGA
A screen resolution of 800 x 600
BIOS
basic input output system, a ROM chip that contains the instructions on how to start up the computer and access the main bus systems.
bit
abbreviation of binary digit, the smallest unit of computer memory, can only hold one or zero
Boot
The process of loading and running that part of the operating system that loads the operating system
bug
an unintentional error in a program that causes the program to not perform correctly in all circumstances
bus
the communication channels within the computer, eg the address bus allows access to the computers memory, the data bus transfers data, other buses provide common formats for attaching devices
button (screen)
a graphical representation of a button on the screen which can be pressed by selecting it from the keyboard or clicking on it using a mouse
byte
eight bits, can hold 256 different values, in single byte character sets each value is assigned a different character

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C

cache
An area of memory used to hold information being passed to and from slower memory in order to speed up access
CD-R
compact laser disk - recordable, a media which can be written to once by CD-R capable drives as well as being able to be read by many CD ROM drives
CD ROM
compact laser disk read only memory, holds up to about 650Mb of data and programs which can be read into the computer but not updated
CD-RW
compact laser disk - rewritable, a media which can be rewritten to as required by CD-RW capable drives
CGA
common graphics array, a display mode of 320 x 200 dots
CGI
common gateway interface, a means of passing data between a web server and an external application
check box
The little square boxes that appear to the left of some fields. They are used as on-off switches. Where an X appears in the box the associated condition applies, when the box is empty the associated condition does not apply. In text mode check boxes are usually shown as [ ].
chipset
chips found on the motherboard that handle memory management as well as the interfaces to the peripherals.
click
to press and immediately release a mouse button
clipboard
the place where data that you have cut or copied is stored until you are ready to paste it.
close button
the small button with an X in it which appears at the right hand end of the title bar in recent versions of Windows and OS/2.
cluster
the smallest section of disk space that can be accessed by programs, depending on the filing system used this will consist of one or more sectors.
codec
coder - decoder chip, compresses video data down to a smaller size without a significant reduction in quality
concatenate
to join two strings together one after the other
control menu
the menu which appears if you select the system button at the left hand end of the title bar.
cookie
a small piece of information stored on your system for later use by the web site that wrote it so that it can customize the supplied information to your requirements.
core voltage
the CPU runs on a lower voltage than the rest of the computer.
CPU
central processing unit, the brain of the computer, comes in several varieties which are identifiable by number (eg. 486) or name (eg. Pentium)
cracker
someone who tries to break into other peoples computer, often with destructive intent
cursor
a moveable marker on the video screen which indicates the place on the screen where the next action will occur
CYMK
cyan yellow magenta black, the colours used by most colour printers, by mixing these four colours most other colours can be produced

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D

database
a data storage repository containing data organized in such a way as to simplify its retrieval.
DDR
double data rate memory using synchronous dynamic ram.
default directory
the current directory being accessed on each drive. The default directory on the default drive is known as the current working directory.
default drive
the drive which will be used by file accesses where a drive letter is not specified. Text based operating systems usually indicate the default drive as part of the command prompt.
defrag
as you add and delete files on your hard drive the individual files end up being stored in a large number of fragments wherever there is free space on the drive. This slows down the process of reading the file. To resolve this we need to defragment the drive.
desktop
the background which appears behind the windows displayed on your screen.
device
a piece of computer hardware that performs a specific function.
DHCP
dynamic host configuration protocol, a method of dynamically allocating IP addresses to the devices on a network.
digital resolution
an enhanced resolution of a scanning device obtained by interpolation.
directory
also called folder, a table of contents for a related set of files.
directx
Microsoft's multimedia and gaming extensions.
disk (floppy)
now a 3-1/2" flexible magnetic platter onto which data can be stored, contained within a rigid plastic case, earlier floppy disks were 5-1/4" or 8" and contained within a cardboard cover.
disk (hard)
a number of rigid magnetic platters contained inside the computer, has a much larger memory capacity than floppies
DLL
Dynamic Link Library, common routines shared between programs that are placed in a separate module external to the programs that are to use them.
download
the process of transferring data from a server to your computer
DoS
Denial of Service, bombarding a server with bogus requests so as to so overload it that it is unable to process legitimate requests.
DOS
disk operating system, provides the interface between your application programs and the computer hardware, makes it possible to run the same programs on different hardware configurations, still the most popular operating system in use
dot pitch
the distance in millimetres between the holes in the shadow mask inside of your monitor (or between the wires if your monitor uses an aperture grill). All other things being equal the smaller the dot pitch, the sharper the image.
double click
to click a mouse button twice in quick succession
DPI
dots per inch, a measure of the sharpness of a printed image, the dots placed by inkjet printers spread slightly so 20% higher dots are required to obtain the same sharpness as a laser printer eg. a 600 dpi laser has the same resolution as a 720 dpi inkjet.
drag
to move the mouse pointer across the screen while holding a mouse button down
driver
a small utility program that acts as the interface between the operating system and a specific hardware device

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E

EGA
extended graphics array, a display mode of 480 x 320 dots
EISA
extended industry standard architecture, a 32 bit version of an ISA slot, usually brown, also the bus associated with such slots.
Email
the most commonly used part of the internet, used to send text and image enhanced messages to other internet users.
Exabyte (Eb)
1024 Petabytes or 1 152 921 504 606 846 976 bytes (2** 60 bytes)

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F

file
a collection of related information eg. a document or program.
firewall
a hardware or software barrier placed between your computer/network and the internet to help protect your system from external attacks.
Font
the particular typeface used to display your text eg. Courier, Times New Roman, Helvetica.
Foreground Application
in multi-tasking operating systems (eg. Windows NT, OS/2) the application to which the active window belongs. In task swapping operating systems (eg. Windows) the application that is actually running.
Format
the command that you use to clean out the contents of a disk so that you can reuse it.
FSB
front side bus, the connection between the processor and the main memory.
FTP
File Transfer Protocol, a method of transferring files across the Internet
function
a part of a program which performs a particular task.

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G

Gigabyte (Gb)
1024 Megabytes or 1073741824 bytes (2** 30 bytes)
Gopher
a method of document retrieval via the internet, now almost completely superseded by HTTP
GPU
graphics processor unit. The central processing component of your graphics card.
GUI
graphical user interface, a method of displaying information on the computer screen in graphical form.

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H

hacker
someone who can write clever and fast code although not necessarily well structured. This term is also incorrectly used to refer to people who try to break into other people's computer systems.
hardware
the physical components that make up a computer system
help
pressing the F1 key usually brings up a help screen which provides further information associated with the field or window that is currently active.
HTML
Hyper Text Markup Language, the markup language used to define pages on the internet that are downloadable via HTTP.
HTTP
Hyper Text Transfer Protocol, the method used to transfer documents to your computer from the World Wide Web.

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I

icon
a small image on the computer screen used to represent a file or part of the computer.
IDE
Integrated Drive Electronics, see ATA.
Internet
a vast connection of computers using TCP/IP to communicate with each other. Used to run applications such as FTP, Telnet, SMTP, POP3, Gopher, HTTP (WWW), and many others that allow information to be shared around the world.
interrupt
one of a small number of fixed addresses on your computer that can send signals to the CPU to interrupt the current processing with some time critical processing relating to the attached device
I/O
input/output, the act of reading or writing.
ISA
industry standard architecture, the original standard for slots for provision of add-on cards originally 8 bit then extended to 16 bit, usually black, also the bus associated with such slots.

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JK

keyboard
the typewriter like input device attached to the computer.
kilobyte (k)
1024 bytes (2 ** 10 bytes)

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L

LAN
Local Area Network, the hardware and software allowing sharing of resources between computers located relatively close together

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