Click on the first letter of the
term to see a clear explanation of the common terms used
To gain entry to or connect
Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (Broadband):
a broadband network
connection with high-speed downloading but slower uploading
(still faster than standard dial-up)
AGP Accelerated graphics port.
An enhancement of the system
bus designed to boost graphics performance.
Alphanumeric Consisting of letters,
numbers and special
characters such as punctuation marks or spaces.
Applications software for particular tasks,
such as word-processors,
graphics programs etc. provided on a computer in addition to
the underlying operating system
A file (often in some special
format, e.g. a word-processor file) attached to an email
The \ character. On most computer keyboards the back slash
key is located near the top-right corner of the main section
of the keyboard, although this is not always the case. The
back slash character is frequently used when describing the
location of a file, see as in:
C:\My Documents\My Music
Some computing old-timers use the terms slosh and slash for
the forward slash (/) and the back slash (\) respectively.
The slosh is used in Web addresses.
A duplicate copy of a file. You should back up your data
files regularly so you have a spare copy if the original is
accidentally damaged or lost.
The amount of data that can be transmitted over a network
connection at any one time.
A standard modem connection to the Internet provides a
relatively low bandwidth, making it unsuitable to download
high-bandwidth media such as video; a cable modem provides
considerably higher bandwidth.
Basic input/output system, pronounced buy-oss.
Software built into your computer which controls
basic communications, screen, keyboard and other functions.
When your computer first starts up, it loads the BIOS before
loading the operating system.
The smallest piece
of information that can be stored by a computer.
A bit can have a value of 0 or 1. There are 8 bits in a
Used for short-range wireless communication between devices,
(e.g. between computers and mobile phones, wireless
keyboards or mice)
BMP file format, sometimes called bitmap or
DIB file format (for device-independent bitmap),
file format used to store
A Web address recorded for future use (in
Mozilla, Opera and other browsers: see also Favorites)
To start up a computer.
Bits per second, the standard measure of data transmission
Bug An error in a computer program or in computer
Bus A set of wires used to transfer data between the
main components on a computer’s motherboard.
the speed at which the processor in a computer communicates
Usual speed is 133MHz; it can be higher.
A measurement of memory. One byte can contain a single
character – a letter, number, punctuation mark or other
symbol. A byte contains eight bits.
A modem which operates over cable TV lines, providing high
(a) a section of memory or a separate storage device used in
a computer system to store recently accessed data
(b) (Proxy web
cache): a collection of recently-fetched Web documents kept
on a local proxy server, to reduce network traffic
(c) (Local web
cache): copies of recently-fetched Web documents kept
locally (usually on the hard disk) by the web browser
CD-R Compact Disc Recordable. A drive that can create
and read CD-ROMs and audio CDs.
Also refers to the writeable compact disc media you place in
a CD-R drive.
Compact Disc Read-Only Memory. A data version of the
familiar audio CD.
It has a fairly high capacity and is frequently used for
program installations. The ‘read-only’ indicated that while
you can read information from CD-ROMs you cannot write
information to them.
CD-RW Compact Disc Rewriteable. A type of CD that
lets you write to it in multiple sessions (unlike a CD-R
disc which can be written to only once).
Central Processing Unit
Also known as the CPU or microprocessor. The ‘brains’ of
your computer. The CPU handles all the central logic and
operations for your computer, assisted by other computer
Short for ‘microchip’. A small piece of silicon (or another
semi-conducting material) which contains electronic
components such as transistors and resistors organized into
a circuit. Your computer contains many chips, including the
central processing unit, memory chips, and other
A special temporary storage space in memory. Whenever you
use the cut or copy commands in a program, the information
is stored on the clipboard. It may be inserted into the
current document using the paste command. The clipboard can
contain only one item at a time, so each copy or cut command
will replace the current contents of the clipboard.
Configure To set up a computer system or computer
program so that it functions well.
Cookie A small file placed on your hard disk by a Web
site in order to identify you when you visit again.
central processing unit.
Crash A serious computer problem that causes a
program to halt or the whole computer to stop working.
Cursor The small pointer that moves about the screen
in a direct relationship to the movements of your mouse.
Cyberspace The non-physical world created within
computer systems. When you’re connected to the Internet, for
example, you are ‘in cyberspace’.
Any type of information. A letter you create with your word
processor is data, as is a picture you draw using a graphics
program. Data is stored on your computer in files.
A standard or recommended setting which you may alter if you
wish. For instance, the Windows Taskbar appears at the
bottom of your screen by default; you can move it to another
position by dragging-and-dropping it.
Desktop The full-screen display where all Windows
activity takes place. Analogous to a real desktop, where you
place everything you’re currently working on.
Device Driver A piece of software which tells a piece
of hardware how to work with the rest of a computer system.
Your printer, for instance, requires a printer driver to
make sure it works correctly.
Device Any computer sub-system or peripheral, such as
a printer, USB port or disk drive.
Dialog box, dialog An onscreen box which lets you
adjust settings or provide information needed to run a
program, or which is used to alert you to some event. Dialog
boxes require some form of interaction between the user and
the computer, hence the name.
Dial-up connection A widely-used method of connecting
to the Internet. A dial-up connection uses regular phone
lines to connect one computer to another via modem.
Disable To prevent a feature or component from
Disc A storage medium using optical technology. The
term includes CD-ROMs, digital video discs and laser discs.
Disk A computer storage medium (using non-optical
Name System (or Server): the mechanism that translates
between domain names (e.g.www.cam.ac.uk) and IP addresses
Any self-contained piece of work created using a program. A
letter you create with your word processor is a document;
so, too, is a picture you create with a graphics editor or a
Web page you design with a Web page editor.
To copy information from a remote computer to your computer.
When you connect to the Web, you’re constantly downloading
Web pages and files to your computer system.
Drop-down menu Sub-menus which drop down from another
menu. Also known as cascading menus.
DSL Digital Subscriber Line. A technology that
supports high-speed data connections.
A mechanism allowing a single machine to offer a choice of
start-up operating systems (e.g. Windows and Linux)
Digital Video Disc. A high-capacity CD-ROM storage disc.
Digital Video Interface: a way of connecting a flat screen
Electronic mail. Messages exchanged between users on a
E-mail address A unique name that identifies an
e-mail recipient. E-mail addresses take the form
username@hostname. An example is firstname.lastname@example.org,
which is pronounced ‘johndoe at morgue dot com dot a-u’.
Note that e-mail addresses, unlike URLs (Internet
addresses), are not case sensitive.
Enable To allow a program feature or a computer
device to function.
Ergonomic Designed to enhance human comfort and
A very widely implemented technology for connecting computer
systems in local-area networks
To run a computer program.
Frequently Asked Questions (pronounced fak).
Documents which give the answers to commonly asked questions
about a particular topic.
set of Web addresses recorded for future use (in Internet
Explorer, Outlook and other browsers: see also bookmark)
A collection of related information stored on a computer.
Each document you create is stored in a file with its own
filename, so you (and the computer) can identify it.
Programs, too, are stored in files.
An application that lets you control and filter traffic on
connections to or from your computer or network
The name used by Apple and others for a very fast external
bus standard (IEEE 1394) for connecting external devices to
computers. 1394 products for other systems are known as
I. link and Lynx
A vicious e-mail message or newsgroup posting in which the
author attacks another online participant.
Floppy disk A small, removable storage medium.
Floppies are so-called because inside the rigid protective
case is a flexible, brown plastic disk on which data can be
stored. To use a floppy, you insert it in a floppy disk
A file container on a disk. Like a folder in a filing
cabinet, you can store related files in the same folder to
help organize your information.
FTP File Transfer Protocol. A commonly used method
for transmitting files across the Internet.
Graphics Interchange Format. A graphics file format used
extensively on the Internet because it uses compression to
minimize the size, and hence the download time, of the
images. The format was originally developed by the online
service provider, CompuServe. The letters gif are
used as a file extension (the characters after the full
stop/period in a filename) for files in the Graphics
Gigabyte A measurement of memory. One gigabyte is
equivalent to 2 to the 30th power (1,073,741,824) bytes
or 1024 megabytes.
Graphical User Interface, pronounced gooey. Windows
is a GUI. That is, it is made up of graphical elements
(windows, icons, menus). Contrast this with earlier
operating systems such as DOS, which were purely textual,
with commands entered by typing.
Hard disk A high-capacity, long-term storage medium.
Known also as hard drive, hard disk drive or
HDD. It is a device where you permanently store
programs and data. Hard disks are usually connected
permanently with the main computer housing.
Hardware The physical equipment that makes up a
computer system. Hardware is essentially the parts of a
computer you can touch – the monitor, keyboard, disk drives,
and so on.
Home page The main page of a Web site.
HTML Hypertext Markup Language, the authoring
language used to create documents on the World Wide Web.
Hypertext Transfer Protocol. The set of rules governing the
transmission of documents on the World Wide Web.
An element (piece of text, graphic image) in a document that
links to another place in the same document or to an
entirely different document. When you click a hyperlink, the
link’s destination is fetched and displayed. The World Wide
Web is composed of documents which use hyperlinks for
interconnection. Text-based hyperlinks are often displayed
in a different color or underlined, so they stand out from
the rest of the document.
A small on-screen picture which represents something: a
program, a folder, a data file, a command shortcut.
The file into which incoming mail is delivered
Input Information entered into a computer, or the act
of entering such information. You can input information
using input devices such as the keyboard, mouse or a
Interface A term most often used to describe the
‘user interface’, which is the way a computer system or
program is designed to work with its human operator.
Internet A global network of computer networks,
allowing communication and information exchange.
Internet address See URL.
Internet Protocol, used by almost all communicating
computer systems, usually in combination with TCP
(Transmission Control Protocol) to give TCP/IP
The means used to identify the connection of a system to the
Internet, conventionally represented by a four-component
number (for instance, 22.214.171.124 which identifies a
Computing Service DNS server).
ISP Internet Service Provider. ISPs maintain a
dedicated communication line to the Internet; users dial in
to the ISP, which then connects them to the Internet via a
(hopefully) high-speed dedicated communications line.
The Jazz disk, made by the same company (Iomega),
stores even more information than a Zip disk.
or JPEG Pronounced jay-peg. A graphics file
format which can compress graphics to a fraction of their
size. JPG uses ‘lossy compression’, which means that the
higher the degree of compression, the more detail is lost
from the image. JPG images are frequently used on Web pages
because their small size reduces download time, and they
have the file extension .jpg (or, occasionally,
Kbps Kilobits per second. A measure of data transfer
speed. One kilobit is 1000 bits. A 56Kbps modem (ideally)
transfers information at 56,000 bits per second. If you
divide the Kbps rate by 10, you’ll get the approximate
number of characters transferred in one second.
Kilobyte A measurement of memory. One kilobyte holds
Local Area Network. A group of computers connected together
within a fairly small geographical space, usually within one
Link A dynamic reference to another document (or
another part of the current document). Clicking a link will
connect you to the destination document.
Linux An operating system which runs on a
variety of computer hardware, including PCs. Linux has a
very strong following due to its efficient design and
because it’s offered free of charge under a system called
open source. However, despite attempts to make a user
friendly version of Linux, it is far more difficult to
use than either Windows or Mac OS and is not suitable for
Log off, log out See
Log on See
Mac OS An operating system designed by Apple
which is used on Macintosh computers.
A catch-all phrase used to describe Viruses, Trojans,
Spyware and other types of malicious software.
A collection of mail messages stored together (folder)
Megabits per second – millions of bits per second. A measure
of data transfer speed.
A measure of computer storage. All information in your
computer is measured in bytes, with one byte containing the
equivalent of a single character, such as a letter of the
alphabet, a number, a punctuation mark (including spaces)
and so on. A kilobyte is 2^10 bytes – 1024 bytes, although
hard drive manufacturers often define it as 1000 bytes. A
megabyte is 2^20 bytes – 1,048,576 bytes. These days, hard
disk sizes are usually measure in gigabytes, 2^30 bytes –
A measure of frequency. Used to measure microprocessor
Memory Random Access Memory (RAM). Temporary storage
area for programs and data while your computer is switched
on. Anything stored in RAM is lost when the power is turned
off. Don’t confuse memory with storage.
A list of options from which you can choose. You open a menu
by clicking its title with the mouse; then you select an
option by moving the mouse pointer to the desired option and
MHz See megahertz.
Microcomputer A computer built around a single
microprocessor, such as a PC or a Mac. These days the
definition is getting a little stretched as microcomputers
are sometimes built with two or more microprocessors working
A silicon chip that contains a central processing unit.
The term is often used interchangeably with the term central
processing unit when talking about personal computers.
This device plugs into your BT phone socket and splits the
line into a standard phone and a broadband line. You will
need one of these on every one of you sockets that you use
in the house. They are usually supplied when you sigh up to
a telephone broadband service, like BT, Orange Broadband,
but not Virgin media as this use fibre optics.
Modulator-demodulator. A device used to transmit digital
data (from your computer) across analogue phone lines.
Motherboard Sometimes called a main board. The main
circuit board in a computer, holding the primary components
such as the CPU and RAM.
Mouse A pointing device which lets a user interact
with a computer.
MP3 A compressed audio format that has gained huge
popularity. Thousands of musical tracks are available in MP3
format on the Web, and you can download these tracks using a
browser or other software and listen to them on your
computer or a portable MP3 player.
Multimedia The use of sound, video and/or animation
as well as static graphics and text.
Multi-tasking A system which can perform more than
one task at a time. Both Windows and Mac OS are multitasking
One billionth of a second.
Netiquette Etiquette guidelines for
behaviour on the Internet, in particular with regard to
posting messages to newsgroups and e-mail.
Network Two or more computers linked together.
Newsgroup An online discussion group on a particular
Newsreader An application that lets you read and
reply to messages posted on Internet newsgroups.
Disconnected from a computer communications system.
Online Connected to a computer communications system.
Open Also called run, load, start or execute. Opening
an item (such as a program) activates it.
A collection of programs which, together, manage all the
basic functions of a computer. The operating system runs
other programs (such as a word processor or graphics
editor), manages the storage of your own documents, and
coordinates the functions of the computer itself and all the
devices connected to the computer. Windows XP, Mac OS and
Linux are three examples of operating systems. A program
written to work under one operating system will not work on
another operating system (a different version must be
written for each operating system – such as Microsoft Office
for Windows and Office for the Mac.)
A Windows application which can be used for email amongst
Outlook Express A Mail User Agent available on Windows; not
supported on the PWF
Information processed by a computer program and displayed or
stored on a device. Output may be printed, displayed on the
screen, sent across a communications link, played through
the speakers, and so on.
Peer to Peer
PC Personal Computer. Usually used to refer to any
computer that runs the Windows operating system.
Portable Document Format: a format widely used for
publishing on the Web, and read using Acrobat Reader
Peer to Peer Software A type of network in which each
participating system has equivalent capabilities (unlike
client-server architecture). Often used for file-sharing
applications such as music sharing
One of the microprocessor from Intel.
Peripheral Hardware component that you add to the
central system unit of a computer, such as a monitor,
Plug & Play The ability to configure a new device
Pop – Up A small windows that opens whenever you
visit a web page. Pop-ups are often used for legitimate
advertising, but mostly are regarded as intrusive annoyances
A conduit for transferring information between a computer
and an external device, such as a modem, mouse, joystick,
digital camera or printer. Parallel ports (used by printers
and scanners) transfer bits of information simultaneously in
groups. Serial ports (used by modems and joysticks) transfer
information one bit at a time. See also USB.
Post To place a message on a newsgroup or BBS.
Protocol A set of rules which allows different parts
of a computer network to ‘talk’ to one another.
Public-domain software Any program that is not
copyrighted, and is thus available for free use by anyone.
(Note that ‘freeware’ is copyrighted software that is free.)
Random Access Memory. The fast internal memory used by the
computer to store information and instructions while the
computer is operating. Anything stored in RAM is lost when
the power is switched off.
Resolution The clarity of the image on the screen.
ROM Read-Only Memory. Internal memory which contains
This allows multiple PC’s to access a single broadband
internet connection. It usually automatically chooses the
best route for the data your computer is sending or
Rich Text Format: a standard for specifying formatting of
documents. Many applications can save and read files as RTF,
so it is useful for exchanging between applications.
To move a document in a window so you can see any portion of
it. You can scroll up and down or side to side using
scrollbars to the right and bottom of the window.
SCSI (pronounced skuzzy) Small Computer System
Interface. A high performance design for connecting disk
drives, scanners and other devices to a computer.
Search engine A program that searches pages on the
Internet for specified keywords and returns a list of the
documents containing the keywords. Examples include
Serial port See
A computer or program that provides a service used by,
typically, multiple clients: for example, a web server or
Service Pack A
bundle of software updates from a supplier such as Microsoft
(security patches, operating system updates, etc.)
To install and configure computer hardware or
software. Most computer applications come with a setup
program which steps you through this process.
Shareware Software which you can try out without
payment. If you continue to use the software, you are
honor-bound to pay the author the requested fee.
Shortcut A pointer to a file. Creating a shortcut
allows you to quickly access a program or document no matter
where it’s actually stored. The Mac equivalent is called an
Sign off; sign out To finish a session on a computer
system or network.
Sign on To start a session on a computer session or
network. By signing on, usually by entering a username and a
password, you let the system know you are connected.
A term for computer programs. A program is a series of
instructions used to manipulate data or to control the
workings of a computer system. The former type is often
called applications software, while the latter is called
operating systems software. A word processor is an example
of applications software; Windows XP is an example of an
Spam Electronic junk mail.
Software that sends and collects information, such as
websites you have visited or credit card details, without
your consent. This can be used for identity theft.
Any medium or device (such as a hard disk) used to store
data for an extended period.
Surf To move from place to place on the Internet,
usually using a Web browser.
The long horizontal bar at the bottom of the Windows Desktop
which you use to access programs and manage your Desktop.
Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, used by
almost all communicating computer systems.
Toolbar Icons grouped together within a program,
usually in a strip across the top of the window. Each
toolbar icon or ‘button’ provides a shortcut to one of the
program’s commands or features.
Tooltip A short, informative message which pops up
when you let the mouse pointer linger on an icon, menu
option or other part of the user interface.
Traffic The amount of information being handled by a
communications system. During times of heavy traffic on the
Internet, you’ll notice your connections will slow.
Named after the infamous Trojan horse, this is a type of
computer virus that works by disguising itself as helpful
software, while spreading and attacking your PC
To reverse your last action in a computer program. Many
programs allow multiple ‘undos’ so you can reverse a whole
series of actions.
To decompress a file that has been compressed using a
program such as WinZip.
Upload To send information from your computer to a
URL Uniform Resource Locator, the address used to
identify documents and other resources on the Internet.
URLs consist of two parts, the first denoting which
protocol to use to transfer the document and the second
specifying the location of the resource. For example,
addresses beginning with http:// use the Hypertext Transfer
Protocol for transmission – the protocol for the World Wide
Web. Addresses beginning with ftp: // use the File Transfer
Protocol for transmission.
USB Universal Serial Bus. A fairly recent type of
connector that is intended to replace serial ports.
With USB, you can connect up to 127 different devices to
User friendly Easy to learn and use.
Video Conference A
conference or discussion held via an audiovisual link
between two or more geographically remote sites.
Not real. Something which is virtual has no physical basis
itself but mimics a physical object in conceptual terms. For
instance, on the Web you’ll find graphical representations
of buildings which you can ‘walk through’ using your mouse.
Such a building is a virtual building and it may be part of
a larger virtual world.
Virus A computer program designed to replicate
itself. Many computer viruses are innocuous; some are
harmful and can either damage information and programs on
your computer or cause your computer to malfunction.
Short for World Wide Web.
Web browser A software application used to locate and
display Web pages.
camera (or webcam) is a real-time
(usually, though not always, a
whose images can be accessed using the
World Wide Web,
or a PC video calling application. The term webcam is also
used to describe the low-resolution digital video cameras
designed for such purposes, but which can also be used to
record in a non-real-time fashion
A document on the World Wide Web.
A system for access to email via a web browser. In
Cambridge, the term usually refers to the locally-developed
Hermes Webmail facility.
Web server A computer that stores Web pages and
delivers them to Web browsers on request.
Web site A location on the World Wide Web, consisting
of at least one page (the home page) and possibly many
short for Wireless Fidelity or wireless connectivity. It
uses radio waves to link computers and other electronic
You may need this to make your laptop, printer, PC or other
device capable of communicating wirelessly. It can be an
Airport Card for Mac, a USB device for desktop PC’s or a PC
card for laptops.
Window A portion of the screen used to display a
program, document or data.
An operating system designed by Microsoft. Most home users
use Windows XP or the earlier Windows 2000 or the brand new
Windows Vista. Most business users use Windows NT or Windows
A computer that contains an Intel (or compatible)
microprocessor and which runs Microsoft Windows. That’s
almost 90 percent of the personal computers in the world.
Local Area Network: a facility for connecting to a wider
network using wireless technology to reach a local Access
World Wide Web
A collection of online documents stored on interlinked
computers, called Internet servers, around the globe. The
documents are written in a language called HTML that
supports links to other documents. Users can view the
documents using a Web browser, and can jump from document to
document by clicking on the links contained in the
documents. The Web is only a part of the Internet –
some Internet servers perform functions other than being Web
servers. For example, mail servers store and handle e-mail;
news servers store and handle newsgroups.
Like viruses, except that rather attaching itself to files
or applications, worms run on its own. They often use
networks, enabling them to spread more rapidly over the
To compress a file using a program such as WinZip. You zip
files to package numerous related files together and to make
them smaller, so they are easier to store on disk or to send
to another user via the Internet.
A portable device for storing information. Zip disks are
about the same size as floppy disks, but they hold between
100 and 250 megabytes of information (compare that with the
floppy disk’s 1.44 megabyte capacity). You need a Zip drive
to read a Zip disk and, as with floppies, you can remove the
disks and insert new ones when needed.
A firewall for protecting computer systems connected to the
in or call 07941 435 262 to make an appointment with Gerry