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Computer Terminology



Different kinds of programs (applications) that come with Windows.

Active Task Button
A task button located on the taskbar that appears to be pressed.

Active Window
The window whose title bar is highlighted, indicating it is currently being used.

Altair Computer
One of the first, if not the first, personal computers, the Altair 8800 has gone down in computing history, as has Ed Roberts, its creator.

Application (program)
The same as program.

Application Software
A computer program that performs a specific task, such as word processing.

ASCII (pronounced ASK-key) stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange, otherwise known as "plain text". ASCII is a standard method of describing text characters. "Text-only" files can be read by just about any computer application.

Associated File
A file type that has been identified as belonging to a certain program, such as .TXT with Notepad, .BMP with Paint, or .DOC with Word.

Baud Rate
The number of bits (binary digits) a computer can send per second.

Bulletin Board System, an electronic bulletin board where users can leave messages. Many BBSs are on a membership basis.

A pre-release, often buggy, version of software. Frequently available for downloading on the Web.

Basic input/output system, a set of instructions in the ROM of most computer components that controls the transfer data in and out.


The smallest amount of information that can be transmitted. A combination of bits can indicate an alphabetic character, a numeric digit, or perform signaling, switching or other functions.


Starting your computer by turning on the power.

The edge of a window is called the border. You can resize a window by clicking and dragging the border.

Bits per second. The measure of a modem's speed.

Application software that gives you a graphical interactive interface or searching, finding, viewing and managing information over a network.

An error, as  in a computer program, but this word usage predates computers.

A collection of wires over which the computer sends information.

A unit of information that corresponds to a character; eight bits.

Temporary memory areas that help your computer or peripheral process information.

A hardware circuit board (often inside the system unit) which lets you add other capabilities to your computer.

To resize and layer windows on the desktop so each title bar is visible.

Cascading Menu
A menu that opens when you highlight a menu item that is followed by a right-pointing triangle.

A term used to describe real-time conferencing. IRC, WebChat, Prodigy and AOL chat rooms are all examples of chat.


The act of pushing down and releasing the mouse button.

A remote computer connected to a host or server computer. Also refers to the software that makes this possible.

Clone or Compatible
A computer that is similar to the IBM PCs.


A command that lets you leave a Windows program.

Close Button
A button (an "X") located at the right end of the title bar that you click to close a window.

A point-to-point dedicated or switched communication path.

Control Panel

A folder that combines the commands, control and configuration functions for Windows 95/98.

Central Processing Unit (a microprocessor) attached to motherboard. The part of the computer that does most of the data processing.

An organized collection of information.

Data Compression
Storing data in a format that requires less space than usual. Backup programs, communications programs, and graphic file formats (such as JPG) are typical uses of data compression. Zip is kind of compression for groups of files. Some data compression is "lossy compression."

Data File
A file that consists of data that has been created in a program, such as a text file typed in Notepad.

The standard setting in a program.

The opening screen in Windows that contains a few objects, the Start button and the taskbar.

Dialog Box
A special kind of window that asks you a question or presents controls that you can choose from.

Dimmed Command
A command that cannot be used in the current situation; it is displayed in gray instead of black.

The term seldom used in Windows 95/98. "Folder" has replaced this term.


The permanent storage area for your programs and documents.

Disk Drive
Hardware capable of reading and writing data stored on a disk.

Any data file you create with a program.


Disk Operating System, a text command operating system.

Dots Per Inch, a unit of measure describing printer resolution.

Pressing and releasing the left-mouse button two times in quick succession (without moving the mouse between clicks).

To transfer programs or data from a computer to a connected device, usually from a server to a personal computer.

Drag (mouse)
Move the pointer on an item, hold down the left button, slide the pointer to a new location, and release the button.

A program that tells another program how to communicate with and control a peripheral, such as a printer. A device driver allows the operating system to work with a specific peripheral.


Digital Versatile Disc, the latest compact disc storage media. Holds much more than a standard CD.

Also known as "smileys." Emoticons are sequences of ASCII text that communicate emotion in e-mail and newsgroups. For example, : ) means happy, and : ( means sad. A few of these go a long way.


The Windows program that you can use to explore your disks.

Frequently Asked Questions. A list of frequently asked questions and answers about a given topic, very common in newsgroups.


A named collection of information stored on a disk.

The name assigned to a collection of data that is stored on a disk.

Filename Extension
The optional "period" and up to three characters at the end of a filename.

File Server
A computer that provides access to files for remote users (clients). (See server.)


A program that helps you locate files and folders by entering search criteria.

Nasty or abusive e-mail or newsgroup postings. A "flame war" is a usually hot-tempered argument that never seems to end.

A firewall is a set of related programs that protects the resources of a private network from users from other networks. Simple firewalls are also available for home users to protect them when they are connected to the Internet. We strongly recommend the use of one of these "personal firewalls", such as ZoneAlarm Pro.


An object that holds files and/or other folders that are stored on disk. Folders have traditionally been called "directories".

Folder Window
A window that displays the contents of a folder.

To format a disk means to make it usable for storing information.

Software that is given away at no charge. You can often download this software on the Web.

Frontside Bus
The Frontside Bus (FSB) within a microprocessor that connects the CPU with main memory. It's used to communicate between the motherboard and other components. A backside bus connects the CPU to a Level 2 cache.


File Transfer Protocol, a protocol used to provide file transfers across a wide variety of systems.

Gates, Bill
Co-Founder of Microsoft. One of the world's richest men.


Graphics Interchange Format (created by Steve Wilhite), a standard format for image files on the WWW. The GIF file format is popular because it uses a compression method to make files smaller. Originally pronounced "jif" by the format's creator, it is now also pronounced with a hard "g" sound as in "gift". Many, except maybe the creator, consider both pronunciations correct. Because GIF is limited to 256 colors, it is more effective for scanned images such as illustrations rather than color photos.

Roughly a billion bytes or characters. Abbreviated G or GB.


Graphical User Interface, used to describe Windows and other programs that use pictures to help you interact with the computer. Invented by Xerox Corporation. Some people pronounce this "goo-ey". We are not among them.

Hard Disk
A large capacity storage area that offers fast access to information.


The physical parts of your computer, as opposed to software.

A system of things ranked one above the other, used to describe the multilevel structure of folders and subfolders on a disk.

To select something by clicking or dragging with the mouse. Once selected, an item usually turns a different color or becomes outlined.

Hypertext Markup Language. A simple language of keywords used to create World Wide Web pages that is then interpreted by the user's browser.

Hypertext Transfer Protocol, the method by which documents are transferred from the host computer or server to browsers and individual users.

Connections between one piece of information and another.


Abbreviation for hertz, the number of cycles per second, used to measure clock speed. (See MHz.)

A graphic picture that represents a program, command, data file or a concept in a graphical user interface (GUI).

Information Superhighway

A buzz word. Refers to the Clinton/Gore administration plan to deregulate communication services allowing for the integration of all aspects of the Internet, CATV, telephone, business, entertainment, information providers, education, etc.

The Internet (or "Net") is a network of linked computer networks that enables data communication services such as World Wide Web, file transfer, electronic mail, and newsgroups.

Internet Protocol, defines the unit of information passed between systems that provide a basis packet delivery service.

IP Address
The Internet protocol address which is a 32-bit address assigned to a host. The IP address has a host component and a network component.

Integrated Services Digital Network, set of standards for high-speed transmission of simultaneous voice, data and video information over fewer channels than would otherwise be needed, through the use of out-of-band signaling.

Joint Photographic Experts Group (pronounced JAY-peg), a popular method used to compress photographic images. Many web browsers accept JPEG images as a standard file format for viewing. Although it can reduce files sizes to about 5% of their normal size, it is a
lossy compression technique for color images, so some detail is lost in the compression.


A small arrow that appears in the lower-left corner of shortcut icons to distinguish them from other icons.

Abbreviation of kilobyte (also K). One KB is 1, 024 bytes.

Abbreviation for Local Area Network, typically a network of computers within the same building.

A term used to mean start a program. Interchangeable with "load".

Lossy Compression
This is a data compression technique in which some amount of data is lost. The attempt is made to eliminate redundant information. Most video compression technologies, such as MPEG, use a lossy technique.

Maximize Button
The button in the middle of three button at the right end of the title bar which enlarges the window to its greatest possible size.

Abbreviation for megabyte. One MB is approximately one million bytes.

Information storage and distribution format. (e.g. video tape, floppy disk, optical disc, print, etc.) The extensions of mankind's ability to communicate.


Chips attached to motherboard; the computer's temporary work area (RAM).

A list of items form which you may choose.

Menu Bar
The bar located under the title bar that list the available menus.

MP3 is the file extension for MPEG, audio layer 3. Layer 3 is one of three coding schemes (layer 1, layer 2 and layer 3) for the compression of audio signals. Because MP3 files are small, they can be more easily transferred across the Internet than other audio formats.

Short for Moving Picture Experts Group (pronounced m-peg), the term also refers to the family of digital video compression standards and file formats developed by the group. MPEG generally produces better-quality video images than competing formats.


Abbreviation for megahertz, or millions of cycles per second.


Silicon chip that powers computers (see CPU).

Minimize Button
A button located at the right side of the title bar that you can click to reduce a window to a task button on the taskbar.


Hardware device that permits the computer to send and receive data via phone lines.

The computer's visual output device, similar to a television.


The system unit circuit board that contains the microprocessor, memory and other chips.


Device that moves the onscreen pointer by spinning a rubber trackball. Invented by Douglas Engelbart at SRI.

The ability of an operating system to run more than one program at one time, that is, to juggle tasks.

My Computer
A program, the obvious, quick way to the files and folders on your Windows computer.

The rules of conduct for interacting on the Internet.


A collection of computers connected together by some means, such as cables or satellite.

A new user of the Internet. Newbie can be used as either a neutral or derogatory term.

A general term for "item" or "element", typically referring to an icon.


Being connected, usually through modem and phone line, to another computer.

Operating System
Special software that runs when the computer is first turned on. Manages communication between your hardware and software.

Parallel Port
A connector through which a computer communicates with a peripheral along parallel wires. Printers are the most common peripheral to use parallel ports.


The route to a folder or file; it consists of the disk drive name, a folder and/or subfolder (if any), and the filename.


A personal computer, or an IBM compatible computer.

A "picture element" or dot that the monitor can display to create the image you see.

A specialized program that adds functionality to a Web browser. Often downloadable for free.


The arrow-shaped cursor on the screen that moves when you move the mouse.

A type of window that appears on top of (over) the window of a Web site that a user has visited. (There are also Pop-Under ads.) A pop-up ad covers other windows, particularly the window that the user is trying to read. Pop-ups ads are used extensively in advertising on the Web. Pop-up blocking programs are available to stop this annoying practice.


Point to Point Protocol, dial-up Internet connection speaking in TCP/IP protocol, somewhat faster than SLIP.

Printer Driver

Software that allows an
application program to use your printer.

A set of instructions that tells the computer what to do. See software.


A characteristic of an object (such as an icon); many properties can be changed by selecting the Properties dialog box.

A specification that describes how computers will talk to each other on a network.

Random Access Memory, the computer's electronic memory; your work area.

The computer term for restarting your computer.


The number of pixels the monitor can use to display an image, or dots your printer can print.

Restore Button
The button in the middle of three buttons located at the right end of the title bar on a maximized window; it returns the window to its previous size and location.


Quickly press and release the right mouse button.

Right-Click Menu
An easy-to-use menu that opens when you right-click an object. Also called a "shortcut menu", "object menu" or "context menu."

A mouse action in which you move the pointer on an item, hold down the right mouse button, drag the pointer to a new location, and release the right mouse button.


Read Only Memory, the computer's pre-programmed memory.

The command that saves changes to a previously named document.

Save As
A command that opens a dialog box that permits you to save a new (unnamed) document or rename a previously saved one.

Scroll Arrows
The arrows at each end of the scroll bar, used to scroll through the contents of the window.

Scroll Bar
A bar that appears at the right and/or bottom edge of a window whose contents are not completely visible; termed "horizontal" and "vertical" scroll bars.

Scroll Box
The box in a scroll bar that shows the position of the information displayed in relation to the entire document, and the size of the document in relation to the screen.


A network computer to which users can connect to receive services such as file sharing.

Copyrighted software that's free for trial usage, a very popular format on the Web. If you like and continue to use the program, you are usually legally obligated to pay a fee or at least register your copy with the author. Otherwise, you're expected to delete it from your computer. Sometimes the program will be crippled in some way or will stop functioning after a certain length of time if not registered. This is in contrast to Freeware, which, as the name implies, is totally without cost.

Short Filename

A filename that is no longer than eight characters, and a three character extension.

An icon containing a direct route to a specific object (usually a program, data file or disk) which displays a small jump-arrow in the lower-left corner.

Shortcut Menu
Another name for the right-click menu.

Sizing Handle
An area in the bottom right corner of a window that can be sized; it is used to size windows. You can, however, size a window from any corner.


Computer programs written to perform specific tasks, such as a word processor or spreadsheet.

To send identical and irrelevant messages to many different people, or (as a noun) the mail itself. Usually, but not always, the message is an advertisement. The term comes from a skit by English comedy group Monty Python in which every entree at a diner contained the food product Spam. The skit ended with a song in which the word "spam" was repeated endlessly.

Program that automates an accountant's worksheet.

A general term for a program that surreptitiously monitors your actions. Spyware is programming that is put in someone's computer to secretly gather information about the user and relay it to advertisers or other interested parties. While they are sometimes sinister, like a remote control program used by a hacker, other companies frequently use spyware to gather data about customers. Many of Windows instabilities can be traced to spyware that was secretly installed. Anti-Spyware software is highly recommended.

Start Button
The button at the left end of the taskbar that is labeled "Start." Clicking the Start button opens the Start menu you can use to launch programs.

Status Bar
The bar at the bottom of a program; it displays information about the program.

A folder that is within another folder. Traditionally called a subdirectory.

System Unit

The main part of your computer that contains the disk drives and motherboard.

A T1 line is a high-bandwidth telephone line with a transmission speed as high as 1.544 megabits per second.


An open (but not necessarily active) program.

The bar on the desktop that let you quickly start and switch between programs.


Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, the standard network communications protocol used to connect computer systems across the Internet.


The process of exchanging information between computers over phone lines.

Title Bar
The horizontal bar at the top of a window that displays the window's name. The window's name is usually the name of the program running in the window.

A row of buttons that provide quick access to commonly used commands.

Trojan Horse program
A malicious program that is disguised as something benign. For example, you download what appears to be a game or utility program, but when you click on it, you unleash a dangerous program that erases your disk, sends your credit card numbers and passwords to a stranger, or lets that stranger hijack your computer. Anti-Trojan programs are highly recommended.

Universal Serial Bus
A bus standard -- becoming more common every day --  which allows IBM-compatible computers to exchange data with peripheral devices at speeds up to 12 Mbps. Abbreviated USB.


To decompress, or expand a file that has been made smaller using a compression utility.

To transfer a file from one computer (usually  a smaller one -- a "client" ) to another computer (a larger one, a server or "host" computer).


Uniform Resource Locator, the form of the site address that reveals the name of the server where the site's files are stored, the file's directory path, and its filename.

A software program intentionally written to disrupt your work. Anti-Virus software is highly recommended.

Warm Boot
Pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart the computer or close an application that is stuck.

The file extension used on some types of audio files.

See WWW.


The rectangular work area for a task, program, folder or document.


Graphical operating system by Microsoft designed to make computer easier to use. It currently comes in several flavors: Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT. (See GUI.)

A compression/decompression utility that lets Windows users make their files smaller for faster transfer over the Internet. This utility also decompresses files that were originally compressed using PK
ZIP or other formats.

Word Processor

A computer program that helps you create, change, format and print documents such as letters and reports.

Write-Protected Disk
A disk whose contents can be read by a disk drive, but cannot be changed or erased.

World Wide Web (WWW)
Internet system for world-wide hypertext linking of multimedia documents, making the relationship of information that is common between documents easily accessible and completely independent of physical location. The Web is one part of the Internet, not the complete Internet.

Zipped file
A PC-based file(s) that has been compressed. See WinZip.

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