Basic Computer Terminology


  • access time – The performance of a hard drive or other storage device – how long it takes to locate a file.
  • active program or window – The application or window at the front (foreground) on the monitor.
  • alert (alert box) – a message that appears on screen, usually to tell you something went wrong.
  • alias – an icon that points to a file, folder or application (System 7).
  • apple menu – on the left side of the screen header. System 6 = desk accessories System 7 = up to 50 items.
  • application – a program in which you do your work.
  • application menu – on the right side of the screen header. Lists running applications.
  • ASCII (pronounced ask-key ) – American Standard Code for Information Interchange. a commonly used data format for exchanging information between computers or programs.
  • background – part of the multitasking capability. A program can run and perform tasks in the background while another program is being used in the foreground.
  • bit – the smallest piece of information used by the computer. Derived from “binary digit”. In computer language, either a one (1) or a zero (0).
  • backup – a copy of a file or disk you make for archiving purposes.
  • boot – to start up a computer.
  • bug – a programming error that causes a program to behave in an unexpected way.
  • bus – an electronic pathway through which data is transmitted between components in a computer.
  • byte – a piece of computer information made up of eight bits.
  • card – a printed circuit board that adds some feature to a computer.
  • cartridge drive – a storage device, like a hard drive, in which the medium is a cartridge that can be removed.
  • CD-ROM – an acronym for Compact Disc Read-Only Memory.
  • Chooser – A desk accessory used to select a printer, or other external device, or to log onto a network.
  • Clipboard – A portion of memory where the Mac temporarily stores information. Called a Copy Buffer in many PC applications because it is used to hold information which is to be moved, as in word processing where text is “cut” and then “pasted”.
  • Clock Rate (MHz) – The instruction processing speed of a computer measured in millions of cycles per second (i.e., 200 MHz).
  • command – the act of giving an instruction to your Mac either by menu choice or keystroke.
  • command (apple) key – a modifier key, the Command key used in conjunction with another keystroke to active some function on the Mac.
  • compiler – a program the converts programming code into a form that can be used by a computer.
  • compression – a technique that reduces the size of a saved file by elimination or encoding redundancies (i.e., JPEG, MPEG, LZW, etc.)
  • control key – seldom used modifier key on the Mac.
  • control panel – a program that allows you to change settings in a program or change the way a Mac looks and/or behaves.
  • CPU – the Central Processing Unit. The processing chip that is the “brains” of a computer.
  • crash – a system malfunction in which the computer stops working and has to be restarted.
  • cursor – The pointer, usually arrow or cross shaped, which is controlled by the mouse.
  • daisy chaining – the act of stringing devices together in a series (such as SCSI).
  • database – an electronic list of information that can be sorted and/or searched.
  • data – (the plural of datum) information processed by a computer.
  • defragment – (also – optimize) to concatenate fragments of data into contiguous blocks in memory or on a hard drive.
  • desktop – 1. the finder. 2. the shaded or colored backdrop of the screen.
  • desktop file – an invisible file in which the Finder stores a database of information about files and icons.
  • dialog box – an on-screen message box that appears when the Mac requires additional information before completing a command.
  • digitize – to convert linear, or analog, data into digital data which can be used by the computer.
  • disk – a spinning platter made of magnetic or optically etched material on which data can be stored.
  • disk drive – the machinery that writes the data from a disk and/or writes data to a disk.
  • disk window – the window that displays the contents or directory of a disk.
  • document – a file you create, as opposed to the application which created it.
  • DOS – acronym for Disk Operating System – used in IBM PCs.
  • DPI – acronym for Dots Per Inch – a gauge of visual clarity on the printed page or on the computer screen.
  • download – to transfer data from one computer to another. (If you are on the receiving end, you are downloading. If you are on the sending end, you are uploading ).
  • drag – to move the mouse while its button is being depressed.
  • drag and drop – a feature on the Mac which allows one to drag the icon for a document on top of the icon for an application, thereby launching the application and opening the document.
  • driver – a file on a computer which tells it how to communicate with an add-on piece of equipment (like a printer).
  • Ethernet – a protocol for fast communication and file transfer across a network.
  • expansion slot – a connector inside the computer which allows one to plug in a printed circuit board that provides new or enhanced features.
  • extension – a startup program that runs when you start the Mac and then enhances its function.
  • fibre channel – as applied to data storage and network topology – link to FC Glossary.
  • file – the generic word for an application, document, control panel or other computer data.
  • finder – The cornerstone or home-base application in the Mac environment. The finder regulates the file management functions of the Mac (copying, renaming, deleting…)
  • floppy – a 3.5 inch square rigid disk which holds data. (so named for the earlier 5.25 and 8 inch disks that were flexible).
  • folder – an electronic subdirectory which contains files.
  • font – a typeface that contains the characters of an alphabet or some other letterforms.
  • footprint – The surface area of a desk or table which is occupied by a piece of equipment.
  • fragmentation – The breaking up of a file into many separate locations in memory or on a disk.
  • freeze – a system error which causes the cursor to lock in place.
  • get info – a Finder File menu command that presents an information window for a selected file icon.
  • gig – a gigabyte = 1024 megabytes.
  • hard drive – a large capacity storage device made of multiple disks housed in a rigid case.
  • head crash – a hard disk crash caused by the heads coming in contact with the spinning disk(s).
  • high density disk – a 1.4 MB floppy disk.
  • highlight – to select by clicking once on an icon or by highlighting text in a document.
  • icon – a graphic symbol for an application, file or folder.
  • initialize – to format a disk for use in the computer; creates a new directory and arranges the tracks for the recording of data.
  • insertion point – in word processing, the short flashing marker which indicates where your next typing will begin.
  • installer – software used to install a program on your hard drive.
  • interrupt button – a tool used by programmers to enter the debugging mode. The button is usually next to the reset button.
  • K – short for kilobyte.
  • keyboard shortcut – a combination of keystrokes that performs some function otherwise found in a pulldown menu.
  • kilobyte – 1024 bytes.
  • landscape – in printing from a computer, to print sideways on the page.
  • launch – start an application.
  • Measurements (summary) –
    *a bit = one binary digit (1 or 0) *”bit” is derived from the contraction b’it (binary digit) -> 8 bits = one byte
    *1024 bytes = one kilobyte
    *K = kilobyte
    *Kb = kilobyte
    *MB = megabyte
    *Mb = megabit
    *MB/s = megabytes per second
    *Mb/s = megabits per second
    *bps = bits per second
    i.e., 155 Mb/s = 19.38 MB/s
  • MB – short for megabyte.
  • megabyte – 1024 kilobytes.
  • memory – the temporary holding area where data is stored while it is being used or changed; the amount of RAM a computer has installed.
  • menu – a list of program commands listed by topic.
  • menu bar – the horizontal bar across the top of the Mac¹s screen that lists the menus.
  • multi finder – a component of System 6 that allows the Mac to multi task.
  • multi tasking – running more than one application in memory at the same time.
  • nanosecond – one billionth of a second. ( or, the time between the theatrical release of a Dudley Moore film and the moment it begins to play on airplanes).
  • native mode – using the computers original operating system; most commonly used when talking about the PowerPC can run software written for either the 80×0 systems, or the PowerPC¹s RISC code.
  • NuBus – expansion slots on the Mac which accept intelligent, self-configuring boards. NuBus is a different bus achitecture than the newer PCI bus and the boards are not interchangable.
  • operating system – the system software that controls the computer.
  • optical disk – a high-capacity storage medium that is read by a laser light.
  • palette – a small floating window that contains tools used in a given application.
  • partition – a subdivision of a hard drives surface that is defined and used as a separate drive.
  • paste – to insert text, or other material, from the clipboard or copy buffer.
  • PC – acronym for personal computer, commonly used to refer to an IBM or IBM clone computer which uses DOS.
  • PCI – acronym for Peripheral Component Interchange – the newer, faster bus achitecture.
  • peripheral – an add-on component to your computer.
  • point – (1/72″) 12 points = one pica in printing.
  • pop-up menu – any menu that does not appear at the top of the screen in the menu bar. (may pop up or down)
  • port – a connection socket, or jack on the Mac.
  • Power PC – a processing chip designed by Apple, IBM and Motorola (RISC based).
  • Power Mac – a family of Macs built around the PowerPC chip.
  • print spooler – a program that stores documents to be printed on the hard drive, thereby freeing the memory up and allowing other functions to be performed while printing goes on in the background.
  • QuickTime – the Apple system extension that gives one the ability to compress, edit and play animation, movies and sound on the Mac.
  • RAM – acronym for Random-Access Memory.
  • reset switch – a switch on the Mac that restarts the computer in the event of a crash or freeze.
  • resize box – the small square at the lower right corner of a window which, when dragged, resizes the window.
  • RISC – acronym for Reduced Instruction Set Computing; the smaller set of commands used by the PowerPC and Power Mac.
  • ROM – acronym for Read Only Memory; memory that can only be read from and not written to.
  • root directory – the main hard drive window.
  • save – to write a file onto a disk.
  • save as – (a File menu item) to save a previously saved file in a new location and/or with a new name.
  • scroll – to shift the contents of a window to bring hidden items into view.
  • scroll bar – a bar at the bottom or right side of a window that contains the scroll box and allows scrolling.
  • scroll box – the box in a scroll bar that is used to navigate through a window.
  • SCSI – acronym for Small Computer System Interface.
  • SCSI address – a number between zero and seven that must be unique to each device in a SCSI chain. Fast and Wide SCSI devices will allow up to 15 SCSI Ids (hexidecimal); however, the length restriction (3 meters) is such that it is virtually impossible to link 15 devices together.
  • SCSI port – a 25 pin connector on the back of a Mac (native SCSI port); used to connect SCSI devices to the CPU. Some SCSI cards (like the ATTO) have a 68 pin connector.
  • SCSI terminator – a device placed at the end of a SCSI chain to complete the circuit. (some SCSI devices are self-terminating, or have active termination and do not require this plug).
  • serial port – a port that allows data to be transmitted in a series (one after the other), such as the printer and modem ports on a Mac.
  • server – a central computer dedicated to sending and receiving data from other computers (on a network).
  • shut down – the command from the Special menu that shuts down the Mac safely.
  • software – files on disk that contain instructions for a computer.
  • spreadsheet – a program designed to look like an electronic ledger.
  • start up disk – the disk containing system software and is designated to be used to start the computer.
  • surge suppressor – a power strip that has circuits designed to reduce the effects of surge in electrical power. (not the same as a UPS)
  • System file – a file in the System folder that allows your Mac to start and run.
  • System folder – an all-important folder that contains at least the System file and the Finder.
  • 32 bit addressing – a feature that allows the Mac to recognize and use more than 8MB of memory.
  • title bar – the horizontal bar at the top of a window which has the name of the file or folder it represents.
  • upload – to send a file from one computer to another through a network.
  • Uninterruptible Power Source (UPS)- a constantly charging battery pack which powers the computer. A UPS should have enough charge to power your computer for several minutes in the event of a total power failure, giving you time to save your work and safely shut down.
  • UPS – acronym for Uninterruptible Power Source.
  • vaporware – “software” advertised, and sometimes sold, that does not yet exist in a releasable for.
  • virtual memory – using part of your hard drive as though it were “RAM”.
  • WORM – acronym for Write Once-Read Many; an optical disk that can only be written to once (like a CD-ROM).
COPIED FROM – http://www.zerocut.com/tech/c_terms.html

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