Computer Terminology

It is important to have a good understanding of the terminology used when dealing with technology. It’s no different than knowing that three teaspoons equals one tablespoon, or that a torque wrench and a socket wrench might look similar, but they have very specific uses. Knowing the terminology will not only help you understand what something is, but also how it works.

Listed below are the terms and concepts that you will be expected to know by the end of the first semester. These may appear on your semester exam, and you will NOT be allowed to refer back to this, or any other, web page (or notes) for reference when you take the test. In other words, I expect you to know this well enough to explain it to me out loud if I should ask you to do so (which I might, so be ready!) There may also be a quiz on this material.

An alias is a file that “points” to another file. A good example of these on the Macintosh is the icons on the dock. These icons are not the actual applications, so removing them from the dock does not remove the program from the computer. Note: If you want to easily access a program that is not on the dock, you should NOT drag the program from the application folder to the desktop. Instead, drag the program to the dock, and an alias will automatically be created. You can make an alias for any file that you want easy access to. So if there is a folder buried deep with your files and you want to access it from a more convenient place, rather than moving it (which can sometimes cause problems) you can make an alias of it by right clicking on it and choosing “Make Alias”. On a Windows-based computer, these are known as Shortcuts.

First of all, Bluetooth is NOT the small device you place in one ear so that you can make hands-free phone calls! That’s a HEADSET that uses Bluetooth to send the signal from your phone to the headset. Bluetooth is also used with wireless keyboards, mice, trackpads, and other input devices. As my geeky, tech-job-holding friend explains, it’s a data transmission and device communication protocol.

This is the Central Processing Unit of the computer. It’s NOT the case that sits under your desk…the CPU is inside that, along with the RAM, the hard drive, the motherboard, and possibly a lot of dust and dirt if it’s an old computer! This is basically the brain of your computer. it processes all of the instructions that your programs use to do what they do. The CPU is attached to the motherboard and will sometimes have its own independent fan, to help keep it cool. The speed of the CPU is measured in gigahertz, (GHz) and of course, the faster the processor, the more quickly your computer will complete its tasks.

The desktop is the screen that you see immediately after you start up your computer. On it you will find icons for your hard drive, trash can, any external disks you have connected, CDs, and connected servers. The desktop was named as such, because it is a visual metaphor for an actual desktop. in a real office we keep a trash can nearby, we have files on the desktop, and that’s where we do our work. With that in mind, it shouldn’t be hard to comprehend that it is a BAD idea to save all of your files to the desktop. This is not just a neatness issue, (though it is easier to find files if they are filed in appropriate folders) it is also a speed issue. If your desktop is covered with files, your computer must devote more resources to keep those files on the desktop. Simply put, the more files you have saved to the desktop, the slower your computer will run.

Ethernet is the connection that computers on a local area network use to communicate with each other. The ethernet port on your computer looks like a standard “land line” phone jack, but is slightly bigger. Computers can be connected to an ethernet switch, an external modem, and even another computer using the ethernet port and cables.

 Flash Drive
Also known as a thumb drive, a memory stick, jump drive and a number of other names, this device plugs into your USB port and uses flash memory to allow you to store and transfer files from one computer to another. These devices have pretty much replaced floppy disks and CDs as storage and transfer devices. When they first appeared on the scene in 2000, the capacity was only 8 megabytes. Currently the largest drive sold commercially is 256 gigabytes, but we’ll no doubt see a terabyte drive sometime in the not-too-distant future. (And you know I’ll buy one!)

Hard Drive
The hard drive is located inside of your computer, and it is where your computer saves your work. So when you are writing a paper for your English class using MS Word, or creating a picture in Adobe Photoshop, and you go to the File menu and choose Save, that file and/or the changes you’ve made to it are saved to the hard drive. Most computers now come with hard drives that will hold 500 gigabytes or more.

 OS X (System Software)
OS X (pronounced Oh-Es Ten) is the operating system the Macintosh platform is built around.  Much like Windows, OS X is a collection of both behind the scenes processes and a graphic elements that allow a user to interact with the computer, the applications on it, and the files stored on the hard drive.

A pixel, short for “Picture Element,” is a single dot that is utilized alongside millions of other pixels to create the images on a screen.

RAM (Random Access Memory)
RAM is a form of memory that the computer utilizes to quickly access files the computer uses to operate.  When you first power on your computer, the computer accesses the operating system stored on the hard drive, and loads it into RAM.  Once the OS is loaded into RAM you can begin to interact with it, open files, and launch applications.  When you open a program it runs in the RAM, and when you quit the program it frees that RAM up for other programs.  The more RAM you have in a computer, the more programs you can run at one time.

Screen Resolution
Screen Resolution refers to the number of pixels that are used to make up a screen.  Screen Resolutions are described by the number of pixels that are used to create the width, by the number of pixels used to create the height of your monitor/screen.  A computer sill a screen resolution of 2560 by 1440, has nearly twice the desktop area as a computer with a screen resolution of 1280 by 800. That means you can see much more of a web page without having to scroll up or down. It also means you can see a much larger portion of a photograph or a video.

Screen Saver
First of all, let’s get this straight! a screen saver  is NOT the picture you see on your computer’s desktop!  A screen saver is a short animation that takes over the screen after a period of inactivity.  Originally screen savers were used to protect a monitor from “burn-in,” where a ghost image was left imprinted on the screen after it had been displayed on the device for an extended period of time, on older CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitors.  Burn-in is no longer an issue on newer LCD monitors, but screen savers remain a feature on computers for aesthetic appeal.

SDHC memory card
An SDHC memory card is a special type of SD card that supports a high capacity of storage.  SD cards are commonly used in consumer cameras for storing photos.  SDHC are more commonly used in video cameras, which require a greater amount of storage space for storing high definition video.

A server is a computer that is designed to send data to other computers (often called clients).  Client computers are able to send requests to a server, and the server is able to respond with the requested data.  The most common type of server is a web server, which is responsible for sending users web pages that are requested through a URL, or web address.

Solid State Drive (SSD)
A solid state drive is a newer technology that fills the same roll as hard drives.  While the function of an SSD is the same as an HDD (Hard Disk Drive), the internal components differ greatly.  Unlike a Hard Drive, which saves files to a set of spinning disks, an SSD utilizes no moving parts, and save the files to a microchip, thus allowing for much faster read and write times from the device.  SSD’s come with a trade off however, and are much more expensive to produce per gigabyte of storage.

USB (Universal Serial Bus)
USB is the most common type of port that computers use to connect devices ranging from mice, keyboards, hard drives, smart phones, and nearly any other peripheral imaginable.

Wallpaper refers to the background image of a computers desktop or smart phone.  Unlike a screen saver, this image is traditionally static and is only used to add aesthetic appeal to the background of the users desktop.