English Computer Jargon Dictionary (Part 1)

Computer Jargon Dictionary
Many thanks to Computeract!ve magazine (vnu publications UK) for most of these definitions
Index links: A B C D E F G H I J K L M Part 2

3D graphics card

An expansion card designed to handle the three-dimensional graphics seen in many of today’s top games.


The fastest standard for traditional modems. Modems convert electronic signals from your computer into sound signals that can be transmitted over a phone line. 56kbps means that a modem is capable of receiving up to 56,000 bits of computer data each second.


Technology for adding extra features to an application like a web browser. ActiveX components are usually downloaded automatically, or with minimal user interaction.


In the context of the internet, an address is the information a web browser needs to locate a particular website. Microsoft’s website address, for instance, is www. microsoft.com


Extra features available in most Microsoft applications, but usually requiring installation from the original CD-ROM. For example, Excel’s AutoSave feature is an Add-in module, and is only installed upon request.


Stands for Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line. A technology that converts an ordinary household telephone line into an extremely fast internet connection — around ten times faster than a regular 56K modem.


Accelerated Graphics Port. A PC interface (either an expansion slot or built-in) used for super-fast 3D graphics facilities. Ideal for handling the 3D worlds depicted in many of today’s top games.


Signal whose value varies continuously over time. For example, when a person speaks, the sound wave is an analogue signal, varying smoothly as they talk. Analogue signal information differs from digital signals, which move sharply between fixed values. To help visualise this, consider the difference between an analogue watch face with sweeping hands and a digital watch display, which jumps from one number to the next.

Animated GIF

Stands for Graphics Interchange Format, a popular file format for storing graphic images, often for use on websites. An animated GIF is simply a string of these images, creating the illusion of moving pictures when played back.

Anti-virus software

An application designed to protect PCs from malicious computer code.


Stands for application programming interface, a standard used by computer programmers to allow operating systems and software applications to understand one another.


Small utility programme within Windows, like Calculator or ScanDisk.


A computer software programme that enables the user to perform specific tasks. For example, Microsoft Word is used for word processing, while Paint Shop Pro is designed for image-editing requirements.


Stands for Advanced Technology Attachment Packet Interface, which is a control technology for devices like CD-ROM and hard disk drives.


A computer file, such as a word-processor document or spreadsheet, sent along with an email message.

Audio Format

In the context of Windows’ Sound Recorder programme, the choice of storing recorded audio in one of three quality settings – CD, radio or telephone.


A feature in a word processor that automatically corrects common spelling mistakes as they are typed.


A Windows feature that allows CD-ROM/DVD discs to launch or play as soon they’re inserted into a drive.


In computing context, a graphic or icon used to represent a person in an online chat-room or game. Avatars can usually be customised and range from simple images to complex three-dimensional shapes.


A type of video file used by windows and usually played using Windows Media Player.

Back up

The process of copying your important computer files and documents from your hard disk to removable media (such as Zip or CD-RW discs) or another computer, to protect against loss of the originals.


In computing terms, a measure of the maximum amount of data that can be transferred over a connection at any one time. For example, if you connect to the internet using a modem, then the bandwidth is likely to be up to 56Kbps (or 56,000 bits of data per second).


Version of a software application or system still in development. Companies make beta versions available to selected testers for evaluation, testing and feedback.


Refers to an ability for two-way communication. Most printer cables, for example, are bi-directional, so the computer can send data to the printer and the printer is able to respond with print-job progress information.


Newsgroup postings of encoded files (photographs, sound files, video clips and so on), rather than plain text. These are frowned upon except in certain groups, such as those beginning ‘alt. binaries.


A coding system used by computers and other digital devices to store data as a series just two digits – 0 and 1.


Basic Input Output System. Software built into all PCs, to control the basic operation of devices such as the screen, hard disk and keyboard. When a PC is switched on, the BIOS automatically kicks in, and looks for a drive (like the hard disk) from which the operating system proper can be launched.


A contraction of binary digit, which is the smallest unit of computer data. A bit can hold one of two values – 1 or 0. Consecutive bits combine together to form larger units of information. There are eight bits in a ‘byte’.

Bitmap (BMP)

A type of graphic image recorded as many tiny dots (or pixels). Scanned photographs and similar images are often stored in this form. If you use an image-editing application to zoom in on a bitmap image, the pixels will gradually become distinct. BMP image files tend to be quite large, so other types are more popular.


A technology that allows devices (computers, phones, printers, etc.) to communicate with each other wirelessly.

Body text

Text makes up the bulk of a story, article or chapter, rather than the headings or footnotes.


A way of flagging favourite websites in your web browser for later reference, much like marking a page in a book.


Logical propositions, such as AND, OR and IF, often used to refine searches or filter computer data. Named after Boole, a 19th c. English mathematician.


The process a PC goes through after it is switched on – performing a quick self-test, loading Windows, and so on.

Boot disk

A disk containing the operating system components essential for getting a PC up and running. Usually, the boot disk is the computer’s hard disk but in times of strife, a suitably-prepared floppy disk can be used to kick-start a PC.

Boot sector

Area of a disk containing instructions enabling a computer to launch an operating system (such as Windows). These instructions are executed every time the computer starts up.


Bits per second. Measure of computer data transmission speed. For example, a 56Kbps modem can receive up to 56,000 bits of computer data per second.


Refers to high-bandwidth internet connections, such as ADSL.


Using a web browser application to look at websites on the net.


The short name for a web browser – an application that lets you view pages on the internet. Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator are the two most popular browsers.


Canon’s trademarked name for its own inkjet printing technology.


Technology used by some CD-RW drives to ensure error-free and foolproof disc creation.

Bus mastering PCI

A technology which reduces the burden on the processor when transferring data to and from the hard disk and other devices.


In computer terminology, a bus is the data path on the motherboard that devices use to communicate with the processor.


A unit of computer storage that can hold a single character. 1024 bytes make a kilobyte, or 1Kb.


A store for frequently-used data or files. Data can be accessed from a cache more quickly than from its original source. Internet Explorer uses a hard disk cache for web pages, while computer processors often have small amounts of very speedy memory as a cache.


The process of taking an ordinary analogue signal from a camcorder and converting it into digital information to be stored on a computer’s hard disk.

CD writer

A special type of CD-ROM drive, which allows you to create, or ‘burn’, your own CDs.


Standard for compact disc recordable format, or blank CDs onto which information (such as data or music) can be recorded – but only once. Playable on most CD-ROM drives (except some older ones) and CD players. You need a CD-R drive to record onto CD-R discs.


A version of the CD, which can store a lot more than just music. This small plastic disc can hold up to 650Mb of data.

CD-ROM drive

Used for installing software (on CD-ROM discs) and playing multimedia audio and video. Audio CDs can also be inserted.


Stands for compact disc rewritable format, or blank compact discs which can be recorded on over and over again.


A processor which is cheaper and slower than the Intel Pentium 4 processor, often used in budget PCs. However, today’s cheap Celeron is far more capable than yesterday’s fastest Pentium III. Both are made by Intel.


A spreadsheet page uses rows and columns to divide a page into cells. Rows and columns are identified with letters and numbers, so each cell has a unique co-ordinate, such as D15.

Chat rooms

Online venues for typed chat, rather like the premium-rate chat lines you see advertised on late-night TV. Some even allow you to create cartoon-style characters to represent yourself.


Mathematical formula performed on some data to generate a result that will be statistically unique for that data.


Broadly speaking, any group of computer chips working together to perform certain functions. For example, a graphics card will have a number of chips – the chipset – designed to handle all graphics output.


Pressing down once and releasing a mouse button, or other key.


A geeky term for an additional piece of software that runs alongside your web browser, allowing you to use services like newsgroups and internet chat.


A library of drawings or photographs that you can use in presentations, reports or in desktop-publishing documents. You must check whether there are copyright restrictions if you are intend using the pictures commercially.

Clock speed

Term used to describe the speed of a computer processor, measured in megahertz or, increasingly, gigahertz – 700MHz or 1GHz (1,000MHz) for example.


Stands for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, and pronounced cee-moss. This is a special computer chip that looks after system set-up information, like date and time and so forth.


In computing terminology, short for programme code – meaning instructions that are intended to be executed by a computer.

Colour picker

All painting programmes have one; it’s the electronic equivalent of a paint palette so you can choose which colour you want to use.

COM port

Short for communications port, a PC can have up to four of these – COM1 to COM4. It is through these ports that devices can talk to the rest of your PC. Anything fitted to a serial port will be allocated one of these, as will a modem.

Combination keystroke

Literally where you have to hold down more than one key at once to access a particular function. Holding down the Alt and Tab keys, for example, lets you cycle through any programmes you’re running.

Command prompt

Also known as DOS prompt. The Windows environment lets you point and click to navigate your way around the computer. However, the predecessor to Windows, DOS (disk operating system) requires typed in commands to control the PC – and these are entered at the command prompt.


Matchbook-size memory cards with no moving parts. These slot into various devices to store data. Popular with digital cameras and handheld computers.


To reduce the size of a file by encoding the data. This is useful for storing files which would otherwise take up lots of disk space, such as picture and video files. Compression also reduces transfer times, meaning files can be sent over the net, or to another disk, more quickly.


To tweak the functions of software or hardware to the particular settings you require. For example, Windows can be configured so that it displays a particular colour background, or so that it uses a larger typeface

Context menus

The context-sensitive menus that pop up when you right-click on something in Windows. What you see on the menu varies according to the task that you’re engaged in and the programme you’re using.

Control Panel

A collection of icons that allow you to configure the basic functions of Windows and your PC. Within the Control Panel there are icons to define display attributes, keyboard settings, passwords – and a host of other options.


Text files generated by websites you visit and stored on your computer’s hard disk. Cookies contain preferences and other information about your use of the sites, and are not harmful.

Copy and paste

Just like it sounds: selecting part of an image or document in order to place it elsewhere.


An abbreviation for central processing unit, or processor – the heart of a computer. The CPU does most of the hard work and the faster it is, the better the PC is likely to be.


This is what happens when a software application or operation goes wrong, often freezing the computer. Sometimes, the only way to recover from a crash is to switch the PC off and start again – and this in turn may cause you to lose documents or data you were working on.

CRT Cathode Ray Tube

The glass tube-based technology used to produce an image in most TV sets and computer monitors.


A flashing shape on the screen showing where the next character you type in will appear. When entering text in a word processor, the cursor is normally a flashing vertical bar. Sometimes, the word cursor is used to describe the on-screen mouse pointer.


Just like it sounds: this function will delete selected information, such as cells in a spreadsheet or a paragraph in a text document.

Data rate

The speed at which digital information is transferred from one device to another, and can range from a few kilobits to many hundreds of megabytes per second. Traditional modems, for example, offer download data rates of up to 56Kbps.

Data table

In the context of a spreadsheet, a table of figures used to create a chart.


Any collection of information, usually (but not always) used to refer to information stored on a computer. Database software applications usually include powerful search and data-filtering facilities.

(Double Data Rate memory)

A type of memory that’s twice as fast as ordinary memory. DDR memory is often used in graphics cards can now be found in PCs too.


The process of making encrypted data readable again.


A standard software or hardware setting. Most programmes, including the Windows operating system itself, ask you to make a series of selections in order to perform a task. Sometimes the computer will already have made some selections – these are called the defaults. You can change the defaults to fit your own preference, or accept them as they are supplied.

Defragment (or ‘defrag’)

To reorganise the data stored on a hard disk so that it can be accessed as quickly as possible by the computer. A fragmented disk can adversely affect system performance.


What you see when you first start up a Windows-based computer. The Desktop will display your Taskbar and a selection of icons such as My Computer and Recycle Bin.


This is an extended version of the language used to describe web pages, which allows a page to change instantly when certain things happen, for instance the mouse moving over a specified area.

Dialogue box

A small window that pops up to display or request information. In Windows, Menu options that end with a ‘…’ always open a dialogue box.

Dial-up Networking

A component of Windows that allows PCs to connect to the internet using a modem and a telephone line.


Unlike the smooth signal of analogue, digital information consists of discrete parts. An analogy would be a car’s gearbox. A vehicle can be in first or second gear, but not first-and-a-half. Computers only recognise digital information, so must convert analogue signals. A soundcard, for example, converts the sound of a recording into a series of numbers the PC can process.

Digital camera

A camera that stores images in computer memory rather than on light-sensitive film.

Digital signature

A piece of encrypted data that can be used to verify the identity of someone who sent the message to which it is attached.


Changing an analogue signal, such as an audio/video recording, into digital data on a computer.


Dual Inline Memory Module. A slot-in card used to expand the memory of a desktop PC.


An old name for what we now call folders. These provide a way of organising files and documents on disk, by grouping related items together.


Windows feature that ensures that all programmes work with all the different types of hardware available.

Docking cradle/station

A receptacle for a portable device, like a palmtop computer or a digital camera, and connected to a PC. Through this, the linked machines can exchange documents and data.

Domain name

The name used to identify a site on the internet, such as computeractive. co. uk or microsoft. com


Stands for Disk Operating System. The standard PC operating system before the dawn of Windows. DOS manages how files are stored on your PC. It is controlled through typed commands.

Dots per inch (dpi)

The way the resolution of printed and scanned images is measured. Both types of picture are made up of dots. The more dots there are per inch, the smaller they are and the better the picture looks.


To click twice quickly in succession on a mouse button. If you double-click on an application icon, Windows will then attempt to launch the application.


Process of transferring files onto your PC directly from another computer. You might, for instance, download pictures and files from the internet.


In Windows, the action of clicking on something with the left mouse button, keeping the button pressed and moving (dragging) the object.

Drag and drop

A feature of operating systems, including Windows, which allows you to easily move and manipulate on-screen objects and files. For example, if you want to delete a file from the Windows Desktop, you move the pointer to the file’s icon, click once to highlight it, then press and hold down the left-hand button. The item can now be dragged and dropped into the Recycle Bin.

Drive bay

A blanked-off space at the front of a desktop PC originally designed for additional floppy disk drives. Now drive bays accommodate all manner of peripherals.


Software needed to allow Windows (and other operating systems) to communicate with a peripheral. While Windows has many built-in drivers, often hardware-specific versions will be provided on CD-ROM with a new device.

Drop-down menu

A list of options displayed beneath a menu bar when you select a menu option, or when you click on a down-pointing arrow in a dialogue box.

Dropper tool

In image-editing, this is a feature used to set the foreground or background colour of the current drawing tool by simply clicking on part of an image.

DTP (desktop publishing)

The design, layout and printing of documents, books and magazines using special software, such as Microsoft Publisher.


Digital Video Cassette, the latest video standard used in digital camcorders only.


A type of disc able to store huge amounts of digital data, including full-length movies, with excellent-quality sound and pictures.


Standard for Digital Versatile Disc-Recordable format, or blank DVDs onto which information (such as data or music) can be recorded – but only once. Playable on most DVD players and DVD-ROM drives. You need a DVD-R drive to record onto DVD-R discs.


One of a number of competing standards for recordable DVD. DVD-RAM can store many gigabytes of data on each side of a disc but can only be used in a DVD-RAM drive

DVD-ROM drive

These drives will play both CD-ROM and DVD discs. Huge amounts of data can be stored on one DVD disc, which looks just like a CD, including full-length movies, with excellent-quality sound and pictures.


One of the emerging recordable DVD standards. It uses DVD+RW disks that are designed to have data recorded on to them time and time again. Movies recorded on to DVD+RW disks are fully compatible with DVD players


A rewritable version of the DVD-R format whose discs are compatible with most DVD players and DVD-ROM drives


A term used to describe financial transactions over the internet.


Short for electronic mail, a system of sending notes and memos between computers via internet.


Enhanced Messaging Service. A development of SMS (Short Messaging Service) that allows simple pictures and ring tones to be sent between mobile phones.


A programme that is used to make a computer act like another computer. For example, there are programmes that can enable a PC to emulate a video arcade game.


In the context of digital music, a piece of software that converts audio CDs to MP3 or some other digital format.


The science of scrambling data – be it text, audio, or video – so that it can only be read by the authorised sender and recipient. Encryption can also be used to embed identifying markings in data, so that it can’t be undetectably falsified.

Enhanced parallel port (EPP)

A modern version of the parallel (or printer) port, which is the 25-pin connector at the rear of your PC where the printer normally plugs in. If your PC was bought in the couple of years or so, it should have an EPP port. This can be important as scanners that plug into the parallel port do require the enhanced version.


A term used to describe efficiency and health for people whilst in their working environment.


A type of computer network developed by Xerox in the 1970s, allowing a number of PCs to be linked together and communicate with one another.


An action in Windows, such as opening a document, emptying the Recycle Bin, or shutting down your PC.

Executable files

These are launchable programmes, which have the file extension. EXE. Clicking on an executable file will start it running – it may be an application, an animated greeting card or a game, for example. Avoid launching. EXE email attachments, as these may carry computer viruses.

Expansion card

Card that can be fitted in an expansion slot within your PC to enhance its capabilities in some way – for instance to improve its video or graphics performance.

Expansion slot

A socket on a computer’s motherboard designed to accommodate expansion cards.


A programme supplied with Windows that’s used to browse files on your PC. Explorer can be used an alternative to the Windows Desktop.


The three-letter code at the end of a filename that indicates the type or format of the file. For example, .BMP is a bitmap, .EXE is an executable programme file. These enable Windows to recognise what type of file it’s dealing with.


The process of expanding compressed files so they can be opened.


A vertical or horizontal sliding control used to alter the level of sound or other setting.

Fades, wipes and dissolves

Methods of moving from one scene to another, without a sudden ‘jump’ cut. Fades let the picture fade in and out from black or white. Wipes are like a curtain moving up, down or across to reveal the picture. And dissolves fade one picture into another.


Stands for frequently asked questions, usually a text file containing useful information about an application or website.

FAT File Allocation Table

A system used by Windows to organise files stored on a hard disk. Windows 95 used a system called FAT16, Windows 98 and Me use FAT32 that allows, among other things, long filenames.


Your personal address book of places on the internet that you visit periodically. Bookmark a site and it will be stored in your Favorites/Bookmarks list for future visits.


In a database, a field is an individual container that can hold a particular type of information. For example, if you have a contacts list of your customers, each entry is called a record and the various parts of each record are called fields.

File extension

The file extension is the suffix – or letters after the dot – in a file’s name. Examples include .doc (for a word document) and .xls (Excel) and .txt (Notepad). This is how Windows knows which application to use to open a particular file.


In image-editing, applies a transformation to either improve image quality or produce special effect on all or part of an image. There is a filter for every need from sharpening out-of-focus pictures to wrapping them round spheres.


Basic software permanently stored on a device (such as a graphics card) that controls its basic operation. Firmware can be upgraded using a process known as ‘flashing’.

Financial manager

A programme to help you manage your money.


A system that prevents unauthorised access to a computer over a network, such as the internet. Firewalls can be either hardware or software – businesses tend to use the former; home users the latter.


A super-fast data link between your PC and devices such as digital camcorders. Also known as IEEE1394.


An application used to create high-quality animations on websites.

Flash memory

A special type of memory that maintains its contents even when the host machine, like a palmtop computer, is switched off.

Flat-panel display

Slim monitors, similar to the liquid-crystal displays (LCD) found in notebook computers, designed for use with desktop PCs.

Floppy disk

A small, rigid square of plastic used to store data. Inside the case is a circular magnetic disk (the floppy bit). The most common type of floppy disk is the 1. 44Mb 3. 5in version used by almost all PCs.


Files on PC’s hard disk are arranged within a system of folders, which group related items together, helping you find the item you need. Folders have names to describe what’s in them, for example: My Documents.

File extension

The file extension is the suffix – or letters after the dot – in a file’s name. Examples include .doc (for a word document) and .xls (Excel) and .txt (Notepad). This is how Windows knows which application to use to open a particular file.


In image-editing, applies a transformation to either improve image quality or produce special effect on all or part of an image. There is a filter for every need from sharpening out-of-focus pictures to wrapping them round spheres.


Basic software permanently stored on a device (such as a graphics card) that controls its basic operation. Firmware can be upgraded using a process known as ‘flashing’.

Financial manager

A programme to help you manage your money.


A system that prevents unauthorised access to a computer over a network, such as the internet. Firewalls can be either hardware or software – businesses tend to use the former; home users the latter.


A super-fast data link between your PC and devices such as digital camcorders. Also known as IEEE1394.


An application used to create high-quality animations on websites.

Flash memory

A special type of memory that maintains its contents even when the host machine, like a palmtop computer, is switched off.

Flat-panel display

Slim monitors, similar to the liquid-crystal displays (LCD) found in notebook computers, designed for use with desktop PCs.

Floppy disk

A small, rigid square of plastic used to store data. Inside the case is a circular magnetic disk (the floppy bit). The most common type of floppy disk is the 1. 44Mb 3. 5in version used by almost all PCs.


Files on PC’s hard disk are arranged within a system of folders, which group related items together, helping you find the item you need. Folders have names to describe what’s in them, for example: My Documents.


A set of letters, numbers and other symbols in a particular style. Popular Windows fonts are Arial and Times New Roman.

Font size

This is the measurement typographers use to describe the size of text. Thus, 72pt text is bigger than 34pt text. The text you are reading now is set in 8. 5pt.


A special area at the bottom of a word-processor document: type something in here and it will appear at the base of every page.


A document formatted in a certain way for entering data, much like the paper version. Forms are typically used by databases.


The process of preparing a floppy disk for use with a particular computer and operating system.

Formula bar

In spreadsheets, this is located at the top of the screen, above the grid of rows and columns. If a selected cell contains a formula, it will be visible in the formula bar. Otherwise any contents in a cell will be displayed in the formula bar. You can, for example, type text directly into a selected cell, or into the formula bar – the result will be the same.


Formulas tell spreadsheets how to act on data stored in cells. For example, ‘=SUM(B13+B16)’ tells the programme to add the contents of cells B13 and B16 together.


When there’s not enough contiguous room to save a file in one physical location on your hard disk, the file will be spread over several smaller locations. This fragmentation is an inevitable consequence of constantly saving and deleting files – especially if space is scarce. Eventually your hard disk will need to be tidied up, or defragmented.

Frames (web pages)

In the context of web pages, these are used to segment content. One frame might contain a menu of the website while the other displays the information that you’re interested in. The frame borders might be visible but are often hidden.

Frames (web animations)

Animated GIFs contain multiple images (otherwise they wouldn’t move) which are held in frames, just like those you would see in a movie reel.


Software, often downloadable from the internet, which is then free for you to keep and use.


Stands for File Transfer Protocol, which is a way of transferring files over the internet, particularly when maintaining websites.

(Graphics Interchange Format)

A commonly used graphics file format popular for images displayed on websites.

Gb (Gigabyte)

A measurement of storage capacity – usually for hard disks. 1Gb is equal to 1,024Mb (megabytes).


Gigabits per second. A measure of data transfer rate equal to 1024Mbits/s or 1,048,576Kbits/s

General protection fault

A fault that occurs when an application incorrectly accesses computer memory, causing the programme to crash.

GHz (gigahertz)

A thousand megahertz – a measure of how fast the processor in your PC works.

Graphics card

The part of a PC that displays the image you see on your computer’s monitor. Some are more advanced than others, featuring connections for video recorders or other similar devices.

Graphics processor

A dedicated chip on a graphics card designed to controls the images displayed on a monitor.

Graphics tablet

An alternative to the mouse: you move a stylus over a small board just as you would a pen on a piece of paper. Ideal for applications where fine detail is involved.


People who break into other people’s computers and networks, often in an attempt to steal sensitive information.


The slang term used to describe illegal access of computer systems by unauthorised users.

Handheld computer

A small computer, about the size of a spectacles case. Handhelds usually have both a screen and keyboard in a folding case. The Psion Revo is an example of a modern handheld computer.


In the context of software, small blocks that appear at the sides and corners of a selected object in certain applications. Dragging a handle with the mouse usually resizes the object.

Hard disk

A high-capacity disk drive fitted in almost all PCs and used to store both applications and the documents and files they create. Hard disks are so-called because they use rigid magnetic disks to store data. Hard disk storage capacity is measured in gigabytes.


Your computer set-up is split into two parts – hardware and software. Software covers the programmes that run on your machine, while hardware describes the physical components, like the monitor and keyboard.


A title that can be inserted at the top of the page, usually in a word-processor document.


The first or main page of a website, usually containing links to more detailed sections or content.


The PC that you set up as the ‘base’ or central PC in your home network. It is usually attached to the printer.

(HyperText Mark-up Language)

The language used to create pages for a website. HTML code is written as text that is converted to a web page by a web browser.


A clickable link on a web page or in a document that takes you to elsewhere, like to another website or a later page



A small image used by Windows to identify a file or application.


Stands for integrated device electronics, which is a standard interface for connecting devices such as hard disks and CD-ROM drives to a PC.

Image-editing application

Software used to manipulate digital images, either created from scratch or obtained via a scanner or digital camera.

Import filter

A software feature that allows you read a file created using one application into a different one.


Describes the way a virus transfers itself from one computer to another

Infrared port

An interface that allows you to transmit data via infrared light waves, allowing data to be transferred cordlessly between devices with infrared ports. Most PDAs and notebook computers feature infrared ports, but few desktop PCs are so lucky – limiting the usefulness as a connection method.

Ink cartridge

A plastic container holding ink, inserted into an inkjet printer. Some cartridges may incorporate the nozzles that will put the ink on the page but they are often just refills that slot into a reusable head.

Inkjet printer

Type of printer which squirts tiny dots of ink onto the page to form text and images. Almost all inkjet printers print in colour as well as black and white.

Instant messenging

Real-time text-based communication over a network (usually the internet), using a programme such as AOL Instant Messenger.

Integrity check

A type of virus check comparing previously-stored information about a file to later versions, noting any suspect modifications.


In the context of software, the ‘look and feel’ of a programme, such as its buttons, menus and windows. In hardware terms, it usually refers to a physical connection, like a parallel printer interface.


A global network that links millions of computers, using phone and cable links. Users connect to server computers, which act rather like a local phone exchange. A modem connects your PC to the server from home, allowing you to become part of the internet.

Internet Explorer

Microsoft’s internet browser – a programme that allows you to ‘browse’ web pages, manage your favourite web sites, and so on.

Internet Protocol (IP) address

An identifying number of a computer attached to a network. A computer’s IP address is similar to a phone number in function. Every computer must have a unique IP address – either a permanent address or one that is dynamically assigned to them each time they connect to the net. IP addresses are written as four sets of numbers separated by full stops; for example, 204. 171. 64. 2.

Internet service provider (ISP)

A company which provides you with an internet connection, either for fixed monthly fee or for the cost of local call charges. Examples of popular ISPs include BT Internet, AOL and Freeserve.


Has the look and feel of an internet website, and can be explored with a browser such as Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. Unlike the web, access is limited to pages on a company’s internal network.

(Internet Relay Chat)

A vast, largely un-regulated global network allowing users to type messages in real time – much like a real conversation. Divided into separate rooms, or ‘channels’.


A special language used to create advanced effects on websites, such as animated sequences and interactive buttons and menus.

Jaz drive

A high-capacity storage device made by Iomega. Capable of storing 2Gb of data on removable cartridges.


A stick-like device that lets you control actions in games.


A common format for image files. JPEG images are compressed and the small file size makes them ideal for web pages.


Text which lines up with both page margins or both edges of a column.

Kb (kilobyte)

Measure of capacity of a storage device. Equal to 1,024 bytes.


Short for kilobits per second, which is a measure of data transfer or modem speed. A kilobit is 1,000 individual bits of computer data, and most computer modems download information at up to 56Kbps.


Short for kilobytes per second, which is a measure of data transfer speed.


A word of particular importance on a web page that can be used by search engines to identify it.

KHz (KiloHertz)

For digital audio, this refers to the number of samples per second a piece of music is recorded at. Audio CDs use 48KHz samples — 48,000 samples per second.

Knowledge base

A structured store of electronic information. Like an interactive encyclopaedia but designed to help with decision-making and problem-solving in a specialised field, not as general reference source.

LAN Local Area Network

Describes two or more computers connected, either physically or wirelessly, with the ability to share resources, such as printers.

Laser printer

A type of printer that produces high-quality text and graphics using a laser beam. The beam builds up characters and images as tiny dots on a rotating drum. The drum then attracts ink powder (toner) to these dots. This is then transferred and heat-fused to paper.


To start up a programme, such as Microsoft Word or Excel, by clicking on its icon or selecting it from the Windows Start menu.

LCD (liquid-crystal display)

Technology used to create low-power, slim display panels. Used in everything from digital watches to flat-screen monitors.


A translation of the symbols or colours used in a chart.


Short for lithium-ion, which is a sophisticated type of rechargeable battery used in many portable computers and mobile phones. Li-ion cells offer good weight:life ratio and, unlike earlier battery technologies, do not suffer from the so-called ‘memory’ effects- allowing them to be recharged in haphazard fashion without detriment.

Link (or hyperlink)

An object on a web page that, when clicked, takes you to another web page. Both text and graphics can be links.


An operating system that runs on a variety of computers (including PCs) and can be freely modified and distributed by its users. It was developed by Linus Torvalds.

Lithium polymer

An expensive type of battery that, for the time being, you’ll only see on the most expensive portable devices. Polymer cells can be moulded into unusual shapes, making them suitable for all manner of applications.

(abbreviation for line printer)

Nowadays more commonly called a parallel port, this is a connector at the back of a PC originally developed to connect a printer to the computer. All sorts of devices, like Zip drives and scanners, now make use of this port. A second parallel port will be called LPT2.


In the context of software, an automated series of commands or operations that can be run at anytime. For example, if you always carry out a series of operations on your text to put it into a certain typeface and size, then you can set up a macro to perform this function. In photography, a macro mode allows for close-up shots without distortion.

Mailing list

A service provided by special interest groups that sends regular email updates to its (usually free) subscribers.

Mail server

The computers at your ISP that handle email coming into your account as well as all the email you send out.

Mailbox (or inbox)

The folder in your email application that stores your incoming messages.


A useful tool included in most word-processing applications that allows you to create multiple documents based on data from another source, usually a database programme. Mail merge is particularly useful and time-saving when you want to send the same letter to a group of people whose addresses are kept in your database.


A generic term for software designed to perform harmful or surreptitious acts.

Master pages

In desktop publishing software, anything such as headers, logos or guides placed on a master page will appear on every page in the publication.


Short for Megabytes per second, which is a measure of data transfer speed.

Mbit/s (megabits per second)

A measure of data-transfer speed. A megabit is one million bits.

Mb (megabyte)

A measurement of storage capacity, usually for computer memory. 1Mb is equal to 1,024Kb (kilobytes).


A measure of the level of detail recorded by digital cameras – one megapixel means an image made from one million tiny dots (pixels).

Memory (or RAM)

Random Access Memory is the computer’s temporary storage area, measured in megabytes (Mb). Anything written to memory will be lost when the power is switched off. Windows 95 needs at least 16Mb to work properly, and double that again to work smoothly. For Windows 98 and beyond, consider 64Mb as a realistic minimum.

Memory cards

Small cards that can store many megabytes (Mb) of computer data or documents. Often used as a removable storage medium in digital cameras and palmtop computers.

Memory stick

A type of proprietary memory card designed by Sony. Used to provide slot in, removable storage, for devices such as digital cameras.

Message board

An internet-based equivalent of an actual message board, where people can post and reply to messages ‘posted’ by other people.

MFD (multifunction device)

A machine that combines any or all of the functions of a copier, fax, printer and scanner.

MHz (Megahertz)

A measure of how fast the processor in your PC works – 800MHz Pentium III, for example. As a rule of thumb, the higher the number the faster a PC will be.

Mic in

Sound cards have different sockets at the back so you know what plugs in where. The mic in socket is for the microphone.


Stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, which is a standard for controlling electronic musical instruments by computer. One MIDI instrument can be used to control and communicate with another, so that music created on one can be edited on another.


Stands for Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions, which is a standard for sending files and other data that is not plain text in mail messages over the internet.

Mirror site

A duplicate of a website, usually in a different location, intended to share the load in times of heavy use. Shareware download sites use mirror sites for this very purpose.


MultiMedia Card. A postage stamp-size solid-state memory card used by some digital cameras and MP3 players. See also SD card.


Multimedia Messaging. Sending and receiving pictures to and from a mobile from.


A device that enables two computers to communicate with each other over a telephone line. A modem is usually needed to connect to the internet.


User who controls who can speak in a moderated chat room.


The main circuit board inside any PC into which every other component connects to and communicates through.

Mouse pointer

Also known as the pointer, this is what you see on screen when you move your mouse. It usually looks like an arrow.


A standard for compressing digital audio. The sound quality of an MP3 file is close to that CD audio but requires only a fraction of the storage space.


Stands for Motion Picture Experts Group, and describes a method of compressing digital video. MPEG-1 compression gives VHS-quality vide, while MPEG-2 compression gives high-quality video with CD-quality sound. MPEG-2 compression is used for DVD movies.


See DOS.


Implies that either hardware (such as your PC) or software is capable of handling both video and sound.

My Computer

Usually you will find an icon labelled ‘My Computer’ in the top-left corner of your Windows desktop. Double-click on this and a Window will appear, containing icons for any disk drives you have connected to your PC, as well as any printers you have installed.

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