The jargon buster

Tips & Hints

What does this mean?

No industry can beat the IT sector when it comes to baffling customers with jargon. We'll try here to cut through the nonsense and explain exactly what the terminology means. Some of these terms are old and superseded however we've kept them just in case you encounter them.


The 100Mps standard for networks.


The 10Mps standard using coaxial cables. Now superseded.


The 10Mps standard using RJ-45 connectors and cat 5 cable.


A generic term for modems that can receive data at 56,000 bps. The maximum dial up modems ever achieved for connecting to the Internet

802.11 The standard for wireless networks. It comes in a number of different varieties. 802.11b and g are the most common in home and small office networks.


Adobe Acrobat is a program by Adobe corporation that is used to transmit files in a non-editable format. The viewer is free, but to make an Acrobat file requires you to buy the software.


Australian Computer Society.


Automatic Document Feeder: A device that sits on top of a scanner that feeds multipage documents to the scanner.


Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Loop: High speed data connection using the existing copper telephone lines. Requires your telephone exchange to support it and be closer than 5000m.

Adware Software that pushes advertising onto your computer. When it's installed without your permission it makes up part of what's known as malware. Often uses spyware to determine what ads to put on your computer.


Accelerated Graphics Port: A slot on the motherboard designed for high speed graphics cards. This is, and an AGP graphics card, are standard on all current computers.


Jagged edges in a scanned or enlarged image.


The networking language used on older Apple networks.


Another term for computer programs. Generally speaking, applications are the programs that you run on a day to day basis.


The standard motherboard, power supply and case layout for newer computers.


Audio Video Interleave: A standard format for storing and sending video clips.

Bad Sector/Bad block

Damage on a drive that has been detected by the computer and marked not to be used. If your computer shows bad sectors then it is time to replace the hard drive or computer.

Beta Software

Beta software is test software that has been released for testing before a final version is put together. Beta software is useable but has unpredictable bugs and errors, the purpose of releasing it is to dig out those errors. Businesses should never use beta software.


Basic Input and Output System: The basic software that controls the computer. The screen that flashes up showing the computerís details is the BIOS. When the computer starts the BIOS runs then hands the system over to the operating system.


High speed Internet connection. Generally all connections except for dial up and ISDN connections.

Brown out

A power sag.


Web browsers are the programs used to access the Internet.


Data that may be reused is stored in a cache to help speed things up. Web browsers have a cache to store recently used images and pages while CPUs have a cache to speed up processing and.


Computer Aided Design: Drawing programs used by architects and engineers

Capped plan An Internet plan where the monthly fee is fixed, that is your charges are capped at a certain price. This usually has conditions such as slowing your connection if you go over a given limit (see shaping).

Cat 5

Category 5 Cable is used for network cabling. It has a faster relative called Category 6. When installing a network all cables should be at least cat 5. The square plug at the end of a Cat 5 or 6 cable is an RJ45.

Cat 6

Category 6 Cable is a faster cousin to cat 5. While slightly more expensive it is worthwhile specifying cat 6 if you are having an electrician install network or telephone cable. Cat 6 cable is compatible with Cat 5.


A network where some computers have all the data, printers or other resources (servers) and the others (clients) connect to the servers.


Common Gateway Interface: A specification that allows web sites to communicate with programs. It requires specific software to be set up on the web site.


Complimentary Metal Oxide Semi-conductor: The CMOS chip holds the configuration data for the computer. It is kept alive by a battery on the motherboard.


Four colour printing. To print colours a printer mixes Cyan, Magenta and Yellow. K stands for black and is created by mixing the other colours or having its own cartridge.


Certified Novell Engineer: Has been certified to support certain Novell networking products.

Codec Software that translates a video or audio file so it will work on a computer.


Central Processing Unit: The heart of the computer, this is the chip that runs the whole system. Sometimes the entire computer is referred to as the CPU.

Cross-Over Cable

A UTP network patch cable that is designed to connect two hubs, or two computers without a hub.


Cathode Ray Tube: The cheapest and most common type of computer monitor. This is the same technology as used in your television set.


Comma Separated Value: The most basic way of saving spreadsheet or database contents. A CSV file is a text file with the data fields separted by commas. This files can be read by almost all spreadsheet and database programs.


The pointer on the computer screen.

Cybersquatter Someone who buys a Internet domain name similar to an established business or brand name with the intention of selling it to the business owner.

Definition Files

Definition files are released by anti-virus companies to update their programs so they can detect the latest viruses.


A process which reorganises data stored on a hard drive. On hard drives which are almost full defragmenting should be done often.


Assigning a server to represent an Internet domain name. Your domain will is usually delegated to Requests to will be sent to who will pass the information onto you.


Dynamic HyperText Mark up Language: An advanced version of HTML, used to design web pages.

Dial up Adaptor

The software that allows Windows 9x/ME computers to access the Internet.


A directory is created on a hard drive to store files or programs. The same as you would put a folder in a filing cabinet to store files. The term directory is used in Window 3.1 and DOS. Macs and later Windows computers use the term folder.


Domain Name System: The system that translates Internet Protocol numbers to names. For instance the IP number translates to

Docking Station

A plastic frame that has all the connections for mouse, keyboard, monitor and network. A laptop computer plugs into the docking station, saving the user from plugging and unplugging all the components each time they come into the office.

Domain (Network)

A group of computers on a network, usually a network being run by Windows servers. Not to be confused with an Internet domain.

Domain name

An Internet address. Microsoftís domain is, their Australian division is

Domain Delegation

Having another company receive e-mail addressed to your domain name or host your web site. Any mail addressed to is received by the delegated server and then you receive it in whatever way you choose.

Domain Parker Someone who buys an Internet domain in a common word or similar to an existing business or website who then puts advertising on it. Like cybersquatters, they hope someone will buy the site off them.


A part that hangs of a computer. It may be an adaptor for a modem or network card. Some software is supplied with a dongle for each licenced copy, the software wonít run without the dongle connected to the computer.

Dot Pitch

The distance between dots on a cathode ray tube display. The lower the number, the better the display. Typical Dot pitches are 0.26 mm


Recieve data from another computer or from the Internet


Software that allows the operating system to talk to the hardware.


DeskTop Publishing: Preparing brochures, posters and pamphlets on your computer. Most wordprocessing packages have basic DTP functions but to do anything sophisticated you need a specialist program.


Digital Versatile Disk: A high capacity version of the CD-ROM, DVD readers can also read normal CDís.


Enhanced Capability Port: A high speed printer port, most computers have this capability built in and some scanners and printers require it to work properly.


Extended Data Out: A type of memory chip that preceded SD-RAM, used in computers of 1996-98 vintage.


Enhanced Peripheral Port: A printer port standard designed to improve communications with parallel port devices such as external drives and scanners.


The standard networking system used in most modern networks


End User Licence Agreement: When you buy software you are actually buying a licence to use it. The terms of that licence are buried in the EULA.


Windows computers require three letters after the full stop to tell them what program a file should be opened with. This is called an extension.


Frequently Asked Questions


File Allocation Table: The area of a hard drive that keeps track of where data has been saved.


A file system used in Windows 98 and ME. It cannot be read by older systems but is still sometimes used by Windows XP and Vista


A Windows program that is used to layout the sectors of a hard drive. This is done before formatting a drive.

File Formats

Different file formats are the curse of the modern office. Every program has itís own way of saving data to disk. If you use Office 2000 that the other person is using Wordperfect 6 you will have problems sharing documents.


Firewalls are security programs that decide what is allowed in and out of a computer and the Internet.


A standard for connecting peripherals, particularly video cameras and multimedia devices. Standard on newer Apple computers and gradually becoming common on PCís. Also known as IEEE 1394 and I-link.


A folder is created on a hard drive to store files or programs. The same as you would put a folder in a filing cabinet to store files.


The typeface of a document. The two most common fonts on PCís are Times New Roman and Arial.


In a document it is a feature such as a date, title or word count automatically inserted at the bottom of the document.

Form Factor

The size and shape of a computer.

Format (disk)

A program that marks a disk so that data can be saved on it. Formatting a disk destroys any data already saved on it.

Format (document)

The layout of a document or the standard used to layout a document.


Software that has been written for free distribution. There is no charge for using it but the licence often is only free for individual users. Business are expected to pay a usually modest licence fee.


File Transfer Protocol: An Internet service used for transferring large files. It is used for uploading and downloading files from servers.


Graphics Interchange Format: A graphics file format. Commonly used in web pages.

Grey Imports

Software and hardware that has been imported outside the normal distribution channel. This is not illegal but can cause warranty and support problems with the product.


Graphic User Interface: The screen on a Windows or Mac computer where you can use a mouse of a keyboard to move around.


In a document it is a feature such as a date, title or word count automatically inserted at the top of the document. In an e-mail it is the technical information that is not normally shown to the reader.


A way of shutting down your computer so it restarts exactly the way you left it.. The contents of the memory are saved into a file on the hard drive and copied back into memory when the computer comes out of hibernation.


High Performance File System: The standard file system for the Apple Mac.


HyperText Mark up Language: The computer language used to write web pages.


Hyper Text Transfer Protocol: An Internet service that

the World Wide Web uses.


All cables on a 10 or 100-base-T network have to go home to a hub.


A marker on a web page that lets you move to another section or page in a web site. Also know as a link.


Integrated Drive Electronics: A standard of connecting internal drives. This was the most common standard for hard drives and CD-ROMS. It may also be known as ATA and is being phased out for the SATA standard

IEEE 1394

A standard for connecting peripherals, particularly video cameras and multimedia devices. Standard on newer Apple computers and gradually becoming common on PCís. Also known as Firewire or I-link.


The Mac term for formatting a disk. Initialising a disk marks a disk so that data can be saved on it. Initialising a disk destroys any data already saved on it.

Internet Protocol

The language computer use to talk over the Internet. Also can be called TCP/IP.


The networking language used on older Novell networks.


Internet Relay Chat: An Internet service that allows users to communicate live as if they were chatting in a room.


Industry Standard Architecture: An older standard of PC motherboard slot.


Integrated Services Digital Network: A telephone service that allows high speed data connections over the normal telephone line.


Internet Service Provider: Provides access to the Internet for consumers and smaller businesses.


Joint Photographics Experts Group: A graphics file format. Commonly used in web pages.


Local Area Network: Computers in the same office or complex connected to share data. Small businesses use Ethernet as their network standard.

Laplink Cable

A cable that connects two computers through their parallel ports.


Liquid Crystal Display: The display type used on laptop computers and high-end monitors.


Liquid Crystal Diode: A type of computer display. Used for laptop displays and high quality desktop computer displays.


Lightweight Directory Access Protocol: A language used by e-mail programs to send and collect e-mail. It can also be used for sharing information.


A marker on a web page that lets you move to another section or page in a web site. Properly known as a hyperlink.


An operating system like Windows or Mac OS. Unlike the commercial operating systems the basic Linux system is developed by millions of volunteers to provide it for free. Some companies that supply it make their money from support and extras.


Line Printer Port: Another term for a printer port.

Malware A general term for software that intends to do no good to your computer. Includes adware, spyware, Trojan horses and viruses.

Mapped drive

A mapped drive or printer is a resource on the network that the computer believes to be directly connected to it. For instance, the machine server may have a folder called documents that is shared on the network. Another machine may map that folder and will then think it is a drive installed within the computer.


Microsoft Certified System Engineer: Has been certified by Microsoft to support the products stated on the MSCE.

Meta Tags

Text that is embedded in web pages but not normally visible to a browser. These are designed to tell search engines what is relevant on the site.


The motherboard is the base computer circuit that everything else inside the computer plugs into.


Mean Time Between Failure: A statistical measure of how long a part can be expected to last before failing. Each manufacturer has their own measure so MTBF should be treated with a grain of salt.

Nag Screen A message that constantly pops up asking you to do something like register or upgrade your software.
Nagware Software that constantly asks you to register or buy the paid for version.
Naked DSL An ADSL service that isn't connected to the telephone network. If you plug a phone into the line, you won't get a dial tone. A much more reliable way of getting onto the net.


Network Address Translation:


The networking language used on Microsoft Networks

Netbook A small, cheap portable computer designed primarily for websurfing.


The networking operating system from Novell.


Somebody who is new to computers or the Internet and is just getting the hang of things. Commonly used in news groups and chat rooms. Also known as a n00b.


The message board system of the Internet. Also known as Usenet.

NIC Network Interface Card. The device that connects a computer to a network. Ethernet cards are standard on most systems and wireless NICs are built into most laptops.


Network Operating System: The program which runs a computer network.

NSFW Not Safe For Work. A file or link to a webpage that might get you in trouble if you open it at work.
NTFS New Technology File System: A file format system. This was introduced by Microsoft for hard drives in Windows NT systems. It's the main format for Windows XP and Vista systems.


Optical Character Recognition: Allows your computer to translate scanned documents into a word processing program.


Original Equipment Manufacturer: A computer store or consultant that builds systems. Many hardware and software companies supply discount versions of their products to OEMs on the basis that these people now how to install them and will include them in their products.

Open Source Open source software are computer programs where the code is available for public use. Anyone can change it on the conditionall of their changes are also available to the public.

Parallel Port

The older printer port on IBM compatible computers, also known as the LPT or printer port. Devices like Zip drives could also be connected to parallel ports. Parallel ports have been largely superceded by USB and are dying out.


A hard drive needs to have partitions defining where the data is stored before it can be formatted. Normally a drive has just one partition, but the drive can be divided up into a number of partitions. These will appear as different hard drives to the computer.


Parallel ATA, also known as IDE. An older standard for hard drives.

Patch Cable

A short length of network cable that connects a computer or hub to a wall connection or patch panel.

Patch Panel

A panel where all the network cables in an office run to. From the patch panel the cables connect to the hub, telephone system, router or any other computer or communication equipment.

PC Cards

Credit card sized devices that slide into the side of laptop computers. Usually these are modems or network cards but just about any computer accessory can be found in PC card format

PC Exchange

A program that allows Mac OS9 and earlier systems to read PC formatted removable disks. Not necessary on OSX.


Peripheral Component Interconnect: Standard motherboard slot for installing expansion cards. Used on PCís and Macs.


PCI Express: The successor to PCI that allows faster data transfer within the computer.


See PC Cards


Personal Digital Assistant: A handheld computer that is used for keeping contacts and diaries. Common examples include Palm Pilots and Windows CE devices.

PDF An Adobe Acrobat document. A common way of sending documents

Peer to peer

A network that is set up where all computers are equal and share each others files and printers.


Personal Information Manager: Software for keeping appointments, contacts and expenses. The electronic equivalent of a paper based personal organiser. Some PIMs have built in e-mail support.


A little program that tests an Internet connection. It sends a ďpingĒ down the Internet to another machine that answers with another ďpingĒ. If you canít get a reply then there is a problem with your connection.

Plain Text

A way of formatting documents that uses text only, there are no special fonts, tables, colours or anything else. Just the basic text.

Plug and Play

A standard that allows computers to automatically recognise components installed on a computer.


A sub-program that gives another program the ability to do something. To read an acrobat pdf file in a web browser, you will need the Acrobat plug-in.

POP (e-mail)

Post Office Protocol: A language used by e-mail programs to collect e-mail.

POP (Internet)

Point of Presence: The dial in points offered by an Internet Service Provider. An Internet user in Cairns will choose an ISP with a POP in Cairns rather than one in Hobart.

Ports (hardware) Sockets you plug equipment into. You might plug a network cable (see RJ45) into a network port.
Ports (Internet) The doorways into a computer from the Internet. Different types of traffic uses different ports. For instance web sites usually use ports 80, 8080 and 3128.
Port forwarding Tells a router where certain types of Internet traffic should be sent to.

Port Replicator

A cut down version of the docking station.


Post On Self-Test: A test run by a computer when it is turned on. On completing the POST, PCís sound one or two beeps, Macs show a happy Mac symbol.


Plain Old Telephone Service: The standard dial up telephone service.

Power Sag

When the incoming voltage drops too low. This causes a computer to reboot. Also known as a brown-out.

Power Spike

The same as a power surge

Power supply

When the power goes into the computer it needs to be reduced and sent to the right places at the right voltages. This is the job of the power supply.

Power Surge

When the voltage of the incoming mains power momentarily goes to a level that damages electrical equipment.


A language used between computers trying to communicate.


A unique set of data and settings saved for each user that uses a computer or network.

Proxy server

A computer that connects a network to the Internet. The other computers on the network think the proxy server is the Internet. It is a proxy for the Internet.


Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives: A group of cheap hard drives strung together to either improve reliability, speed or back up data.


Random Access Memory: Is where all the programs and data your computer has in use are stored. When you are finished with them the information goes back to the hard drive. The more RAM you can put in a computer or printer the better.


Remote Access Services: Allows your computer to talk to other computers outside the office. Outgoing RAS includes accessing the Internet. Incoming RAS allows you and your staff to log into the office from home or on the road.


Most software comes with a readme file. This contains information on late-breaking problems and features.


The files that keep Windows settings. The registry is essential to running Windows and should never be played with.

Removable Disks

Disks like floppy disks, zip drives and CD-ROMs that can be removed. Hard drives cannot be removed.


The people who sold you the software or equipment


A type of connector for cat 5 and 6 network cables. An RJ 45 plug is square with a plastic tab on one end. It looks like a big telephone connector.

Road Warrior A business user who is constantly working out of the office. Usually has a laptop and wireless Internet connection to do their work.


Read Only Memory: In a computer or video game the ROM is the basic program that allows the machine or component to start.

Root Directory

The base directory for a drive. On a PC, the c:\ prompt is the root directory.

Rootkit A particularly vicious type of malware. It hides deep in the computer's operating system and can be extremely difficult to remove.


A device that directs data on a computer network to different parts of the network or off onto the Internet.


Rich Text Format: A way of formatting documents that uses basic common elements of word processors. You can use fonts, put them in bold or italic and use tabs, but you cannot use advanced features.


Read That Fine Manual: What the technician is thinking as he explains something very obvious to a user.




Serial Advanced Technology Attachment. The newer standard for home and small business hard drives. It replaces the older IDE/PATA standard drives.


Small Computer Components Interface: Used for connecting devices that need to transfer data at high speed. Typical devices include hard drives, CD writers, backup tapes and scanners. Not common on PCs.

Secure Sockets Layer

SSL creates a secure connection between a client and a server. It protects usernames and passwords over the Internet. This essential when using banking websites, Internet cafes and wireless networks.

Serial Port

The older technology for connecting data devices. Largely superceded by USB.


A computer that shares resources on a network. A file server shares files, a print server shares printers.

Service Level Agreement

Where a supplier guarantees a certain level of service. Most commonly used in corporate sector IT and by business grade Internet Providers. An example is an ISP giving a 99.99% SLA which means the Internet will only be down one in ten thousand times.

Shaping The practice of slowing an Internet connection down when the customer exceeds their monthly data limit.


A file or text that attaches to the bottom of an e-mail. Usually contains contact details, a blurb about the business and possibly a disclaimer.


See Service Level Agreement.


Simple Mail Transport Protocol: A language used by e-mail programs to send e-mail.


Unsolicited e-mail usually advertising garbage but sometimes containing malware.

Spam Bot A computer that has been hacked and taken control by a program that sends spam. As of early 2008, the vast majority of spam sent comes from spam bot infected systems.


Programs that connect to the Internet and report usage details back to the vendor.

SSID Service Set IDentifier. SSID is the name of a wireless network. For instance a Netgear wireless router will come an SSID of netgear. This can be changed by the owner.

Streaming Media (Internet)

Audio and video programs that are fed to users across the Internet.

Streaming Media (storage)

Tape drives are what are known as streaming media. The data is saved on a stream of tape.

Suspend to disk

An older term for Hibernate.

Swap file

The same as Virtual memory. The computer uses the swap file for information it cannot keep in itís memory.


A sophisticated type of hub, it reads and directs the network traffic.


Total Cost of Ownership: The total cost of owning a computer, including equipment, training, support, upgrades and consumables.


Transport Control Protocol/Internet Protocol: The networking language that the Internet uses.


Thin Film Transistor: A method of manufacturing active LCD displays. This gives a good quality picture.


Tagged Image File Format: An image format standard developed for data exchange, often used in faxing and scanning.


The fine powder used in laser printers and photo-copiers.

Trialware Software that has a free use period. The idea is you use it to see if you like it and after a certain period you're asked to pay for it. As of 2008 many computer manufacturers are bundling too much trialware with new computers which affects their performance.

Trojan Horse

A malicious program that gets onto your system by pretending to be, or attaching itself to, an innocent program.


User Access Control. This is the way Windows Vista tries to protect itself from unwanted files. Before you can install programs or make important changes, Vista asks you to log on as an administrator. Itís a pain, but itís important.


Operating systems that are available for PCs, generally used for servers and specialist workstations. Linux is a free UNIX, most types of UNIX systems are commercial programs.


Send data from your computer to another computer or to the Internet.

UPnP Universal Plug and Play. Allows games, other computer programs and equipment to tell the network what it needs to operate.


Uninterruptable Power Supply: Is a large battery which gives a computer user time to save their work and shut down when a blackout happens.


Universal Resource Locater: Simply put, an Internet address. The address is a web page URL.


Universal Serial Bus: A standard for connecting external devices such as keyboards, monitors, scanners, cameras and modems to a computer.


The Internet message board system. It was one of the earliest services available on the net and is still used today for general discussion and sharing of information.


UnTwisted Pair: Another term for cat 5 cable.

Vaporware Software or a project that is announced by a vendor where they have no intention of actually ever release it. Usually done for marketing purposes to distract from a competitor's better product.


The supplier of the software or hardware, if you buy Microsoft Office, the vendor is Microsoft.

Virus A computer program that attempts to install itself on other computers.

Virtual Memory

When a computer doesnít have enough RAM to run a program or open a document it uses virtual memory. Virtual memory is a file on the hard drive which the computer swaps less important things out of the memory into then swaps them back when they are needed. Virtual memory is also called a swap file.


Virtual Private Network: A network that uses the Internet to share data between computers not on the same local network. The VPN encrypts the data so it is difficult for hackers to monitor the traffic.


Wide Area Network: A network of computers that are not in the same office or complex. A building company may use a WAN to connect itís site offices with head office. A WAN can use leased lines, dial up connections or a VPN.


Web sites that have illegal copies of software, authentication codes or passwords. Legitimate businesses should have no reason to be frequenting these sites.

WEP Wireless Encryption Protocol. The older security method for protecting wireless networks, superceded by WPA. Generally not recommended although some equipment requires it.
Wi-Fi The industry term for wireless networking, also known as 802.11 networks.
WLAN Wireless LAN. A group of computers connected over a wireless network.


A group of computers on a network.

WPA Wi-Fi Protected Access. The currently preferred method for securing wireless networks from unwanted hitch-hikers.

Write Protect

Protecting a drive or disk from being overwritten. Some types of disks have a physical switch, others have a software setting.


eXtensible Mark up Language: A web design language similar to HTML but with built in programming features.


Your Mileage may vary: Your situation may be different to the authorís.

Zip file

A file that has been compressed to fit on a disk or make it quicker to transmit over the web.

Zip disk A proprietary brand of removable disk. Now superceded.

Zero day exploit

A security problem in a program where the bad guys have discovered it before the programmer or the computing community.

Updated 21 October 2008
PC Rescue Pty Ltd, Suite 236, 4 Young Street Neutral Bay NSW 2089
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©Technology Publishing Australia, 2008