Technical terms, acronyms and jargon explained in clear English.
A useful list of terms you may find within this site and elsewhere on the Web.
Account: An account on a computer network comprises a user's identification name, password and access rights that have been granted for any protected areas or material.
ActiveX: Microsoft programming technology most commonly found on web pages to give extra functionality.
ANSI Lumens: The unit of measurement for the brightness of projectors. The higher the number, the brighter the picture.
Anti-virus: A program which will monitor your PC for viruses and, where possible, remove them safely. Be sure to keep your virus definition files up to date, to help your anti-virus software know what to look out for.
Application: Generally another name for a software package. Microsoft Word, for example is an application, while Microsoft Office is a software suite, or collection of applications.
ASP: Active Server Page. A web page which, in addition to basic layout commands, also includes programming code to build or customise the page 'on the fly'. How the page is put together, though, is rarely of any importance to the end user.
ASP: Application Service Provider. A company that provides programs remotely across the internet or a similar connection.
ADSL: Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line. The broadband technology which uses BT's copper wires, working in parallel to normal voice traffic (as opposed to dial-up). It is 'asynchronous' because you have different upload and download speeds; generally, you will download a lot more data than you upload.
Bandwidth: The amount of data transmitted over a network (including the internet) at a time. The higher the bandwidth, the more data is passed over the network. Look out for numbers in 'bps' (bits per second), or more usually these days 'kbps' (kilobits) and 'Mb' (megabits).
Bluetooth: A short-range radio technology for device networking. Most commonly used by mobile phones and handheld devices such as PDAs / Pocket PCs.
Boolean: If a search engine can process Boolean operators, this means you can construct complex search queries using (among others) AND, OR and NOT. Named after an 18th-century English mathematician, George Boole.
Broadband: A high-speed, 'always on' connection to the internet. Generally one of two types: ADSL through the telephone line, or cable. Typically you would expect a broadband connection to be at least 256kbps.
Browser: A software program for reading web-style pages, either on the internet or (increasingly) on your own PC. Microsoft's Internet Explorer remains by far the most common browser, but others including Firefox and Opera have loyal followings.
Cache: An area of memory where your computer can store data for rapid access. In an internet context, web pages may be stored in a cache as you (or colleagues on the same network) view them. If you want to return to a page, or look at a page which a colleague has also accessed recently, it's often quicker and more efficient to pull the page from the cache, rather than getting a fresh copy from the internet. Sometimes, though, this can mean you see an outdated version of a page or site.
CPU: Central Processing Unit. This commonly refers to one of two things, either the box that houses the main components of your computer or the microchip that it has been built around.
Client/server: A type of network in which one computer, the server, acts as the central storage device for files and programs that can be accessed by multiple PCs, or clients, on the network.
Cookie: A block of data stored on your computer by a website. Many e-commerce sites rely on cookies to give 'shopping basket' or 'automatic login' functionality. But some people see them as a threat to online privacy.
Database: A database is a collection of information organized in such a way that a computer program (such as Microsoft Access) can quickly select desired pieces of data.
DTP: Desk Top Publishing. Using computer software to produce advanced documents. Tools like InDesign, Pagemaker and Quark Xpress are used by design professionals. For occasional or less ambitious users, look for equivalents aimed at the mainstream, such as Microsoft's Publisher. You may well find an up-to-date word processor, such as Microsoft Word, has all the features you need for basic projects.
Dialog box: A window that appears temporarily to request, or display, information. You will usually need to acknowledge a dialog box before it will go away.
Dial-up connection: Using a conventional telephone line to access the internet. With broadband becoming ever cheaper, offering much faster bandwidth for a similar price, dial-up is naturally decreasing in popularity.
DNS: Domain Name System. The mechanism that turns familiar internet addresses, like www.bcentral.co.uk, into numeric 'IP' addresses used by the computers themselves.
Domain Name: Our web address is www.bcentral.co.uk. This identifies us as a commercial operation in the UK. Our chosen domain name is 'bcentral.co.uk' - we have to register that domain through our ISP, and pay an annual maintenance fee.
e-commerce: buying and selling goods and services via electronic means - typically over the web.
EDI: Electronic Data Interchange. Exchanging information forms electronically, such as invoices and orders. Used in e-commerce.
email: Electronic mail. A system by which messages can be sent and received electronically, via email software like Microsoft Outlook.
Encryption: Encrypted data is scrambled so that people cannot casually spy on it as it passes across the internet. No encryption is 100% secure, but the effort and resources required to break it are generally disproportionate.
Extranet: Generally a secure website used to communicate or share files with clients or suppliers.
Firewall: Security technology that prevents unauthorised access to a computer or network. You can set who is or isn't allowed through the firewall, and what they can do on the other side.
FPS: Frames per second. When a camera captures video it is actually capturing a series of still pictures called frames. A higher frame-rate means smoother video.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions. A collection of questions and answers that are regularly asked about a specific subject or area.
FTP: File Transfer Protocol. A common way to move files between computers connected to the Internet and a popular way to upload web files.
Hardware: Traditionally the collective name for the items that make up a PC, including the case and its hard drive, internal components, monitor, keyboard, mouse and monitor. Can also refer to equipment such as printers and scanners.
Home page: The main page of a web site and the first screen that a visitor sees displayed when connecting to that site; usually has links to other pages, both within that site and to other sites.
HTML: HyperText Markup Language. The main programming language used to create web pages. Relatively simple to understand, but you may prefer to use software which generates it automatically, such as Microsoft's FrontPage.
HTTP: HyperText Transfer Protocol. A protocol used to transmit files over the Internet.
Hyperlinks: Clickable links on web pages that take you from one file to another.
Interface: Where something meets something else. This can mean the visual presentation of software or a website, or the connections between pieces of computer hardware.
IP: Internet Protocol. When information is sent across the Internet it is broken up into tiny units of data that each speed along separate routes to their destination. These units are known as packets or IP datagrams. Along with TCP, IP is the most important of the Internet protocols, and allows information to travel from one place to another by the fastest possible route.
IP: Intellectual property. A legal entitlement to an idea or concept, often intangible. Patents, trademarks and copyright are examples of intellectual property.
IP address: The unique identifying number of each computer on a network, including the internet.
ISDN: Effectively a digital telephone line. Popular a few years ago for internet connections, as it gave higher speeds than ordinary dial-up - but no longer so attractive, with broadband so much cheaper.
ISP: Internet Service Provider. A company that provides you with a connection to the Internet.
Intranet: Effectively an internal website for your company. The best intranets operate in the same ways, and to the same high standards, as external websites.
Internet: A large global network comprised of thousands of smaller networks.
LAN: Local Area Network. A group of computers and other devices located within a small area, all connected up so any device can interact with any other on the network. LANs commonly include computers, printers, internet connections and large hard disks. Also see Networks.
Linux: An alternative operating system to Microsoft Windows.
Mail merge: Microsoft Word's mail merge feature lets you send multiple letters containing the same content to various people while personalising certain details.
Modem: A device that translates digital information into sound data that can be sent down a telephone line or cable connection.
Network: A group of PCs connected together, by cables or wireless connections, and the software allowing them to share and access each other's information.
Office / Microsoft Office: Microsoft's market-leading suite of programs for office use, including Word (word processor), Excel (spreadsheet), Outlook (email) and PowerPoint (presentations). Microsoft also offers a special edition tailored to small business needs, featuring desktop publishing program Publisher and Business Contact Manager.
Open Source: Software that can be distributed freely allowing users to make changes to the source code.
Operating system / OS: The program such as Microsoft Windows that makes all the elements within your PC work together.
PDF: Portable Document Format. Effectively a 'digital photocopy' of a document, typically produced in a word processor or desktop publishing program. PDFs are popular because they preserve the exact formatting of the original file - whereas, for example, web pages are handled slightly differently by different browsers and operating systems. Often the most efficient way to offer large documents on the internet.
Peer-to-peer network / P2P: A network linking PCs to one another, with no central control or data store for the whole network.
Pixels: The smallest element that can be displayed on a display screen or printed page; a single dot. Web page graphics and screen resolutions are quoted in pixels.
POP3: Post Office Protocol, the most common way to retrieve email from a mail server. Other solutions, such as IMAP, may be more appropriate, depending on your circumstances.
Proxy server: A computer that caches information from other servers, in the interests of system efficiency.
RAM: Random Access Memory. The area where information and programmes are temporarily stored while you work on them.
Resolution: How screen size and image quality are measured (in pixels). The larger the number of pixels, the better quality the picture.
Search Engine: A program that searches documents for specified keywords and returns a list of the documents where the keywords were found.
Secure Socket Layer (SSL): How web pages and other data are exchanged securely over the internet. Look out for 'https' at the start of the web address, rather than just 'http'. Be very careful about sending your credit card details to an e-commerce website, if it isn't using SSL.
Server: This commonly refers to the host computer on the internet or a network that answers requests for information. The term can also refer to the software that makes serving up the information possible.
SMTP: Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. This is the standard protocol for sending email on the internet.
Spam: Unsolicited commercial messages, usually sent in huge quantities via email. Keep your email inbox spam-free using special filtering software.
Spreadsheet: A program like Microsoft's Excel which performs complex calculations using rows and columns of figures, and the files it generates. Many people use spreadsheets to store structured information, which might be more useful to them in a database.
Spyware: Malicious programs which sit on your PC and send information about you, or your usage of the internet, back to their originator. You should run occasional checks on your PC to make sure you haven't been infected.
SQL: Structured Query Language, a standardised query language for requesting information from a database. Often used as shorthand for Microsoft's SQL Server database product.
Stemming: When a search engine works out the many variations of the word you're searching for. Stemming the word 'swim', for example, produces a list of word forms including 'swims', 'swimming' and 'swam'.
TCP/IP: Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol. The set of protocols developed by the US Department of Defence in the late 1970s to allow computers to talk to each other over long distance networks. Also see IP.
Template: In the context of creating a document, a predefined set of parameters that is applied to each new document you create.
USB: Universal Serial Bus. A port used to connect a variety of devices, like printers, to your computer. Increasingly popular for all sorts of connections.
URL: Uniform Resource Locator, typically the address of a web site. Also see domain.
Virus: A small computer program able to spread itself, often for malicious purposes. The term 'virus' is applied these days to many different kinds of computer security threats - including worms and trojans, which have grown more popular as more computers join the internet.
VoIP: Voice over Internet Protocol. Using the internet and its technologies to make telephone calls. Large companies might implement a VoIP-based system for their offices, especially if they operate internationally. Consumer products, such as Skype, are growing in popularity.
VPN: Virtual Private Network. A private network of computers that are connected via the internet. The data sent across the internet is encrypted, so the network is secure.
WAP: Wireless Application Protocol. Intended to bring the best of the web to mobile phones, it has struggled to establish itself in the mainstream.
Webcam: Originally used to describe a still camera sending photographs to a website. Now the same term covers small, relatively cheap video cameras which you might use for videoconferencing over the internet.
Web space: The amount of disk space you choose to allocate to your web site. The term can also be used, generally, to describe a company's Internet site.
Wi-fi: Wireless Fidelity. The generic name given to wireless networking technologies. Speeds are now comparable to cabled networks, so many people choose to run small home or office networks using Wi-fi rather than wires.
Wi-fi hotspot: A public location, such as a cafe, which allows you to connect your Wi-fi laptop or handheld computer to the internet.
Wizard: An interactive help utility within an application that guides you through each step of a task.
WWW: World wide web, or these days, just 'the web'. Most website addresses begin with 'www', but it's not a requirement.
XML: Extensible Markup Language, the 'big brother' of HTML. Where HTML tells your computer how to display text, for example, XML tells the computer what the text actually is - and lets it decide how to display it. XML is an increasingly common way to generate and communicate data on the web.
Zip files: Large files, or groups of files, compressed into a smaller single file for easier distribution. Expect to come across a lot of ZIP files if you're downloading things from websites. If your operating system doesn't already handle ZIP files (as Windows XP does), you'll need an extra piece of software - typically free of charge - to unzip them.