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Glossary of terms for computer "rookies." (Glossary)

No more blank stares! No more "pretending to know!" Now, when confronted by someone for whom "computerese" is a second language, or maybe a first one, you'll be able to understand what they're talking about and get the information you need!

Thanks to Kathryn Alden, President of Creative Solutions Unlimited, Inc., NURSING HOMES is able to offer you this glossary of commonly used terms from the world of computers, starting with those model numbers that are tossed around so freely:

286, 386, 486: These are common names for the 80286, 80386, and 80486 families of microprocessor chips made by the Intel Corporation. A microprocessor is the "brain," or control center, of a computer. These chips, introduced in 1984, 1986, and 1989 respectively, are many times faster and more powerful than those in the original IBM-PC. The 386 and 486 have advanced memory management capabilities that the 286 does not have, enabling multiple applications to run simultaneously (see Windows). The 486 has all the features of a 386, but operates at significantly higher speed. The 486SX lacks the math coprocessor that a 486DX has, but is more reasonably priced.

Backup: A backup is a duplicate copy of the files that are stored on a computer's hard drive. Some backup systems make copies of the files to floppy disks, while others utilize tape cartridges. Regardless of the type of backup system, the most important thing is to DO IT! Most data lost because of hard disk failure or human error could be retrieved from backup copies if they were made regularly.

Clone or PC-Compatible: Nearly all personal computers (PC's) today are clones, or imitations, of the original IBM microcomputer. Today, the term refers to a computer which can run DOS software see DOS).

Disk: A disk is a storage device used by the computer to save information. Hard disks are fixed inside the computer, while floppy disks are removeable. Floppy disks come in two sizes: 3 1/2" (1.44 MB capacity) and 5 1/4" (1.2 MB capacity). Hard disks can store hundreds of times the information that a floppy can hold. (See Megabyte).

DOS: An acronym for "Disk Operating System," DOS is the program which controls everything that a computer does, all the programs it runs, saving and retrieving information, printing, etc. The latest version of MS-DOS or PC-DOS is DOS 5.0 (See Network).

Function Keys: Function keys are the special "F" keys on the computer keyboard, labeled F1 through F10 or F12. Function keys are used by various programs to perform special commands. The purpose of the function keys is determined by the program being used. For example, in one program F1 may mean "Help" but in another program F1 may mean "Print." Sometimes function keys are used in combination with other keys, like shift or Alt or Ctrl.

Hardware: Hardware refers to the physical equipment that makes up a computer system. Hardware is controlled by software. (See Software).

Laptop: A laptop computer is a small, portable computer that usually weighs 12-15 pounds or less. Laptops may either run on rechargeable batteries or can be plugged into a common AC outlet. A laptop's flat screen is compact and lightweight, but can be difficult to read. Laptops are convenient and popular, but also are more expensive than desktop computers.

Mac: Mac, or Macintosh, is a family of personal computers introduced by Apple Computer in 1984. It has its own proprietary operating system (different from DOS and UNIX) which provides graphical representations of programs and commands called "icons." Mac users select an item by dragging a small, handheld device called a Mouse across a surface, causing corresponding movement of a pointer on the screen, until the pointer lands on an icon. By pressing a button on the mouse, the item represented by the icon is selected.

Megabyte: A megabyte is roughly one million bytes. A byte is the equivalent of one character. Hard drive storage capacity is measured in megabytes (MB), with 40 MB, 80 MB, 120 MB, and 300 MB being common sizes.

Menu: A menu is an easy-to-use list of commands or program options. Items in a menu may be selected by pressing a letter or number, by highlighting the option and pressing ENTER, or by pressing a mouse button. Menu-driven programs are easier to learn to use than command-driven programs.

Memory: See RAM and ROM.

Modem: A modem is a device which converts a computer's electronic information into sounds that can be transmitted over telephone lines. The information is then translated back into electronic information by the receiving computer's modem.

Mouse: See Mac, Windows.

Network: Several computers interconnected to share information and equipment (like a laser printer) is called a network. A high-performance computer in the network, called the file server, stores the files that the other computers, called nodes or workstations, can access and share. Network software is needed to control the traffic between the workstations, the server, and other devices.

Printer, Dot Matrix: A dot matrix printer uses a series of pins striking a ribbon to form images out of dots. The more pins the printer uses, the higher the resolution of the image. A 24-pin dot matrix printer can produce typewriter-quality output. Dot matrix printers are less expensive than laser printers, but are noisier and slower.

Printer, Laser: A laser printer uses the same technology used in copy machines to print one page at a time on cut sheets of paper. They are fast and quiet, and can produce outstanding graphics.

RAM and ROM: RAM (Random Access Memory) and ROM (Read Only Memory) are memory chips used by the computer as it is processing data. RAM is the primary working memory where software instructions and data are placed temporarily. ROM contains special operating instructions that can only be read by the computer and not changed. RAM is one of the most important parts of a computer, as it determines the size and number of programs as well as the amount of data the computer can process immediately. A computer can only manipulate or process data which it holds in memory. After it is processed, that data is saved on a disk. (See Disk).

Software: Software refers to the vast collection of programs available that control the computer hardware. Operating system software, like DOS and UNIX, work behind the scenes to enable a computer to run application software like word processing or data base management or games.

Source Code: Source code is the language a program is written in by the programmer. Source code cannot be executed directly by the computer. It must be converted into machine language first by an assembler, a compiler, or an interpreter.

UNIX: UNIX is an operating system from AT&T that can support multiple users (see Network), multiple programs simultaneously "multitasking"), and a wide variety of computer systems from microcomputers to large mainframe computers.

UPS: UPS, or Uninterruptible Power Supply, is a battery backup system which provides backup power for a computer system when there is an electrical power failure or drop in voltage. A small UPS will provide battery backup for only a few minutes, which is usually enough time to save data and shut down the computer in an orderly fashion. A good UPS system will also provide surge suppression and voltage regulation.

VGA: An acronym for "Video Graphics Array," VGA and Super VGA (SVGA) computer displays offer high quality text characters and vivid color graphics.

Windows: A windows program is one which displays separate viewing areas on a computer screen to enable the user to access and/or view several programs at onetime. Microsoft Corporation's Windows is a windows program which runs DOS software. Windows provides icons and a mouse interface which are similar to the Mac. (See Mac).

WYSIWYG: WYSIWYG (pronounced "wizzy-wig") is an acronym for "What You See Is What You Get." It is descriptive of a program's ability to display information on the computer screen in exactly the same way it will be printed. However, the screen output and the printer output are never 100% the same.


[1.] Rosch, Winn L. The Winn L. Rosch Hardware Bible (Second Edition). New York: Brady Publishing, 1992. [2.] Freedman, Alan. The Computer Glossary (Fourth Edition). Point Pleasant, PA: AMACOM, 1989. [3.] Gookin, Dan. DOS for Dummies. San Mateo, CA: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 1991.
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Publication:Nursing Homes
Article Type:Glossary
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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