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Helpdesk Glossary Of Computing Terms


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Acrobat Reader - A program from Adobe that lets you capture a document and then view it in its original format and appearance. To view an Acrobat document, which is called a PDF (Portable Document Format) file, you need Acrobat Reader. The Reader is available in all I.T. Services PC labs and can be downloaded free from Adobe, via the Internet :

Active Directory - Active Directory is Microsoft's trademarked directory service, an integral part of the Windows 2000 architecture. Like other directory services, such as Novell Directory Services (NDS), Active Directory is a centralized and standardized system that automates network management of user data, security, and distributed resources, and enables interoperation with other directories. Active Directory is designed especially for distributed networking environments.

Active Server Page - An Active Server Page (ASP) is an HTML page that includes one or more scripts (small embedded programs) that are processed on a Web server before the page is sent to the user.

Application software - Application software (sometimes shortened to application) is any program designed to perform a specific function directly for the user or, in some cases, for another application program.. Typical types of application software include, Word processing, Electronic spreadsheet, Database, Email reader, Web browser, Desktop publishing, Graphics software and so on.

ASCII - An acronym that stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. If you save your document as an ASCII file (sometimes called a plain text file) it can be opened in most word processing packages.
Authentication - The verification of the identity of a person or process.

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Backup - The process of securing data by copying your disks, in order to secure your data, in the event that the disks get lost or damaged.

Browser - An application program that provides a way to look at and interact with all the information on the World Wide Web. The most popular browsers are currently Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, and these are both available in all I.T. Services PC labs.

Byte - Usually denotes 8 bits, which the computer treats as a single unit. A bit is the smallest unit of data in computing, with a value of either 0 or 1.

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Cache - A cache is a place to store something temporarily. The files you automatically request by looking at a Web page are stored on your hard disk in a cache subdirectory under the directory for your browser (for example, Internet Explorer). When you return to a page you've recently looked at, the browser can get it from the cache rather than the original server, saving you time and the network the burden of some additional traffic.

Carbon copy - In e-mail, a carbon copy (CC) is a copy of a note sent to an addressee other than the main addressee. A blind carbon copy (BCC) is a copy sent to an addressee that is not visible to the main and carbon copy addressees.

CD-ROM - An acronym that stands for Compact Disk Read Only Memory. CD-ROMs usually contain massive amounts of information available for viewing, saving or printing.

Click - Press and release the mouse button to activate or select a command or option within an application.

Clip art - A library of cartoons and pictures that are available for you to use and copy.

Crash - This means that the computer or the network has suddenly stopped responding.

Configure - Set up hardware/software appropriately to function in a particular environment or setting.

Cursor - The flashing vertical line or block that appears on your screen, indicating that the next character you type in will appear there.

Cut & Paste - To move text or graphics from one place in your document and place it elsewhere.

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Database - A collection of information or data that is organised, usually for referencing e.g. a group of names, addresses, phone numbers or student details, etc.

Desktop - Is the background screen on the computer. It consists of pictures, called icons, that show cabinets, files, folders, and various types of documents.

.doc - This is the file extension that Word automatically puts on the end of your file names, this way both you and Word knows what sort of file it is.

DOS - Stands for Disk Operating System. It is a command based operating system.

Downloading / Uploading - Downloading is the transmission of a file from one computer system to another. From the Internet user's point-of-view, to download a file is to request it from another computer (or from a Web page on another computer) and to receive it. Uploading is transmission in the other direction: from one, usually smaller computer to another computer. From an Internet user's point-of-view, uploading is sending a file to a computer that is set up to receive it.

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Electronic databases - They are a method of storing large amounts of information. Sometimes they are in CD-Rom format, which the University loads onto a server so they can be accessed from a linked computer terminal. On other occasions they can be in Web format, where you actually link via the World Wide Web to a server outside the University.

Email - Electronic Mail enables you to communicate electronically. To use email you need to use a computer that is on a Network.

Error Message - A message that appears on your screen, informing you that either the computer is not working properly or that you have made a mistake. Usually there are explanations of the error messages in the Help systems.

Ethernet - Is a standard for connecting computers into a local area network (LAN).

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FAQ's - An acronym for Frequently Asked(or Answered) Questions.

File - Information stored by the computer onto disks. File types can be identified by the extension of the file name. For example .doc for Word, .xls for Excel .txt for Text, .jpg or .gif for image files, etc.

Firewall - A system designed to prevent unauthorized access to or from a private network. Firewalls are frequently used to prevent unauthorized Internet users from accessing private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets.

Floppy Disk - A floppy disk is small portable magnetic diskette in a plastic holder used to store information. This is also called "3½ Floppy (A:/)" .

Floppy Drive - A slot usually found on the front of a computer for reading floppy disks.

Font - A font is the overall design for a set of characters, which includes a specific typeface and size. In computing terminology, `typeface' and `font' are often used interchangeably. Courier is a typeface; Courier 24-point bold is a font.

Format - This is done to prepare the floppy (or hard) disk ready for use by the computer. Different computers have different formats. Format can also be used when describing the various commands which allows you to change the appearance of your document, i.e.; Font, Bold, Styles, and Underline.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) - File Transfer Protocol (FTP), a standard Internet protocol, is the simplest way to exchange files between computers on the Internet. FTP is an application protocol that uses the Internet's TCP/IP protocols. FTP is commonly used to transfer Web page files from their creator to the computer that acts as their server for everyone on the Internet. It's also commonly used to download programs and other files to your computer from other servers.

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.gif - [Derived from Graphics Interchange Format] A GIF is a type of image file. Like Jpeg it allows you to compress and store images for transfer over the Internet. Gif compression works best for non-photo images.

Gigabyte - A measurement of storage capacity. One gigabyte is equal to approximately 1 thousand megabytes (Exact figure is 1,024 megabytes). Gigabyte is often abbreviated as G or GB.

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Hard Disk - Is a fixed disk inside the computer and is used to store vast amounts of data on it. On a PC it is often referred to as the C: drive.

Hardware - The physical components of any computer item that you can touch e.g. a printer.

HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) - The Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) is the set of rules for exchanging files (text, graphic images, sound, video, and other multimedia files) on the World Wide Web.

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Icon - A small graphic which when clicked, using a mouse, launches an application program. Within an application icons are grouped together as 'toolbars' to provide quick access to particular functions.

i.d. or username - The identifier by which you are known to the computer.

Index - The searchable catalogue of documents created by search engine software. Also called "catalog."

Internet - An Internet is generally defined as a 'network of networks'. The word, Internet itself, spelt with a capital 'I' can be seen as the system, which links millions of computers throughout the World. Thus allowing them to communicate with each other.

Intranet - A network based on TCP/IP protocols (an internet) belonging to an organization, usually a corporation, accessible only by the organization's members, employees, or others with authorization.

IP Address - An IP address is a 32-bit number that identifies each sender or receiver of information that is sent in packets across the network. An IP address has two parts: the identifier of a particular network on the Internet and an identifier of the particular device (which can be a server or a workstation) within that network.

ISP (Internet Service Provider) - A company that provides individuals and other companies access to the Internet and other related services such as Web site building and virtual hosting. An ISP has the equipment and the telecommunication line access required to have a point-of-presence on the Internet for the geographic area served.

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JPEG (.jpg) - is a standard type of image file. It is a very common way to compress and store images for transfer over the Internet. Often used to compress photographic images.


Kilobyte - A measurement of storage capacity. One kilobyte is equal to approximately 1 thousand bytes (Exact figure is 1,024 bytes). In computer literature, kilobyte is usually abbreviated as K or Kb.


LAN (Local Area Network)
- Is a short-distance network used to link a group of computers together within a building.

Login/Log in - To connect to a network or computer.

Logout/Log out - To disconnect or end a session on a computer or a network.

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Mac address (Media Access Control address) - Is an identity code, which is built into a network card. The IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) committee assigns blocks of addresses to a network-card manufacturer. This procedure ensures that no more than one network card share the same Mac address
Megabyte - A megabyte is equal to approximately one million bytes (Exact figure is 1,048,576 bytes). Megabyte is frequently abbreviated as M or MB. Bytes are the means of measuring the amounts of space a computer can use. A High Density floppy disk can hold 1.44MB of information, which is just over 500 pages in a Word document.

Menu Bar - A strip across the top of the screen containing a number of menus in a row. You can choose the menus by using the mouse or the keyboard.

Menu - A menu displays a list of commands. Most menus are located on the menu bar at the top of the Word window.

Modem - (modulator-demodulator). - This device is used by computers to communicate to other remote computers via the telephone lines.

Mouse - A mouse sits on your desk and is guided by either a wheel or light sensor. Moving the mouse around and clicking its buttons will move you in and out of programs without the need for your keyboard.

Multimedia - This is software that combines graphics, audio and video to make us a media presentation.

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Network - A network of computers refers to computers that are able to communicate with each-other generally along wires. Networks can be 'local area' (LAN) or 'wide area' (WAN).

Network Interface Card - A network interface card (NIC) is a computer circuit board or card that is installed in a computer so that it can be connected to a network. Network interface cards provide a dedicated, full-time connection to the network.

NDS (Novell Directory Services) - A popular software product for managing access to computer resources and keeping track of the users of a network, such as a company's intranet, from a single point of administration. Using NDS, a network administrator can set up and control a database of users and manage them using a directory with an easy-to-use graphical user interface (GUI). Users of computers at remote locations can be added, updated, and managed centrally. Applications can be distributed electronically and maintained centrally.


Operating System - An operating system (sometimes abbreviated as "OS") is the program that manages all the other programs in a computer. These programs are called applications or application programs. The application programs make use of the operating system by making requests for services.

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Password - A password is a secret combination of characters that are either assigned to you or you can choose that give you access to the computer or the network. It is very important that you do not tell anyone else your password.

Protocol - In information technology, a protocol is the special set of rules that end points in a telecommunication connection use when they communicate. Protocols are often described in an industry or international standard.

Prompt - The little flashing line or block that appears on your screen, indicating that the computer is ready for your command or response. Usually you have to press Enter after you have typed.

Proxy Server - In an enterprise that uses the Internet, a proxy server is a server that acts as an intermediary between a workstation user and the Internet so that the enterprise can ensure security, administrative control, and caching service.


Remote - A remote computer is one that is connected to your network from a distant location like the other end of the campus, or in another town.

Rich Text Format (RTF) - This is a file format that enables you to save text files in your word processor, with formatting information, such as fonts and margins. It was developed by Microsoft to enable documents to be transferred between application programs. Most word processors can process Rich Text files. Additionally the size of the file will be considerably smaller than a normal word-processed file.

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Scanner - A device that can electronically read text or pictures and save them in a format where they can be used in other packages such as Word.

Scroll Bar - These are horizontal or vertical strips that allow you to view up, down, left and right of windows.

Search Engine - On the Internet, a search engine is a co-ordinated set of programs which searches an index and returns matches to a specified keyword. Google and Yahoo are examples of search engines.

Server - In general, a server is a computer program that provides services to other computer programs in the same or other computers. The computer that a server program runs in is also frequently referred to as a server (though it may contain a number of server and client programs).

SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) - A TCP/IP protocol used in sending and receiving e-mail. However, since it's limited in its ability to queue messages at the receiving end, it's usually used with one of two other protocols, POP3 or Internet Message Access Protocol, that let the user save messages in a server mailbox and download them periodically from the server.

Software - Is an application package, which enables you to perform certain tasks, which manipulates any number of variables, hardware or data. Microsoft Word is a software program that enables word processing facilities.

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Telnet - An Internet tool that allows users to connect to a remote computer.

Toolbar - In the graphical user interface (GUI), a toolbar is a horizontal row or vertical column of selectable images (buttons) that carry out certain frequently used actions when clicked. For example, saving or printing a document. Word processing, spreadsheet, and many other types of application programs come with one or more toolbars as part of their user interface.


Unix - Unix is one of the most flexible and powerful operating systems available. Unix is not a single operating system like Windows 2000, but a class of similar operating systems. There are dozens of different implementations of Unix.

Username - A name to identify yourself to a computer or network - you will need this when you login.


VAX - This is a large (mainframe) computer, which allows a number of users to use it at the same time.

VMS - (Virtual Memory System) This is the operating system used by the VAX.

VPN - A virtual private network (VPN) is a private data network that makes use of the public telecommunication infrastructure, maintaining privacy through the use of a tunnelling protocol and security procedures. It can be contrasted with a system of owned or leased lines that can only be used by one company.

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Windows - Windows is a software package that provides the easy way to use, graphical user interface.

Web-site (Website) - is a related collection of World Wide Web (WWW) files that includes a beginning file called a home page.

World Wide Web (WWW) - Is a system of pages composed of graphics, sound, text and user input linked together via the Internet. It is part of, but by no means the only part of, the Internet.


.xls - the Excel file extension.

Zip Disk - is a sophisticated floppy disk which stores up to 250 Mb of information. This is a much greater capacity than an ordinary 3.5 floppy disk of 1.4 Mb. You need a Zip Drive to be able to use a Zip disk.

Zip Drive - A high-capacity floppy disk drive developed by Iomega Corporation. Like the traditional floppy drive its works in much the same way.

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