Glossary

There are a lot of words and TLA’s (three-letter acronyms) that computer people throw around and use all the time, frequently using the same word (such as “airport” or “wifi” or “802.11”) to refer to the same thing without explanation. Herewith, then, an alphabetical list and glossary of some of the ones I end up explaining most often.


  • 1394: The official IEEE number for the peripheral connection also known as “Firewire” or “iLink”
  • 802.11: The official IEEE designation for “WiFi” wireless IP networking
  • AC: Alternating current, the kind of electricity that comes out of a wall socket
  • Airport: Apple’s brand name for 802.11 technology: both the protocol and physical devices
  • Alias: A computer icon or file which points to another alias, folder, file or document
  • Bluetooth: A short-range wireless technology used in phones, printers, keyboards, mice
  • Bonjour: An easy-to-use local network protocol built into some devices, OS X and iChat (formerly called “Rendezvous”)
  • Bookmark: An Internet URL or shortcut, usually saved and managed within a web browser
  • Bridge: Network connector for two disparate network types, such as localtalk/ethernet
  • Broadband: High-speed Internet connection such as through a DSL or cable modem
  • Cache: Files stored on your computer temporarily, as from recently visited web sites
  • Cable Modem: Bridge used to provide Internet connections over coaxial cable TV wiring
  • CRT: Cathode Ray Tube, the “television-style” computer monitor common since the 1970’s
  • DHCP: Dynamic Hosting Control Protocol, a way to allocate IP addresses “on the fly” as needed
  • Download: To transfer a file from a network server to your local computer
  • DSL: Digital Subscriber Line, a protocol to deliver high-speed IP connections over telephone wires
  • Ethernet: A physical network connection, usually looks like a fat telephone cable
  • Favorite: AOL and Internet Explorer term for a web bookmark or alias
  • Freeware: Copyrighted software available for free without source code
  • Firewall: A network node designed to filter traffic, usually for security reasons
  • Firewire: Apple’s brand-name for 1394, a peripheral connection type often used for video cameras and hard drives
  • Gateway: A network node through which one connects to another network or Internet
  • Hub: A box which shares one connection with many ports, similar to a power strip but for USB, firewire or ethernet
  • Internet: the worldwide collection of network protocols for email, web, Usenet and more
  • IP: Internet Protocol, the addressing and transfer protocol most common on the Internet
  • IP Address: A numeric node on an IP network, analagous to a telephone number or extension
  • ISP: Internet Service Provider, a company which provides an IP address and Internet access
  • LAN: Local Area Network, usually one’s intranet, home or office network
  • LCD: Liquid Crystal Display, the “flat” kind of computer monitors such as on laptops
  • Mac: Short for “Macintosh,” usually indicating Macintosh OS or components
  • MAC: Media access control, technical name for an ethernet or 802.11 hardware interface
  • Malware: Software which uses resources to harm the host computer (viruses, spyware, etc)
  • Modem: technically a device for connecting computers over analog phone lines but often used for any connector between a computer and a telephone or broadband network
  • Network: Computers or devices connected for communication: telephones, printers, etc
  • NIC: Network interface card. Almost always used to refer to a computer’s built-in ethernet
  • Open Source: Copyrighted software distributed with source code: free to use and modify
  • Port: a physical connector for cables OR a specific protocol number at an IP address OR translation of a program from one OS to another
  • Power Strip: Short, multi-outlet extension cord, provides no backup power or protection
  • Rendezvous: Apple’s brand name for a local network protocol, also called “Bonjour”
  • RJ-11: the clip-in connector used for telephone cables, wall, phone and modem jacks
  • RJ-45: the telephone-style connector at the end of most ethernet cables or within cards
  • Router: A “smart” network node which can distribute network traffic
  • Shareware: “Try before you buy” commercial software distributed on the honor system, to be purchased
  • Sharing hub: A router (usually with DHCP server) which apportions one IP connection among many devices, similar to a telephone switchboard
  • Shortcut: Windows’ term for “alias” but sometimes short for multi-key combinations which execute commands as “keyboard shortcuts”
  • Subnet: A network setting which much match for computers to see each other on a LAN
  • Spyware: Software which surreptitiously “reports back” user activity without user knowledge
  • Surge Suppressor: A power conditioner which sits between electronics and the wall outlet
  • Switch: Usually a network device with some traffic management: faster than a hub but not as sophistated as a router or bridge
  • Trojan Horse: a malicious program which relies on tricking the user into launching it, the sort of malware most likely to infect a Macintosh computer
  • Upload: To transfer a file from your computer to a network such as the Internet
  • UPS: Uninterruptible Power Supply, a battery which sits between your computer and the wall outlet, to provide temporary power in case of a “brownout” or emergency
  • URL: Uniform Resource Locator, protocol and address such as “http://aol.com” or “mailto:president@whitehouse.gov”
  • USB: Universal Serial Bus, an inexpensive peripheral connector popularized by the iMac: used for keyboards, printers, mice, digital cameras, flash drives, inexpensive hard drives, etc.
  • Virus: A program which uses its host environment to replicate without user intervention, usually “malware” which damages files on the host computer
  • WAN: Wide Area Network, usually larger than one workgroup or building
  • WiFi: “Wireless Fidelity,” marketing term for intermediate-range wireless IP connection
  • Worm: A kind of malware which propogates itself, usually over a network to consume bandwidth

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