What did he say???
Computer jargon explained.

Compiled by Jon Storm.

You will certainly have noticed that there is lots and lots of strange gibberish associated with computers; and the industry just loves acronyms. Please bear with me for a moment while the table containing the definitions downloads.

The dictionary is divided into four sections, to speed up download and navigation :
this is S-Z; click here for A-D (+ numbers); E-L; M-R.
It says... It means...
Safe Mode A cut-down version of Windows which you can launch instead of the full version for troubleshooting purposes.
SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) A high speed standard for connecting hard disks to your computer, replacing EIDE on most new computers.
Save Copy whatever you are working on from memory, which is lost when you switch off the computer, to permanent storage, usually the hard disk. It is a good idea to save frequently when you are working on something important, in case there is a sudden power cut or you make some awful mistake that trashes your document.
S/B Compatible (SoundBlaster compatible) A common Soundcard format, now obsolete.
Scanner A device which makes high-resolution copies of printed images and text to use on a computer.
Screensaver A program that blanks the computer screen or displays images if you don't do anything for a few minutes, in Windows for example. Early screens could have images literally burned permanently onto the tube if left displaying the same thing all day. Much less of a problem with modern screens, and these days screensavers are mostly used for security (with a password to return to normal mode), or just for fun.
Scroll, scroll-bar To scroll something is to move it up or down the screen, so you can see what is above or below the current position, for example at a website. A scroll-bar is a bar on the right-hand side (usually) of a window which allows you to move the text etc up and down the screen with a mouse. If the window is too wide to fit the screen there will be a scroll-bar at the bottom, so you can scroll the text left and right too.
SCSI (Small Computer Systems Interface; pr. "scuzzy") A system for controlling hard disks, tape drives, and various other add-ons. Sometimes used for a PC's main hard disk, but more often the main hard disk is controlled by an EIDE controller built into the motherboard. A SCSI controller would usually be installed as an expansion board. SCSI is a bit faster than EIDE, but more expensive.
Search engine A website directory which indexes as many websites as it can and allows you to search its database for sites on particular subjects. Because of the immense size and rate of growth of the world wide web, no-one has a complete directory of all sites which exist. The most popular is Google, so popular that it's name has become a verb.
Security Suite A set of programs designed to protect a computer from malware and similar threats. Usually consists of a firewall, antivirus program, anti-spyware program, and often an anti-phishing program
Serial ATA See SATA.
Serial Port A socket for plugging devices into the computer, now replaced by USB.
Server A computer at the centre of most networks which provides files and other services to other computers. Also known as a file server.
Shockwave A software technology from Macromedia Inc for making animations, games, sound and all kinds of special effects on a webpage.
shoot-'em-up A computer game in which you control a character, vehicle etc and shoot lots of onscreen enemies. Also called an FPS (First Person Shooter).
Shortcut In Windows (from 95 on), a type of icon which lets you launch a program quickly, without having to search for it. Often placed on the Windows desktop for convenience. Usually has a small arrow in the bottom lefthand corner, to show it is a shortcut rather than the program itself.
Sim, sim-free (Subscriber Identity Module) A chip smaller than a man's thumbnail, which contains the number and network subscription of a mobile phone, and sometimes other data. Move the chip to another phone, and the phone number moves with it. A sim-free phone is one bought without a number and not tied to any particular network. There are currently three types of different sizes. The standard SIM is the largest, used in older phones, the smaller micro- and nano-SIMs are used in the latest smartphones.
SIMM (Single In-line Memory Module; pr."sim") A largely obsolete type of RAM for older PCs. Replaced by DIMM.
SIR (Serial InfraRed). A wireless communication system for PCs and peripherals, especially laptops. Only works when the devices are in line-of-sight of each other.
Siri A voice-controlled AI on Apple smartphones and tablets which can be used to control some features of the device.
Smartphone A computer in a cellphone. As well as a phone, typically it will include both stills and movie cameras, music player, enough computing power to run sophisticated programs such as office sofware and games, satellite navigation, and gigabytes of storage. The most famous is Apple's iPhone, but all the major manufacturers make them and they are where the IT industry is mostly focussed at the moment. Some think that they will completely replace most personal computers.
SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol). The original method of transmitting and receiving email on the internet. Still sometimes used for transmitting, but has been widely replaced by POP3 and IMAP.
Smiley :-) or :) A group of symbols used to indicate a smile or laughter in an email or newsgroup message (look at it sideways). There are all sorts of variants including :-( for sadness, ;-) for a smile with a wink, :-D for a big smile or a laugh. and :-o for astonishment. Collectively they are often called emoticons.
Software The programs that run on a computer. Without software, a computer can't do anything.
Soundcard Originally an expansion card to enable the PC to make sounds more sophisticated than a simple "beep!". Now usually built into the motherboard.
SP2, SP3 (Service Pack 2, 3 etc) Microsoft occasionally release a large package of updates for a Windows version, rolling up previous small updates into one package, and patching vulnerabilities which have come to light since the original release. These major packages tend to be called Service Pack and a number.
Spam Unsolicited bulk advertising, usually via email. Originally a name for mass postings to Usenet newsgroups advertising products or services, regardless of their relevance to the newsgroup. (The name comes from a famous Monty Python sketch in which every conversation is interrupted every few seconds by people shouting "spam spam spam" at the top of their voices). Sending spam is illegal in most jurisdictions. A spam filter is a program designed to automatically remove spam from your email before you see it and is standard in any corporate email system.
Spreadsheet A program used for doing calculations and setting up financial balance sheets, indispensable for accountants and managers. The best known is Microsoft Excel.
Spyware Programs, typically installed by stealth, which record what you do on your PC and send reports to criminals, allowing them to steal your bank details, passwords and so on. See also Malware.
SSD (Solid State Drive) A technology that replaces the conventional hard disk, particularly in laptops, with a device that behaves exactly like a hard disk but uses memory instead of magnetic storage. It is very much faster than even the fastest hard disks and is now standard on high-end laptops and notebooks, and often retrofitted into PCs as well.
Standalone A computer not connected to any kind of network.
Start Button A button on the lefthand end (usually) of the Taskbar in most versions of Windows, which you click on to display the Start Menu.
Start Menu A set of menus which appear when you click on the Start Button in Windows, which you can customise to suit your own preferences. Most programs will automatically add themselves to the Start Menu when you install them.
StartUp Folder

An area under Programs in the Windows Start Menu. Any programs placed in this folder will launch themselves automatically whenever you start up Windows.

Storage The generic term for any method of storing information which is not lost when the computer is switched off; the most common types are hard disks, CDs, and DVDs.
Stream, streaming Video or audio that plays while still downloading, rather than you having to wait till the download has finished.
Suite A group of programs which carry out different tasks but are intended to work together, such as Microsoft Office.
Surfing In a computer context, wandering around the World Wide Web (which really annoys the guys with the boards and the big waves). Also called websurfing.
System Tray An area on the righthand end of the Windows Taskbar which displays icons representing TSRs presently running, usually at least a loudspeaker which represents the volume control for the soundcard, and a clock. Programs in the Sytem Tray are often but not always launched from the StartUp folder.
System unit (or box) The unit with the disk drives which the keyboard, monitor etc are plugged into on a desktop computer. In other words, the actual computer.
Tablet A portable computer which consists only of a screen, usually with no keyboard. It is controlled using a touchscreen. The most popular is Apple's iPad, but all the major manufacturers are producing them and they are replacing latops in a lot of situations because they are so much lighter.
Taskbar In Windows, a bar across the bottom of the screen (usually - you can move it to the top or side if you want to) which contains the Start Button, the System Tray, and icons which represent all the applications currently running. You can switch between applications by calling up the taskbar and clicking on the relevant icon. The taskbar can be set to remain visible all the time (the default), or only to appear when you press the Windows key.
TBH (To Be Honest) Internet slang.
TCP/IP (Transfer Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) A common protocol (language) which a computer can use to communicate with other computers, particularly on the internet.
Terabyte Unit of measurement for pieces of information : approximately 1 trillion bytes, 1 billion kilobytes, 1 million megabytes or 1000 gigabytes. That's a lot of data.
Terminal Adaptor A piece of hardware similar to a modem, required to operate an ISDN internet connection.
Thumb drive A computer storage device about the size of a man's thumb, often carried on a keyring, which plugs into a PC USB port and is seen by the PC as an extra drive - a very convenient way to carry large amounts of data around.
TIFF, Tif (Tagged Image File Format) A type of graphics (picture) file, often used for photographs. The files are usually huge, as the data is not compressed. Files in this format usually have names ending .tif .
TFT (Thin Film Transistor) A technology used originally in laptop screens for giving a sharp and vibrant colour display. Much less bulky than the CRT system used in most desktop monitors, which it is now widely replacing.
TLD (Top Level Domain). The part of an internet address between the last . and the end of the address, excluding the path/address of a specific page if present. TLDs include .com, .org, .net, and all the national domains such as .uk for the UK and .fr for France. See also domain, registrar, How web addresses work.
Toolbar An extra set of controls that can be added to many programs or the operating system, to provide extra functionality not present in the standard version. A toolbar often comes free with downloaded software and is intended to tie you to one company's products, especially internet search.
Touchscreen A computer screen which is touch-sensitive, used to control tablet computers and most smartphones. They are also widely used for specialised applications such as supermarket self checkouts and public information devices.
Torrent A method of making data available for download over the internet, where the recipient of data is expected to make the data available to others for download from their PC, rather than all users downloading from a central server. Typically much of the data is bootleg software, audio and video. Because the data is distributed from multiple computers all over the place rather than a central point, it is difficult to police.
Touchpad A pressure-sensitive pad which replaces the mouse on most laptop and netbook computers.
Trojan A program similar to a virus which is disguised as something harmless like a game, but when launched actually sabotages the computer on which it is running.
TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) A program, usually loaded automatically on startup, which remains in memory to provide particular functions such as connection to a network or protection against viruses. In Windows TSRs are usually represented by icons in the System tray, such as the small loudspeaker which represents the volume control for the soundcard. A few TSRs are essential, but many are installed automatically by a particular application just to improve its own performance, with no thought for anything else you may be doing, and may have a negative impact on everything else. Sometimes launched from the StartUp folder in the Windows Start Menu, but often elsewhere as it is too easy to delete them from there.
TWAIN (Technology Without An Interesting Name, according to legend) A standard "language" or protocol which computers use to communicate with scanners.
UBE, UCE (Unsolicited Bulk Email, Unsolicited Commercial Email) Email sent out in bulk to addresses harvested from web pages, newsgroups etc, advertising products or services - mostly scams or pornography. Also known as spam. Sending UCE is a violation of most ISP's Acceptable Use Policies, and will often get your account terminated immediately.
Ultra DMA, UDMA (Direct Memory Access) A standard for EIDE disk controllers relating to how fast they can transfer data. Often followed by a number representing the transfer rate in Mbps, eg UDMA100 operates at up to 100 Mbps.
Uninstall Remove a program from your system. You can't just delete its folder, because almost all programs make changes to various parts of Windows. Many programs come with a special uninstaller, which you should use if it exists. Otherwise, you can uninstall programs (in Windows) from the Control Panel.
Upload To transfer information (files) from a user PC to a network or the Internet. See also download.
URL (Universal Resource Locator) An address used to locate something on the internet, most often a web page. All web addresses are URLs.
USB (Universal Serial Bus) A standard type of connection port, used to attach extra devices such as a scanner to a computer. Standard on new PCs from around 1998. USB 2.0 and 3.0 are faster versions of the same thing. Many PCs now use USB to connect the mouse and keyboard.
Usenet An enormous collection of public newsgroups on the Internet, well over 25,000 at last count, which allow users to post messages discussing particular issues. Now largely replaced by internet forums, whcih are easier to police against massive spamming.
User interface A program's controls, with which the user "interfaces" with the program.
Vaporware Derogatory term for software which is announced but fails to materialise.
VGA (Video Graphics Array) An early colour graphics standard for PCs, now used as a sort of lowest common denominator which all monitors and graphics cards understand.
Virus A program that has been deliberately created to cause computer problems, usually minor ones as a prank, but occasionally very nasty ones indeed, such as erasing your entire hard disk. Viruses were originally designed to attach themselves to programs on a disk, and then "hide" in the computer's memory once the host program is executed, and "infect" every disk they come across. Some types of virus (such as the famous "I love you") propagate by email, disguised as an attachment, which is why you should never open an attachment you are unsure of.
Virus protector A program which guards against computer viruses, either by lurking in memory as a TSR and checking everything you run for viruses as you go along, or by scanning some or all of the files on either hard or floppy disk at a time you specify. Virus protectors need to be updated frequently to guard against new types of virus.
Virtual, virtual reality A simulated environment on the internet or a computer.
Vista See Windows Vista.
Voicemail A voice message recorded on a computer and sent to a specific person by the computer or telephone system. In effect a more sophisticated telephone answering machine.
VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) A system for making cheap phonecalls over the internet instead of via the telephone system.
W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) An influential group of interested parties who agree what is and isn't official HTML. Originally WWWC, but W3C is a lot easier to say.
Wallpaper A picture or motif on your Windows desktop. To change the Windows wallpaper right-click anywhere on the desktop, select Properties from the pop-up menu, choose the Desktop tab and select a new entry from the list under Background. To add pictures of your own to the list, save them as .bmp(bitmap) files and put them in your Windows folder.
WAN (Wide Area Network) A sort of group of networks, or more properly LANs, connected together.
WAP (Wireless Application Protocol; pr. "wapp" or "wopp") A system to enable early mobile phones to browse the World Wide Web. In practise the site has to be specially designed and text only, and only a very few sites have bothered. Now largely obsolete, as smartphones can display the original sites pretty well.
WAV file, Wave A computer sound recording. WAV files tend to be very large, so sound recordings are often compressed into MP3s on the internet, giving a slightly lower quality but much smaller files.
Webcam (WEB CAMera) a kind of cheap TV camera which you can use for videoconferencing over the internet, or just showing off. They are very popular for making video calls over the internet.
Webhost A company which makes webpages available on the World Wide Web, usually as a commercial venture.
Weblog A website documenting someone's thoughts or experiences, also known as a blog.
Webmail Email controlled from a website such as Hotmail or Yahoo instead of with a dedicated mail program like Outlook Express or Eudora. Many ISPs allow you to access your email both with a mail program and via the Web, so that you can access your email while travelling.
Webmaster The person prinicipally responsible for maintaining a website.
Webserver A computer which fetches or stores World Wide Web pages and provides them over the internet on request.
Website A page or group of pages on the World Wide Web.
Webspace The storage on an internet server where websites are kept. Webspace can be hired from a commercial provider, or is sometimes provided free with an internet account.
Websurfing Looking at pages on the World Wide Web. Often just called surfing.
Wi-Fi, WiFi (WIreless FIdelity) A method of connecting computers to a network without cables, using small radio transmitter/receivers built in to most portable devices and broadband modems. Many hotels and other public locations now offer free WiFi if you have a suitable device, such as a laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Wiki A website where the users create and edit the content collaboratively, the best known being Wikipedia, a huge online encyclopedia. Entries on controversial subjects should be viewed with caution, as they may have been edited by persons with strong but not necessarily accurate views. Anyone can create a Wiki using free open source software.
Win95 Windows 95. See Windows.
Win98 Windows 98. See Windows.
Win9x Compatible with or pertaining to both Windows 95 and Windows 98.

A family of operating systems from the Microsoft Corporation, standard on most PCs. Windows 95, 98 and ME (Millenium Edition) were three generations of the early version intended mainly for home use; Windows NT and 2000, developed and released in parallel with the 9x family, were intended more for use in office and network environments. Both lines were replaced by Windows XP, which was first released in 2001, extensively upgraded since, and still popular today. XP was replaced first by Vista, released in 2007 to a lukewarm reception at best as it was pretty but bloated and very slow, then by Windows 7. 7 was essentially Vista with the bugs taken out, and was much better received, and is currently regarded as the safe, reliable choice.

The latest version is Windows 8, released in 2012, which has a new interface aimed mainly at touchscreens, as Microsoft try to move in to the fast-growing tablet and smartphone markets. Following their usual pattern of alternating good and terrible new versions of Windows, 8 was a disaster. Corporates, Microsoft's biggest customers, hated it and didn't buy it, because it was so different to the previous version that anyone adopting it would have to retrain all their staff, for essentially no gain. Phone and tablet users weren't particularly impressed either. Two weeks after Windows 8's launch, Microsoft fired the chief designer and admitted publicly that they had got it horribly wrong. They then hurried out Windows 8.1, which uses the same engine but has a front end that looks more like the familiar Windows 7; but the damage had been done and the corporates have largely ignored it. Now they have announced that they are going to skip Windows 9 altogether, go straight to 10, and give it away for free to anyone who was unlucky enough to buy Windows 8.

Windows 2000 A version of Windows intended for business users, the successor to Windows NT. Now obsolete.
Windows 3, 3.1, 3.11 A very early version of Windows, a sort of forerunner of the operating system that ran on top of the original PC operating system, DOS. Long obsolete.
Windows 7, 8 etc See Windows
Windows 98SE (Second Edition) An upgrade to Microsoft's Windows 98. Generally agreed to be the best of the Win9x bunch.
Windows Key An extra key on keyboards made after 1995, located between Ctrl and Alt and bearing the Microsoft Windows logo. Pressing this key in any Win95/98 application should immediately call up the Taskbar with the Start Menu open. (If your keyboard doesn't have a Windows key you can perform the same task by pressing Ctrl-Esc).
Windows ME (Millenium Edition) The successor to Windows 98, but not widely taken up, and soon replaced by Windows XP. Now obsolete.
Windows NT An early version of Windows intended for business use, more stable for networking but less game-friendly than its Win9x cousins. First released in 1993, superseded first by Windows 2000 and then Windows XP. Now obsolete.
Windows Vista Microsoft's first attempt to replace Windows XP, first released in 2007. It had a prettier interface and a few nice ideas, but it was bloated and slow and was soon replaced by Windows 7, which looks very like Vista but is quicker and more stable.
Windows XP One of Microsoft's more stable and popular releases, once they had patched it several times to remove the worst mistakes and security holes, first released in 2001. There are still a great many computers running it in preference to more recent releases, even though Microsoft no longer support it.
Winzip The most popular program for compressing files, either for storage or transmission via the internet, widely available as a free download. The compressed files it creates have the extension .zip. See also zip.
Wireless network A computer network which uses radio transmitters (usually) to move information between computers without the need for physical cables. See Wi-Fi.
Wizard A Windows feature which presents a user with simple menus or options for what would otherwise be a complex task, and carries them out automatically. Almost all Windows programs are installed via Wizards, and they are also widely used inside Windows programs.
Word Processor A program used for creating documents, letters etc. The best known is Microsoft Word.
World Wide Web (WWW or just "the Web") The easiest part of the Internet to understand and use, the World Wide Web consists of many millions of pages of text and images published by anyone and everyone, from governments and large corporations down to the humblest home user, in a standardised hypertext format. A particular person or company's area is called a website. Viewed with a program called a browser. Wandering around the World Wide Web is often called Websurfing or just surfing.
Worm A malicious program introduced into computers by stealth, similar to a virus.
Write-protected A write-protected file has been set so that it cannot be altered or deleted without first removing the write protection. Also called read-only. You can write-protect a file in windows by right-clicking on it and checking the "read-only" box under attributes.
WTF (What The F***) Internet slang, not suitable for polite company.
WWW See World Wide Web.
WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get; pr. "whizzy-wig") A computer interface, usually for creating documents, that reproduces the end-product as accurately as possible on screen. Standard on all modern software, so you don't often hear it mentioned these days.
YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary) Internet slang, meaning "your experience may be different". Derives from a disclaimer in US car ads.
Zip A popular standard for file compression developed by the PKWare corporation. Files thus compressed usually have the extension .zip. See Winzip.
Zip drive A special drive for removable data cartridges, often used for making backups as the cartridges can hold a lot more data than a floppy disk. Now pretty much obsolete, as almost all PCs have CD or DVD writers fitted as standard.
That was S-Z; click here for A-D (+ numbers); E-L; M-R.

Didn't find what you were looking for? Sorry about that. Send an email to gloss13 at jonstorm.com and I'll try and include it in the next revision. Your feedback is much appreciated!

Sorry the above contact address isn't a nice clickable "mailto" link. It used to be, but clickable email addresses get auto-harvested by spammers, and bombarded with junk mail. Sometimes they even manually harvest the disguised address above, and start spamming that. It should be obvious that anyone going to the trouble of disguising their contact address like this is extremely unlikely to buy anything advertised via spam, but then most spammers aren't very bright.

spam.abuse.net can help you fight against the spammers.

Copyright © Jon Storm 2000-2015.
Last update : 27 February 2015.

Go to Dictionary A-D (+ numbers); E-L; M-R; Absolute beginners' HTML; Jon Storm's website