A few (very few) terms explained.
Call it glossary.

Quickly find the meanings of Hardware, Software, Operating System, Drivers, Download, Upload, File, File Name Rules, File Extension, Folder, Desktop, Wallpaper, Reboot, Virus, Trojan Horse, Byte, Kilobyte, Megabyte, Gigabyte, and Terabyte in this section.

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Anybody who uses a computer, needs to understand a few computer terms. I shall explain in very simple language the meaning of a few terms here. A glossary of computer terms can be easily found online and in many books dealing with computer basics. I shall not go into much of technical discussions here and make it real easy for you to understand. I shall just mention a few very basic computer terms and try to explain for example, what is a file, what is the difference between a file and a folder, and so forth. Relax. It is not going to be boring. And it is not a true glossary. Had it been a true glossary, it would have appeared at the end of this site, probably in an alphabetical order!

Hardware: Hardware means those parts of the computer which you can touch and are usually hard, such as the computer itself, the monitor, the keyboard, the printer, the mouse, the scanner, the speakers etc.

Software: Software are the programs or applications (Apps) with the help of which you do something with your computer, such as write a letter, browse the Internet, send and receive e-mail, make a spreadsheet, create a drawing, edit a photo, etc. Software usually come in a floppy disk or CD or DVD which you can touch but you cannot touch the program or application itself. In other words you can touch the containers of software but not the software itself. A good example is a software that you may have downloaded from the Internet. Can you touch it? Your word processor is a software, your Internet Explorer or Google Chrome browser is a software, your PaintShop Pro is a software, your Norton Internet Security is a software.

Operating System: The operating system is a software which makes a computer do something and also helps the other software to work properly. Think of it as the Master Software of your computer. If it malfunctions, your computer will not work properly. Windows is a operating system. Its different versions are known as 3.1, 95, 98, 98SE, 2000, NT, ME, and XP. When you buy a new computer, the operating system usually comes installed in it. So you don't have to do a thing about the operating system unless you want to upgrade it to a later (and usually better) version.

Drivers: The drivers are software needed to run a hardware such as the printer, the monitor, or the scanner properly. The drivers also usually come pre-installed in your new computer. When you run your computer the first time, you may have to configure the correct driver for your brand and model of hardware, such as the printer. But if you buy say, a new printer later, you may have to get a new driver for your new printer from the printer manufacturer. The manufacturer may send you the new driver in the form of floppy disk(s), or you may have to download the driver from the manufacturer's web site. Sometimes the new driver comes packed with the new device in the form of a floppy disk. You just have to install it. Sometimes even for your old device, a better driver may be available from that device's manufacturer. Check the device manufacturer's web site for the latest information.

Download: Files you receive from a remote computer to your computer. These files could be text files, pictures, music files, applications, drivers etc.

Upload: Files you transfer from your computer to a remote computer. Example: You have created an web site in your computer. Your web site is being hosted by Geocities. So you have to transfer (upload) the files from your computer to Geocities' large computer so that the whole world can see your web site.

File: Any bit of information you save in your computer is saved as a file. Files can be huge, like you can write a 1200 page novel and save it as a file. Or they can be tiny. You can type one letter or a number or a punctuation mark and save it as a file. Like text, a photo can be saved as a file, or a piece of music or video can be saved as a file.

To learn the rules about file names, click here. (Click on the Back button of your browser to come back to this page.)

File Extension: A file name is usually followed by a dot and then three letters called extension. The extension helps the computer to understand what kind of file is that and when necessary which program (application) will open it.
Here are some examples:
1. letter_to_mary.doc It is a text document created by and to be opened by Microsoft Word (name of the word processor).
2. myphoto.jpg It is an image file created by and to be opened by an image editing software.
3. fulfel.exe It is an executable file or program that will open by itself when clicked on.
4. goodlovin.mid It is a music file.
5. vacation_photos.zip It is a zip (compressed) file. Normally it needs a special software (like WinZip or PKZip) to open it. Large files are usually compressed before sending over via wire for quick transfer. Zipped files also take up less space on the disk for storage.

To learn more about file extensions, click here. (Click on the Back button of your browser to come back to this page.)

Folder: Just like the filing cabinet in your office or home contains file folders and each folder contains different documents or files, the computer folders hold computer files. It is a very convenient and useful method of keeping your computer files organized so that when necessary you can quickly find a particular file. You can put folders inside folders if you want. For example, You can have a folder named "My Documents". Inside that folder, you can put two folders named "My Letters" and "My Photos" for holding your letters and photos respectively. The old fashioned names for folders were Directories and for folders within folders were Sub-Directories.

Note: It is very important for a beginner to understand the concept of files and folders. Unless you understand this, you will not be able to save your files properly. And if not saved properly (1) in the desired location, (2) with a easy to remember/find file name, and (3) file extension (extension refers to the file type), it will be tough to find a file quickly when needed, for example at the time of attaching files with e-mails. See "Saving a file".

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Desktop: This is a term I don't like. Have you seen anybody's desktop which is not a horizontal plane but a vertical plane? The only similarity between a real desktop and a computer desktop is both holds the tools you need to work with. Amazingly, your work tools does not fall off the computer desktop! Basically, the desktop is the first screen you see when you start the computer. It has a bunch of icons (little pictures of things) labeled My Computer, My Documents, My Briefcase, Recycle Bin, Internet Explorer, Netscape etc. Any program you start (like your word processor, or Internet Explorer) usually covers up the desktop completely and you cannot see it anymore. But it is always there underneath everything. If you reduce the size of your application window, you will be able to see the part of the desktop under it. If you minimize the application it will become a button on the taskbar (on the extreme left of which resides the START button) revealing the desktop completely. The desktop is supposed to keep everything you need handy and within your vision. So don't let the desktop disappear. And have comfort in the thought that even if you cannot see it, it is always there underneath the clutter of everything.

Picture of a desktop showing a bunch of icons on it and the taskbar running along the bottom of it.
Desktop showing a bunch of icons.
Under the bright colored desktop runs the gray taskbar.
The Start button is on the extreme left of the taskbar.

Wallpaper: Gotcha, inventors of computer terms! When you decorate your desktop with something colorful and beautiful, should you not call it tablecloth? Why do you call it wallpaper? Now you confess that the desktop is actually a vertical plane like a wall!
Confused? Okay, many people like to decorate their desktop with graphics called wallpaper (a totally non-essential thing). This way you can personalize your computer. Since your personal taste is reflected here, be very careful in selecting your wallpaper. If you have bad taste, other people around your computer will be able to see it! To learn how to add/remove/change wallpaper on your desktop click here.

Reboot: I absolutely hate this term. Rebooting your computer simply means restarting your computer. No need to look up the dictionary.

Virus: A computer virus is a little program, created by mean human beings, the purpose of which is to replicate and attach itself to your computer files and folders, and (usually) cause some kind of damage to your computer. Computer viruses can be really mean. Read protecting your computer from virus to learn more.

Trojan Horse: Like a computer virus, a Trojan Horse is a small program that causes damage to your computer. But unlike viruses, a Trojan Horse does not replicate itself. Trojan Horses are really destructive programs that masquarade as benign applications, and that is how they came to be known as "Trojan Horses". Remember the story of Trojan War between the Greeks and the Trojans? The cunning Greeks had given the Trojans a huge wooden horse as a gift. When the Trojans took the horse inside their city compounds, some Greek soldiers, who were hiding inside the belly of the horse, came out and opened the gates of the city allowing other Greek soldiers to pour in and attack the Trojans. Thus they captured Troy. The worst Trojan Horses can sometimes pretend to be anti-virus programs but in reality, when installed, they themselves spread viruses in the computer!

Byte, Kilobyte, Megabyte, Gigabyte, Terabyte: A byte is a unit of computer memory. It is a very small unit (like Japanese Yen, or old Italian Lira). Just to give you an idea about how small it is, the computer needs one byte of memory to remember or store one character! That is why computer file sizes are usually expressed in Kilobytes (roughly 1000* bytes) and your computer's RAM (Random Access Memory) is usually expressed in Megabytes (roughly 1000* kilobytes), and your hard drive is usually measured in Gigabytes (roughly 1000* megabytes). To simplify matters, remember this:

1000* Bytes = 1 Kilobyte (KB)
1000* Kilobytes = 1 Megabyte (MB)
1000* Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte (GB)
1000* Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte (TB)
*This number is actually 1024, but don't worry about it.

For the meaning of common Internet terms, check out the companion site:
Internet Basics For Seniors
If you need help with Windows XP, check out the companion site:
Help with Windows XP (New)
If you are an absolute beginner in computing, check out:

ABC's of Computing


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