Commonly Misused Computer Terms

If you’ve ever had a computer technician look at you funny when you asked them to do something to your computer, you may have been incorrectly using one or many computer terms. Many people assume they know the meaning of some of these terms, and whether used correctly or incorrectly, they are often the biggest source of confusion between technician and customer when it comes to computer repair.

Browser, Web Browser
This is the program you use to access websites on the internet. The most popular browsers at this time include Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Apple Safari, and Opera.

CPU, Processor
The CPU – Central Processing Unit – is the main brain of the computer. It is the physical component that does all of the computing and data processing for the computer.

The process of obscuring or hiding information so that only authorized individuals can access it.

A firewall is a piece of software that restricts access to and from the individual computer. Ideally, a firewall will prevent unauthorized access from outside sources, but a firewall will not protect you from all malicious software. Firewalls allow for exceptions, which are items that you permit to go back and forth through the firewall without having to ask your permission. Many pieces of malicious software trick you into allowing them as an exception to your firewall.

Format, Reformat
To format a computer is to wipe out all the data from the hard drive of the computer. To reformat the computer is to format it again.

Hard Drive
A hard drive is a physical component to the computer that stores the information for the computer when the computer is powered off. If things are not stored on the hard drive, they will disappear when the computer is powered off.

A log is a file that includes information regarding how you interacted with a website. A cookie is an example of a type of log file.

Memory is not a good word to use when trying to describe a particular component in your computer. Memory can mean RAM (Random Access Memory) or ROM (Read-Only Memory). There is a big difference between the two. Use ‘RAM’ or ‘Hard Drive’ instead of just memory.

The motherboard is a physical component that could be compared to the spine of a human. All components inside the computer connect to the motherboard in one way or another. The motherboard allows the other various components to talk to each other inside the computer.

Many people use the term ‘obsolete’ to mean ‘not the newest’. In truth, ‘obsolete’ means ‘no longer valid or able to be used.’ Obsolete computer equipment includes things like machines that run DOS or punch card computers. Obsolete computer equipment does not include last year’s model of laptop.

RAM, Random Access Memory
A RAM chip is a physical component that affects the speed of your computer. RAM is the place where the processor does all of its calculations. The more RAM you have, the less you tend to see of the hourglass or wait symbol. Think of adding RAM as similar to adding horsepower to your car.

Rebooting the computer is physically shutting the computer off, and then turning it back on.

Spam is the digital equivalent of junk mail received in your mailbox. It is usually unsolicited and sent to many people at once in hopes that even a small number of those people will click on the links inside for whatever purpose the original spam writer desired.

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