TUCOWS ARTICLE

Understanding Common Computer Terms

With so many people being new to computers it isn't any wonder that there is confusion about what certain common terms mean. I've grown up with the personal computer so I learned all these terms over time. But, if you only recently got into computers, it can be more than a bit overwhelming. Terms like POP, FTP, HTML, SMTP, URL, DNS, CD-R, download, upload, SSL, and many, many more.
Published: May 30, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

With so many people being new to computers it isn't any wonder that there is confusion about what certain common terms mean. I've grown up with the personal computer so I learned all these terms over time. But, if you only recently got into computers, it can be more than a bit overwhelming. Terms like POP, FTP, HTML, SMTP, URL, DNS, CD-R, download, upload, SSL, and many, many more. So, to try to help you with the more common terms, abbreviations, and acronyms, I thought I'd define a few of them for you. Eventually I plan on putting up a regular "glossary" of terms right here at Tucows for your easy reference. But for right now I'll try to cover some of the more common terms you'll encounter.

Many of the terms commonly used are really pretty simple. And some, I have to agree, don't make a great deal of sense when you look at them. But, they are what they are and you'll have an easier time working with your computer, and more fun if you know what terms mean. Since you're on the Internet, lets look at some of the most common terms used on the Internet first.

  • URL - Universal Resource Locator -- a Web address
  • POP - Post Office Protocol - used for incoming email
  • SMTP - Simple Mail Transfer Protocol - for outgoing email
  • DNS - Domain Name System - helps resolve IP addresses into domain names
  • FTP - File Transfer Protocol - moving files from one place to another

A URL is really just an address only it's an address on the Internet and not on a street. DNS plays a role in this because it makes it easier for all of us to find what we're looking for. Without the Domain Name System we'd have to remember the IP address of every site we visited. So, instead of being able to type in http://www.abc.com you might have to type in 112.234.456.789. When you establish a domain, like tucows.com, you have to associate it with Domain Name Servers that propagate the name associated with the IP address. POP and SMTP are commonly used email protocols that allow sending and receiving email respectively. And finally, FTP is the most common way to upload files from a computer to a Web site. Okay, what next?

  • CD-R - CD that's recordable
  • CD-RW - CD that's recordable and rewriteable
  • Upload - sending a file from your computer to another computer
  • Download - bring a file from another computer to your computer
  • SSL - Secure Socket Layer - a way of protecting data online

I know it gets confusing with CD-R, CD+R, DVD+RW, DVD-R, but on the surface at least it's pretty simple. The "R" means that the disc is recordable, but only once! If you want to be able to put data on a disk, remove it, and put on new data, you need an "RW" disc. The "W" indicates that the disc is rewriteable. Now, you might ask yourself, "Why then isn't it DVD-RR (recordable and rewriteable)?" Well, that's not the way they decided to do it. Just remember, if you burn something to a disc that only has an "R" in the name, then it's a one-time thing. If you burn to an "RW" disc you can redo it over and over. Understand the difference between all the pluses and minuses is something we'll go over another time.

A download is just the process of taking a file that's on a remote computer and bringing it to your computer. That's what you're doing when you download a file from Tucows. At the same time an upload is sending a file from one system to another system. So, if you really think about it, when you are downloading from Tucows, Tucows is uploading to you. Strange, huh? And, SSL is a way to protect data on the Internet. A means of encryption. You'll see it mentioned on sites where you're trying to buy something. It's a protection for you, and me.

  • ZIP - The most common form of file compression created by Phil Katz in 1986
  • Gigabyte - 1 billion bytes, 1024 megabytes
  • Bandwidth - How much data you can transfer through a connection
  • LAN - Local Area Network
  • GUI - Graphical User Interface

There are many forms of file compression, but the one that is most widely used is the ZIP format. This means of file compression was created back in 1986 by my late friend Phil Katz. Think of a ZIP file as a suitcase that has things in it. You have to unpack the suitcase in order to get your things out. And your things take up less space because they are in the suitcase.

f I had a dollar for every time I'd been asked about gigabytes and kilobytes and megabyte over the last 25 years, I could retire tomorrow. So, I'll lay it out for you. There are 8 bits in a byte. Once character, like this "A" is two bits. There are 1024 bytes in a kilobyte or "K". There are one million K in a megabyte. And, there are 1024 megabytes in a gigabyte. In todays common slang, people have come to use "K" as a substitute for 1,000, like "I paid 3K for that bike." Actually, if you paid 3K you'd have paid 3,072, but why be picky? Hard disks and memory (RAM) are measured in bytes, megabytes, and gigabytes. A LAN is a local area network, which means it's a network that's in a relatively small space. An office, a home. A WAN is a wide area network and it can occupy large areas even spanning continents. In a way, the Internet itself is a giant WAN. And lastly GUI is the graphical user interface that nearly all of us use. It's pronounce "gooey" and the two most common GUI interfaces are Windows and Macintosh.

Hopefully this has covered some of the more common terms you encounter as you move around on the Internet. In coming weeks we'll cover more terms and gradually build that glossary I spoke of earlier.


If you have a question on how to do something on the computer you can submit it via email by clicking HERE. You will not receive a reply, but all topics will be considered.

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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