TECH TERMS

 

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E

Encryption is the process of converting data to an unrecognizable or “encrypted” form. It is commonly used to protect sensitive information so that only authorized parties can view it. This includes files and storage devices, as well as data transferred over wireless networks and the Internet.

You can encrypt a file, folder, or an entire volume using a file encryption utility such as GnuPG or AxCrypt. Some file compression programs like Stuffit Deluxe and 7-Zip can also encrypt files. Even common programs like Adobe Acrobat and Intuit TurboTax allow you to save password-protected files, which are saved in an encrypted format.

F

Stands for “Frequently Asked Questions.” An FAQ, pronounced “F-A-Q,” is a list of answers to common questions about a specific product or service. In the IT world, FAQs are created for software programs, computer hardware, websites, and online services. They serve as a central reference for locating answers to common questions.

Since FAQs are based on user feedback, they typically evolve over time. For example, a software company may receive a large number of emails regarding a specific step in their software installer. The company may clarify the step in their FAQ so that users can find the answer without needing to email the company. This cuts down on technical support, saving time for both the software company and the end users.

Some software programs and hardware devices come with an FAQ document. In some cases, the FAQ is contained in the “readme” file, though it may also be a separate file or included within a printed manual. Most often, FAQs are located on a website. This allows the respective company or organization to regularly update the FAQ based on users’ questions. Most FAQs are located within the “Support” section of a website.

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I

Stands for “Internet Service Provider.” An ISP provides access to the Internet. Whether you’re at home or work, each time you connect to the Internet, your connection is routed through an ISP.

Early ISPs provided Internet access through dial-up modems. This type of connection took place over regular phone lines and was limited to 56 Kbps. In the late 1990s, ISPs began offering faster broadband Internet access via DSL and cable modems. Some ISPs now offer high-speed fiber connections, which provide Internet access through fiber optic cables. Companies like Comcast and Time Warner provide cable connections while companies like AT&T and Verizon provide DSL Internet access.

To connect to an ISP, you need a modem and an active account. When you connect a modem to the telephone or cable outlet in your house, it communicates with your ISP. The ISP verifies your account and assigns your modem an IP address. Once you have an IP address, you are connected to the Internet. You can use a router (which may a separate device or built into the modem) to connect multiple devices to the Internet. Since each device is routed through the same modem, they will all share the same public IP address assigned by the ISP.

ISPs act as hubs on the Internet since they are often connected directly to the Internet backbone. Because of the large amount of traffic ISPs handle, they require high bandwidth connections to the Internet. In order to offer faster speeds to customers, ISPs must add more bandwidth to their backbone connection in order to prevent bottlenecks. This can be done by upgrading existing lines or adding new ones.

J

K

Stands for “Kilobits Per Second.” 1 Kbps is equal to 1,000 bits per second. That means a 300 Kbps connection can transfer 300,000 bits in one second. 1,000 Kbps is equal to 1 Mbps.

Kbps is primarily used to measure data transfer rates. For example, dial-up modems were rated by their maximum download speeds, such as 14.4, 28.8, and 56 Kbps. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, Kbps remained the standard way to measure data transfer dates. However, broadband connections such as cable and DSL now offer speeds of several megabits per second. Therefore, Mbps is more ubiquitous than Kbps.

NOTE: The lowercase “b” in Kbps is significant. It stands for “bits,” not bytes (which is represented by a capital “B”). Since there are eight bits in one byte, 400 Kbps is equal to 400 Γ· 8, or 50 KBps. Because data transfer speeds have traditionally been measured in bps, Kbps is more commonly used than KBps.

L

This term looks like it’s missing an “e”, but that’s how it’s spelled. A listserv, or list server, is a small program that automatically sends messages to multiple e-mail addresses on a mailing list. When someone subscribes to a mailing list, the listserv will automatically add the address and distribute future e-mail messages to that address along with all the others on the list. When someone unsubscribes, the listserv simply removes the address. At least that is the way it supposed to work. Unfortunately, with some SPAM lists, unsubscribing only adds you to more lists.

M

Stands for “Moving Picture Experts Group.” The MPEG organization, which works with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), develops standards for digital audio and video compression. The group constantly works to develop more efficient ways to digitally compress and store audio and video files.

The term MPEG also refers to a type of multimedia file, which is denoted by the file extension “.mpg” or “.mpeg.” These files are compressed movies that can contain both audio and video. Though they are compressed, MPEG files maintain most of the original quality of the uncompressed movie. This is why many videos on the Web, such as movie trailers and music videos, are available in the MPEG format.

As the name implies, multimedia is the integration of multiple forms of media. This includes text, graphics, audio, video, etc. For example, a presentation involving audio and video clips would be considered a “multimedia presentation.” Educational software that involves animations, sound, and text is called “multimedia software.” CDs and DVDs are often considered to be “multimedia formats” since they can store a lot of data and most forms of multimedia require a lot of disk space.

Due to the advancements in computer speeds and storage space, multimedia is commonplace today. Therefore, the term doesn’t produce the same excitement is once did. This also means it is not as overused as it was back in the late ’90s. Thank goodness.

N

Stands for “Network Interface Card.” Pronounced “nick,” this is the card that physically makes the connection between the computer and the network cable. These cards typically use an Ethernet connection and are available in 10, 100, and 1000 Base-T configurations. A 100 Base-T card can transfer data at 100 Mbps. The cards come in ISA and PCI versions and are made by companies like 3Com and LinkSys. So if you want to connect your computer to a network, you better get yourself a NIC.

O

P

This is a small amount of computer data sent over a network. Any time you receive data from the Internet, it comes to your computer in the form of many little packets. Each packet contains the address of its origin and destination, and information that connects it to the related packets being sent. The process of sending and receiving packets is known as “packet-switching.” Packets from many different locations can be sent on the same lines and be sorted and directed to different routes by various computers along the way. It works a lot like the post office, except billions of packets are transferred each day, and most packets take less than a few seconds to reach their destination. Even FedEx same-day delivery can’t compete with that.

PNG, which can be pronounced “ping” or “P-N-G,” is a compressed raster graphic format. It is commonly used on the Web and is also a popular choice for application graphics.

The PNG format was introduced in 1994, after the GIF and JPEG formats had already been around for several years. Therefore, PNG includes many of the benefits of both formats. For example, PNG images use lossless compression like GIF files, so they do not have any blurring or other artifacts that may appear in JPEG images. The PNG format also supports 24-bit color like the JPEG format, so a PNG image may include over 16 million colors. This is a significant difference between GIF and PNG, since GIF images can include a maximum of 256 colors.

Unlike the JPEG and GIF formats, the PNG format supports an alpha channel, or the “RGBA” color space. The alpha channel is added to the three standard color channels (red, green, and blue, or RGB) and provides 256 levels of transparency. JPEG images do not support transparent pixels and GIF images only support completely transparent (not partially opaque) pixels. Therefore, the PNG format allows Web developers and icon designers to fade an image to a transparent background rather than a specific color. A PNG with an alpha channel can be placed on any color background and maintain its original appearance, even around the edges.

While the PNG image format has many benefits, it is not suitable for all purposes. For example, digital photos are still usually saved as JPEGs, since PNGs take up far more disk space. GIFs are still used for animations since PNG images cannot be animated. Additionally, GIFs are still used on many websites since browsers only recently provided full support for the PNG format. However, now that most browsers and image editing programs support PNGs, it has become a popular file format for web developers and graphic artists.

File extension: .PNG

Q

This term is used to describe a standard (Latin alphabet-based) keyboard. Why? Because the first six keys in the upper-left part of the keyboard spell out Q-W-E-R-T-Y. I suppose you could call it a QWERTYUIOP keyboard, but QWERTY is a lot easier to say. In case you are wondering why the QWERTY keyboard is arranged like it is, the original reason was to reduce the jamming of type bars in typewriters as they moved to strike the paper.

In 1932, August Dvorak developed what was intended to be a more efficient keyboard, in which he placed the vowels and the five most common consonants in the middle row, based on the idea that an alternating rhythm would be established between the right and left hands. Though the keys on the Dvorak keyboard were more efficiency arranged, it was and still is too much of a pain for people to switch from the familiar QWERTY arrangement.

R

Stands for “Rich Text Format.” RTF is a file format standardized by Microsoft for creating formatted text files. Unlike a basic text file, an RTF file can include information such as text style, size, and color. The nice thing about the RTF format is that it is a universal format, meaning it can be read by nearly all word processors.

File extension: .RTF

S

A software license is a legal instrument (usually by way of contract law, with or without printed material) governing the use or redistribution of software. Under United States copyright law all software is copyright protected, in source code as also object code form.[2] The only exception is software in the public domain. A typical software license grants the licensee, typically an end-user, permission to use one or more copies of software in ways where such a use would otherwise potentially constitute copyright infringement of the software owner’s exclusive rights under copyright law.

Originating from the name of Hormel’s canned meat, “spam” now also refers to junk e-mail or irrelevant postings to a newsgroup or bulletin board. The unsolicited e-mail messages you receive about refinancing your home, reversing aging, and losing those extra pounds are all considered to be spam. Spamming other people is definitely not cool and is one of the most notorious violations of Internet etiquette (or “netiquette”). So if you ever get the urge to let thousands of people know about that hot new guaranteed way to make money on the Internet, please reconsider.

SQL

Stands for “Structured Query Language,” and can be pronounced as either “sequel” or “S-Q-L.” It is a query language used for accessing and modifying information in a database. Some common SQL commands include “insert,” “update,” and “delete.” The language was first created by IBM in 1975 and was called SEQUEL for “Structured English Query Language.” Since then, it has undergone a number of changes, many coming from Oracle products.

Today, SQL is commonly used for Web database development and management. Though SQL is now considered to be a standard language, there are still a number of variations of it, such as MSQL and MySQL. By using a scripting language likeΒ PHP, SQL commands can be executed when a Web page loads. This makes it possible to create dynamic Web pages that can display different information each time they load.

T

A terabyte is 1012 or 1,000,000,000,000 bytes.

One terabyte (abbreviated “TB”) is equal to 1,000 gigabytes and precedes the petabyte unit of measurement. While a terabyte is exactly 1 trillion bytes, in some cases terabytes and tebibytes are used synonymously, though a tebibyte actually contains 1,099,511,627,776 bytes (1,024 gibibytes).

Terabytes are most often used to measure the storage capacity of large storage devices. While hard drives were measured in gigabytes for many years, around 2007, consumer hard drives reached a capacity of one terabyte. Now, all hard drives that have a capacity of 1,000 GB or more are measured in terabytes. For example, a typical internal HDD may hold 2 TB of data. Some servers and high-end workstations that contain multiple hard drives may have a total storage capacity of over 10 TB.

Terabytes are also used to measure bandwidth, or data transferred in a specific amount of time. For example, a Web host may limit a shared hosting client’s bandwidth to 2 terabytes per month. Dedicated servers often have higher bandwidth limits, such as 10 TB/mo or more.

NOTE: You can view a list of all the units of measurement used for measuring data storage.

U

Also known as UNIX, though the letters do not stand for anything. The Unix operating system was first created in Bell Labs way back in the 1960s. It became popular in the 1970s for high-level computing, but not on the consumer level. Since a lot of Internet services were originally hosted on Unix machines, the platform gained tremendous popularity in the 1990s. It still leads the industry as the most common operating system for Web servers.

Still, Unix remains somewhat of an ambiguous operating system, as there are many different versions of it. Some examples include Ultrix, Xenix, Linux, and GNU, which, making things even more confusing, all run on a number of different hardware platforms. Most people do not ever need to use Unix, but computer geeks seem to have the need to use it as much as possible.

V

Stands for “Virtual Reality Modeling Language.” If you think this has something to do with HTML, you’re right. While HTML is the format for Web page production, VRML is a 3D navigation specification, which enables the creation of interactive 3D Web sites. With VRML, visitors can take virtual tours through buildings and view three-dimensional models of cars directly from their Web browsers. Though the technology was created by Silicon Graphics and Intervista Software a number of years ago, it still is not widely used.

W

X

Stands for “Extensible Markup Language.” (Yes, technically it should be EML). XML is used to define documents with a standard format that can be read by any XML-compatible application. The language can be used with HTML pages, but XML itself is not a markup language. Instead, it is a “metalanguage” that can be used to create markup languages for specific applications. For example, it can describe items that may be accessed when a Web page loads. Basically, XML allows you to create a database of information without having an actual database. While it is commonly used in Web applications, many other programs can use XML documents as well.

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Z

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