Computer Tutor Don - North County Times - The Californian

Since 1984 - Specializing in Helping Seniors Who Are New to Computers
camera Computer Tutor Don appears in The Californian & San Diego's North County Times.

"Must Know" Terminology
for the Beginning Computer User

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1. Computer terminology seems to expand daily, making it difficult to keep up with all the latest device nomenclature, acronyms, and cyber buzz words. Nonetheless, there are a few basic terms you need to know and which will make your computing experience a lot easier and less confusing.
2. Hardware & Software

These two are easy. Computers, printers, scanners, and other peripherals are "hardware." Programs (aka "applications") such as Windows XP and Excel, are "software." The word processing documents you create and your digital photos are software "files." These "files" are normally kept inside "folders" which are found on hardware storage devices such as a "disk" (or a "disc") or even a "flash memory card."

The postage stamp-sized images accompanying file and folder names are called "icons." Most folders are accompanied by a yellow icon resembling a filing cabinet folder. However, certain "system folders", such as My Computer, My Documents, and the Recycle Bin, have special icons of their own.
4. Hard Disk, Floppy Disk, CD, DVD, & Flash Memory Drive

In the early days of computers data was stored on tape similar to the type used in VCR cartridges and audio cassettes. The first computer "disks" were fairly large (up to 12 inches in diameter) and were made of very flexible plastic — thus: "floppy disk." Improved flexible disks were 3 ½ inches in diameter and were housed in hard plastic shells. Although they were sometimes mistakenly referred to as "hard disks" they were still "floppies."

When the actual "hard disk" did arrive it was made of more rigid plastic and mounted permanently inside a computer, whereas "floppies" continued to be removable.
5. A drive, B drive, C drive, D drive, etc.

Early PCs had a single drive for their floppies, and it was simply referred to as the computer's "disk drive." When the 3 ½ inch disks came along, most users began calling their original drive "A" and called any newly added drive "B."

When an internal "hard drive" was added, it became "C" and continues to be thus called into the 21st century.

Subsequent drives, such as CD (compact disc) and DVD (digital video disc) drives (along with the now-obsolete Zip and Jaz drives) have ended up being called E or F or just about anything. The same is true for flash memory drives and external hard drives.

The only thing that remains the same (so far) is calling a PC's main hard disk the "C Drive." Newer computers rarely have an "A" or "B" drive these days, and all the others — including digital cameras' flash memory cards — are named in various ways by various PC systems.
6. Digits, Bits & Pixels

What does "digit" mean, as in "digital photography? Well, "numbers" are often referred to as "digits" and computers only understand two digits: "zero" (0) and "one" (1). Everything that goes into a computer is eventually broken down into a "binary code" which consists of nothing but zeros and ones.

The letter A, for instance, is represented by 01000001, while 01100001 is the binary code for a lower case a. The math that goes into these mysterious algorithms is beyond the scope of this tutorial, but looking up "binary code" via a search engine will lead to all kinds of information on the subject.

These ones and zeros are known collectively as "bits." However, the word "bit" is also a name for the tiny colored squares that comprise a "bitmap" image, ie: "bits" that have been "mapped" on a computer screen to give the appearance of continuous tone color gradients.

The word "bit" is also used to help describe certain types of digital technology, and almost always appears as a number which is a successive doubling of "1" - ie: 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64-bit operating system, etc. It's another term which is seldom needed in a beginning PC user's list of helpful phrases.

The tiny colored squares (bits) seen on a PC monitor are also called "pixels," which is a contraction of "picture elements."

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© 2006 — Donald Ray Edrington — All Rights Reserved