Basic Computer Terms

imageUntil I explained it to her, my mother did not know what a browser is. The woman has been on the computer for years, yet when I said, ‘Close out your browser” the other day, she asked (a bit testily, I might add), “Is that the place where I get my mail?”

Okay, maybe some of us know a little more than that – and maybe not. There are a lot of us that don’t know some of the most basic of computer terms, and would rather die than admit it at the risk of being embarrassed.

I mean, everybody knows this stuff, don’t they?


Below is a list to help familiarize you with basic terms that you may have heard “everybody” use and had no idea what they meant.

Here we go:

Boot: To start up your computer. If your computer is already on, reboot means to restart it.

Browser: Ask my mom. Seriously, though, a browser is a program that you use to “browse” or “surf” the web. If you sit down at your computer and you get on the internet, you are using a browser. You cannot visit anything on the internet without a browser. Some examples of current browsers are Internet Explorer, Firefox, Opera, Google Chrome, and the latest, Avant.

Desktop: Like the top of your desk, the desktop on your computer is the part of the screen that contains folders, icons, etc. It’s kind of a file system. There can be folders, icons, documents, and you can arrange them any way you like, or even toss them out, since there is a Recycle Bin (which is called a garbage can in my office).. You can see a picture of my desktop below; I cleaned it up just for you!

Download: When you download something, you are transferring data from another computer to your computer, usually over the internet. You are going to receive the data. On the other hand, if you want to upload something, you are going to give something from your computer to someone else’s.

Font: A font is the style and size of lettering. For instance, if you want to compose a letter that looks like it has been written in calligraphy, you might want to use a font like Monotype Corsiva, instead of the one I have been using here, which is called Arial. There is a huge selection of fonts that you can download for free off of the internet.

Hard Drive: Simply put, a hard drive is where all of your files, pictures, videos, programs, etc. are stored. There are different sizes of hard drives, depending on how much stuff you want to have on your computer. For example, if you are a video editor, you need a very large hard drive (videos can be very big files). If you only use your computer for the internet and to do your taxes, you don’t need a very big hard drive. When you hear about people “losing their hard drive” it means that they have lost all of the data that was stored on their computer.

Hardware: Hardware is all of the physical stuff of your computer, like your mouse, your keyboard, your monitor, your printer, your stereo speakers, etc. Software, on the other hand, runs as the non-tangible part of a computer. Your anti-virus program is software. Data, files, images, and videos are all examples of software. You need both software and hardware for a computer and its parts to run.

Icon: An icon on your computer screen is a very small image that represents an object or program that you have on your computer. Some examples of icons:

This icon represents Internet Explorer.

This icon represents Windows Media Player.

This icon represents Microsoft Word.

Link: When you click on, you have clicked on a link.
A link is the address of wherever you want to go. Sometimes the link can be to a file, an image, or a video as well as a website.

Operating System or O/S: “What operating system are you running?” The first time I was asked this many years ago I felt like an idiot having to ask the tech what that meant. Simply put, an operating system (or O/S) is the main program (software) that manages the hardware and software of the computer which allows you to use it. Current operating systems include Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows XP, Linux, Windows Vista, and the new Windows 7.

PC: Your computer! This stands for personal computer.

Reboot: This means to restart your computer. Often programs will ask you to reboot after you install them (Windows Updates is a good example of this). To boot a computer means to start it the first time.

Search Engine: Sometimes when you ask someone about something particular they will tell you to “Google” it. What they are telling you is to go look it up on a search engine (in this case, it’s Google). A search engine is a program that searches for documents with information based on the criteria it is given and returns the results. For instance, if I wanted to know why my HP printer all of a sudden quit and has a red blinking light, I could go to a search engine and type in “Printer stopped red blinking light HP” and the search engine will return pages of documents where I could go to see how to rectify my problem.

There are many search engines you can use, such as Yahoo, AskJeeves, or Altavista. If you want a list of search engines, you can go “Google” one!

Upload: When you going to upload something, you are going to transfer it from your computer to someone else’s, usually over the internet. You are going to give it to someone else. When you download something, you are transferring it from their computer to yours; you are receiving it.

So there you have it; a list of defined basic computer terms. Now when it seems like “everybody” knows this stuff, you can rest assured that you really do.


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