Dr Keyboard - Computing Answers You Can Understand


What does all the jargon mean?

The  world of computing, and the Internet in particular, is controlled by people who love nothing more than mystifying the rest of us. They love making up names and acronyms for everything as a way of keeping control of the magic of technology - think of them as medieval priests who wouldn't let the peasants learn to read, for fear they'd find out the truth for themselves. What other industry would come up with the acronym TLA? It means Three Letter Acronym, those combinations of letters like IBM or XML or HDD.

The following is a brief guide to some of the most useful bits of jargon. On the right is a list of links to other Internet sites devoted to explaining the jargon. And, if you come across something you don't understand, don't hesitate to e-mail Dr Keyboard - just click on the E-mail button on the left, fill in the form and he'll do his best to explain everything.

Jargon

English

The Internet The Worldwide network of computers which you're using right now. Your link to it is probably down your telephone line to your ISP. Some computers are connected permanently to it, and it's these you can access from your PC. Some are run by commercial organisations, like the Walt Disney Corporation. Others are run by non-profit organisations like the Royal Horticultural Society. Some sites are set up by private individuals, like students - the Yahoo site which tries to index the whole Internet began like this. (See my page of recommended links for the address of Yahoo and other useful places). Most give free access to anyone who wants it, and they're paid for mostly by advertising. No one owns the Internet - some companies own bits of it, and all the individual sites are owned by someone. Telephone companies like British Telecom or MCI in the USA own some of the wires which connect together the different parts of it, but no one person or organisation owns it all. There are a number of voluntary bodies which help run it, deciding things like who can have what internet address and how the technology which keeps it all together should run, but no government has a say in how this is done. Your part in running the Internet is in paying your monthly subscription to your ISP - your 10 or 15 helps them pay for the machines which connect you and the others to the Internet, and also to connect their computers to the rest of the Internet. From their offices to which you connect when you dial up the Internet they probably have a connection to wires owned by British Telecom which, in turn, connect to the USA and other countries around the world where the Internet is used. Your ISP pays a subscription to BT to have this connection, so part of your monthly tenner goes to pay for this too. This is how you can connect to computers anywhere in the world, from London to New York to Sydney, all for the price of a local telephone call.
ISP Internet Service Provider, a company which you pay to connect you to the Internet.
PC Personal Computer
IP Address IP means Internet Protocol, the basis on which we find things on the Internet. An IP address is a number which makes sense to computers on the Internet. Computers aren't very good with words, they much prefer numbers. Ultimately all your computer can deal with is a series of 1s or 0s, which tell it whether one of the millions upon millions of tiny switches inside it should be on (1) or off  (0). The Internet address you type in like www.drkeyboard.co.uk is translated into a number - 209.130.47.208, in this case - which is not nearly as easy for a human to remember as drkeyboard.co.uk, but which is a cinch for a computer. This number is the IP address of the Dr Keyboard website, and the translation between words and numbers is done by something called a DNS or Domain Name Server. When you type in www.drkeyboard.co.uk your computer asks your ISP's DNS computer if it's ever heard of this address. If it hasn't, and can't translate it into a number, it goes on up a chain of computers perhaps right up to the top-level domain name computers which look after the .uk address space, which can tell it where to go.
Java A lightweight programming language and/or operating system.The original idea was to have a language which would allow a developer to write a programme once and then have it run on every kind of computer - Write Once Run Anywhere (WORA) - but it's a bit of a dream still and probably always will be because doing this means using a 'lowest common denominator' approach. Java's very good as 'glue' between old-fashioned computer systems and modern PCs, and works well in Internet browsers - the buttons on the left here are all little Java applets (Q.V.)
Applet Small programme often running inside a browser (Q.V.) window.
ASCII American Standard Code for Information Interchange, the basic kind of text which most computers can understand.
POP3 Post Office Protocol number three, an agreed standard for computers to allow users to collect their e-mail.
HTML HyperText Mark-up Language, the standard language for making Internet web pages. For more details, see the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) web pages
Spam (i) A delicious canned meat made from Shoulder Pork and hAM; (ii) unsolicited junk e-mail and posts to Usenet newsgroups (Q.V.)
Surf Browse around the World Wide Web, usually fairly aimlessly. Like window-shopping.
Browser The programme you use to Surf (Q.V.) the web (Q.V.)
Usenet Newsgroups 20,000-plus world-wide bulletin boards where you can discuss everything from Star Trek to Star Wars via gardening, philosophy and The Archers.
The Web From the World Wide Web, of which this page is just one. Invented by Tim Berners-Lee as a way of sharing basic textual information with his fellow scholars.
Cookies Small text files saved on your hard disc by sites you visit so they can remember who you are when you go back. This allows them to offer you items they know might interest you, remember your name, keep track of what you buy and so on. Don't delete them, they take up very little space and can't do any harm
Other resources The Acronym Finder
Yahoo's list of anti-acronym pages