Improve Your Tech Literacy: 25 Basic Terms to Know

Improve Your Tech Literacy: 25 Basic Terms to Know

Let’s face it, some of us are technologically inclined and fascinated by the latest and greatest gadgets, apps, and social media fads.  Others among us are reluctant adopters, who only use the technology we need to get by in a modern world, keep our jobs, and communicate with a younger generation.  For those who identify with the latter category, it may be particularly painful to seek help when technology fails (which is probably more likely for the technologically adverse). Thank goodness others get paid to understand this stuff, like your friendly managed services provider, but you still need to talk to a computer expert to get issues resolved.  Perhaps you could use a tutorial to make tech communication a little less daunting.  We’ve defined 25 basic terms for you so you can feel more savvy and less intimidated when asking for IT (information technology) assistance.

Here are 25 technology terms (in alphabetical order) that will help you understand what techies are talking about:

  1. Application — A software program that performs a specific function that you use to do work on your computer, such as a creating a spreadsheet, using a calendar, or editing a document. Applications on mobile devices are often called “apps.”

  2. Backup — A copy of data or files that are stored or archived.  Backups may be stored on a physical device like a disc or on the internet in the cloud.

  3. Boot/Reboot — When you boot your computer you are basically starting it and loading the operating system. A reboot is a restart to reload all software.

  4. Broadband — The Federal Communications Commission describes broadband as high-speed internet access that is always on and faster than the traditional dial-up access.  Broadband includes several high-speed transmission technologies such as DSL, cable modem, fiber, wireless, satellite, and broadband over power lines.

  5. Browser — A software program you use to navigate the internet or “surf the web”, such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Internet Explorer.

  6. Cache — When you go to a website, your browser temporarily saves the data — the data is cached — so that next time you want to access the same web page it loads faster.

  7. Cookie — A piece of code that is stored on a user’s computer when the user accesses certain websites. It allows a website to recognize you when you return to the site and provides information on the your activity for the purpose of tracking preferences and patterns of usage on the internet.

  8. Cloud computing —  Remote storage of and access to data and programs via the internet (instead of on a local physical device).

  9. CPU — The Central Processing Unit of the computer is the brain (or chip) that processes the calculations that make the computer work.  The higher the speed of the CPU, the faster your computer works.

  10. Desktop — The primary screen that appears when you log on to your computer that is used to interface with your computer.  It has icons that represent programs or files making them more readily accessible. (A “desktop computer” refers to a machine that has a separate monitor and keyboard and is used in one place — e.g., your desk — vs. a laptop.)

  11. DNS — Domain Name System (Service or Server) a network that translates a website’s alphabetical domain name (e.g. into the Internet Protocol (IP) address, which is a unique set of numbers that identify a website.  In other words, when you type in a website name, the DNS will get you there by translating it into the numerical name that the internet understands. If one DNS doesn’t know the IP address, it will ask another DNS until the system figures out how to direct web traffic to the correct location.

  12. Driver — Software that controls a piece of hardware, such as a printer or keyboard.  Drivers allow the hardware to communicate or connect with your computer.  Some drivers are part of the operating system, but others need to be added to allow hardware to work properly.

  13. Firewall — A security barrier that protects networks (i.e., a collection of connected computers) from untrusted connections by restricting undesirable data from getting in (or out).

  14. Hard Drive — The large storage device on a computer, typically housed in a hard case, that stores data even when the computer is off.

  15. IP — Internet protocol is the numerical sequence or address associated with a computer that identifies it on the internet.

  16. ISP — Internet Service Providers are the companies, like Verizon or Comcast, that customers pay to get internet access, among other services.
  17. Malware — Malicious Software, or Malware, can take many forms (e.g., ransomware, Trojan, or botnet) and infects your computer with undesirable programs that can be used to steal data or impair your computer’s function.

  18. Menu Bar or Tool Bar — A graphical bar, usually at the top of the screen, that is application- or program-specific, containing icons.  Menu bars have drop-down lists of options.

  19. Operating System — The basic software that controls hardware and allows other applications to be added. Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X are examples of operating systems.  Mobile devices also have operating systems like Google’s Android operating system or iOS for iPhones.

  20. Plug-in — A software extension that adds a feature to an existing application.  Plug-ins are often available for internet browsers to provide added benefits like security or the ability to view and listen to media. Examples are Adobe Flash or Apple Quicktime.

  21. RAM — Random Access Memory is the memory on your computer that temporarily stores data while it’s being used or changed.  The more RAM you have the more room your CPU will have to perform work and the faster your computer will run.  RAM is erased when the computer is turned off. (Fear not, your computer also has permanent storage that is not lost when the computer is off.)

  22. Router —  A device or hardware that transmits data packets between two (or more) networks.

  23. Server — A dedicated computer or device that manages network resources.  There are different types of servers, such as file servers, mail servers or web servers.  Servers can offer more secure storage on a network, as well as a centralized place from which to do backups.

  24. URL — A Uniform Resource Locator is a website address displayed at the top of a web browser in the address bar (e.g.,

  25. VPN — A Virtual Private Network allows remote, secure access to a private network via a less secure public network or the internet.

Hopefully not all these terms are foreign, but if so you just learned a lot!  At FDS, we are happy to share our knowledge with you, and we welcome your questions.

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