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Basic Computer Glossary

An ordered set of well-defined instructions for the solution of a problem in a finite number of steps. [IBO]
application software
A program which allows us to apply ourselves to a particular task, such as editing an image, accessing Internet resources, or playing a game.
American Standard Code for Information Interchange; an international standard for encoding characters into 7-bit codes. ASCII is the basis of the more modern Unicode standard.
binary code
A scheme for encoding data which uses only the digits 0 and 1. Binary code can be used to encode text, images, sounds, and programs, amongst other data.
Contraction of the term “binary digit”; hence, either 0 or 1.
The process by which a computer loads its operating system into primary storage, from secondary storage, using the instructions found in ROM. (See, also, Paradox of Booting.)
an electrical connection through which data are transmitted
Contraction of the term “binary term”; the smallest unit of information which can be accessed directly by a computer. Most modern microcomputers use 8-bit, 16-bit, or 32-bit bytes.
A single letter or digit, or a special symbol like punctuation marks, the dollar sign, and a blank space.
A programmable electronic device for the processing of information.
Central Processing Unit; a miniaturized electronic component which controls the execution of a computer and which performs basic arithmetic and logical operations. Colloquially called the computer’s “brain.”
A logical collection of files stored under a single name.
A logical collection of information stored under a single name.
Apple’s name for the IEEE 1394 High Speed Serial Bus; also called i.LINK by Sony and Lynx by Texas Instruments
230 bytes; approximately 1 billion bytes.
The physical parts of the computer; any part of the computer which can be seen and touched. (cf. software.)
Words, numbers, pictures, and sounds which have meaning to us.
input devices
Devices used to put information into a computer. Common examples of input devices are keyboards, mouses, disc drives, and modems. (See, also, output devices.)
210 bytes; approximately 1 thousand bytes.
220 bytes; approximately 1 million bytes.
A device on which a computer displays information about its internal state, allowing people to monitor the activities of the computer.
1: A combination of data and the operations that can be performed in association with that data. Each data part of an object is referred to as a data member, while the operations can be referred to as methods. The current state of an object is stored in its data members and that state should be changed or accessed only through the methods. Common categories of operations include the construction of objects; operations that either set (mutator methods) or return (accessor methods) the data members; operations unique to the data type; and operations used internally by the object. [IBO]
2: We will refer to data members as instance variables.
operating system
A set of programs which tells a computer how to perform its most basic tasks, such as “reading” information from input devices, “writing” information to output devices, launching application software, and executing the instructions of launched software.
output devices
Devices used by a computer to put out information. Common examples of output devices are monitors, printers, disc drives, and modems. (See, also, input devices.)
Any hardware element which is peripheral to a computer’s system unit. Common examples are input devices and output devices. Even output devices which are often found within the system unit, like disc drives and modems, are considered peripherals, because they are peripheral to the core elements of the computer: the CPU, RAM, and ROM.
primary storage
A miniaturized electronic component which provides temporary storage of information. Primary storage is volatile and relatively expensive, but it’s used because it is fast and, with few exceptions, the only storage which the CPU can access directly. The single example of primary storage is RAM.
processing (of information)
Collection, organization, transformation, and distribution.
A set of instructions which tells a computer what to do and when to do it. The instructions must be written in a language which the computer understands.
Capable of performing varied and different tasks, limited only by the sophistication of the programs provided.
Random-Access Memory. See primary storage.
Read-Only Memory. A miniaturized electronic component which provides permanent storage of information. In most cases, the information in ROM is “written” only once, at the factory. Thereafter, ROM can be used only to read from, and not to write to.
Short for “root directory.” The main directory, in a hierarchical directory structure, which (logically) contains all other directories. In DOS- and Windows-based systems, the root directory is represented by a backslash (\). In Mac OS, Unix, and Linux systems, the root directory is represented by a forward slash (/).
secondary storage
Any storage medium which provides (relatively) permanent storage of information. Secondary storage is non-volatile and relatively inexpensive, but it’s slow. With few exceptions, secondary storage cannot be accessed directly by the CPU. The most common examples of secondary storage are magnetic and optical discs and magnetic tape.
A neologism derived from hardware; a synonym of program.
A collection of like units, treated as a whole. For example, a string of characters, a string of bits.
system unit
A plastic or metal box which contains the principal parts of a computer: the CPU, RAM, and ROM. In modern microcomputers, it’s common to find peripheral devices installed inside the system unit; examples include disc drives and modems.
Universal Serial Bus; a standard for connecting peripherals to a computer over inexpensive cables > Education Commons

[This page last updated 2020-12-23 at 12h45 Toronto local time.]