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A quote from John C. Dvorak in PC Magazine: "It alws makes me laugh when people equate computers with appliances or assume that someday computers will become devices you can buy and immediately operate. In fact, computers are more like cars. The car has been around for over 100 years and it still requires training to use...Why do we expect that anything as complicated as a computer will someday be trivial to use?" Computer Panic

Definitions: (Feel free to print this page)

Once upon a time, in order to use a computer, you had to talk to it in its own language (1's and 0's or +'s and -'s). Bill Gates and friends invented/developed something called "Microsoft Disk Operating System" that allowed you to type English (more-or-less) into a computer. DOS then talked to the computer in the language it understood.

Then he developed a graphical interface system that allows you to point at a picture with a mouse to tell the computer what to do.

PC (Personal Computer):
Computers originally developed by IBM. They allowed other companies to develop computers based on their system. Today, there are many companies (although not as many as there used to be) building and selling computers based this system.

A totally different computer operating system that also uses a graphical interface and a mouse.

The entire area of your monitor screen. It has the icons visible on it. This area is 3-dimensional. Think of it as a horizontal surface with stuff piled on it - just like your desk.

The pictures that you point at with a mouse.

The bar visible at the bottom of your desktop. It has the "Start" button at the far left side and the clock at the far right.

The 3-dimensional area that looks like a tray on the right side of your taskbar. It holds your clock and several other icons. Microsoft calls it the "Notification Area."

The arrow-shaped icon that moves around your desktop as you move your mouse.

1. Click - with the left mouse button (use your forefinger). This selects (or highlights - the icon will change color) OR this sets down the cursor in a document.
2. Double-click - with the left mouse button. Use this on an icon to start a program.
3. Right-click - with the right mouse button (use your middle finger). This will bring up a menu that specific to wherever you are pointing. If you click with your forefinger outside this menu, it will go away.
4. Drag or drag-and-drop - Click your mouse pointer on something to select it, and then hold the left button down. Move your mouse and the object will move. Lift your finger from the button and the object will be put down (dropped) where you placed it.
5. Hover - Place the mouse pointer over an icon (don't click, just hover over it) and information about that item will pop up.

The blinking line or I-beam shaped line that tells you where you will start typing.

Any item you have created in your computer - especially in Word.

Three little dots () after any menu command mean that another window will pop up when you click on the command. You can always click on the command and safely look at anything in the window as there will always be a "Close" or "Cancel" button or you can click on the X in the upper right hand corner ( X means "exit").

If you hover over a menu item with a triangle Triangle (Arrow)another menu will appear. When you click outside of that menu, it will disappear. It is always safe to look at all these items as canceling or clicking outside will get you out of it without making any changes.

The settings that your computer automatically goes to.

The disk inside your computer that stores all your information. This is not removable. Most, now, are measured in "gigabytes" - you will have a 200 or 400 (or much larger) "gig" hard drive.

The small (3 inch), removable disk that was used to store data outside your computer. They are called "floppy" because there is a flexible disk inside the rigid plastic case. They were cheap and could be bought almost anywhere. You had to have a floppy (or A) drive on your computer. Now new computers are sold without this drive.

Other forms of removable disks. The CD rom disk looks like a music CD.On most computers, you will be able to write to a CD.

The Zip disk is no longer used or available..

There are two kinds of CD roms

  1. CD-R (wRightable) You can only write to this once. Once "burned" it can't be changed or added to. These are inexpensive - the more you buy, the cheaper (recently I bought a spindle of 100 for less than 20 cents each.
  2. CD-RW (ReWriteable) This can be used over and over. They're more expensive - around $1 each.


A worldwide collection of computer networks that allows people to find and use information and communicate with others.

Internet Service Provider: A generic term for any company that can connect you directly to the Internet.

The big computers at your ISP that connect you to the Internet

A software program that enables you to see and hear content on the World Wide Web. This includes, text, graphics, sound, and video. Popular browsers are Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer. Many ISP's provide their own browser.

A special web page that you can set up with personal information like weather for your area, a calendar, your favorite source for news, etc. The page that opens up when you connect to AOL or MSN are portals; there are others that you can set up on your own (My Yahoo! for instance)

Copying a file from another computer to yours. Every time you access a page on the Internet, you download the information on the page and temporarily store it on your computer.

A saved address of a Web site that has been added to a list of saved addresses. Instead of retyping an address, you can go to your favorites or bookmarks and click on the address to return to the site.

LINK (or "hyperlink"):
A place on a web page that you can click that will take you to someplace else. It will be a button, an underlined word or phrase or a picture. It will often be a different color than the rest of the type and it may change as you pass your mouse over it or after you click it. When you hover your mouse pointer over a link, the pointer will change to a "pointy finger" icon.

A made-up word combining "modulator" and "demodulator. Originally this term was for a device that allowed computers to communicate with each other over telephone lines by changing digital signals to telephone signals for transmission and then back to digital signals.

This word has changed and it now means the "box that connects you to the Internet." Even though cable & DSL are fully digital, the box is now called a modem.

An expression for unsolicited email, generally from a company trying to get you to visit their web site or an offer to make money.

URL (Uniform Resource Locator):
The World Wide Web address of a site on the Internet. For example, the URL for the White House is

A person who is new to computers or, especially, the internet. Not necessarily a complimentary term.

An icon that expresses emotion. Since you cannot see the person's face or hear their voice online (either email in social media (like FaceBook) or in a chat), you need other ways to understand that someone is smiling, joking, etc. The most familiar is the smiley face :) But there are many others -- the most common, a frowny face :( or a winky face ;)

You can use abbreviations like LOL (Laughing Out Loud) or BTW (By The Way)

Don't ever use all capital letters. IT FEELS LIKE YOU'RE YELLING at the other person.

Emy Shepherd 413-267-5210

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