We want you to understand technology!

Part of understanding technology is understanding the terminology related to it.

The purpose of this post is to make today’s technological terms more accessible to people under-experienced with technology.

Each word or phrase we define here has three levels of definition.

1) Basic Definition

This definition gives you a general way to understand the term, often using an analogy which makes reference to the non-technical world.

2) Intermediate definition

This definition goes into more detail, and specifically defines the term, though it may be a little harder to understand for someone new to technology.

3) Advanced definition

This definition assumes the reader has a good grasp on technology in general, but just needs to know more about the term in question.  This will also usually quote a definition from Oxford’s online dictionary, Lexico. And there are often fun facts and links to articles for diving deeper in the topic.

If you would like us to define a term which is not yet on this page, please tell us in a comment, which you can submit at the bottom of this page.

Browser – noun

1) Basic Definition

A browser is like a window through which you can see the internet.

 

If you are reading these words, then you are using a browser right now. A website can only be seen through the use of a browser.

 

A browser is the part of your computer or mobile device that you use to connect to the internet.

 

It is called a “browser” because it is used to “browse” through different websites on the internet.

 

There are many different types of browsers. Here are a few of the most popular:

Google Chrome

Mozilla Firefox

Safari

Internet Explorer

Microsoft Edge

2) Intermediate definition

A browser is a program which runs on your computer or mobile device as an app or application. This program uses an internet connection to retrieve data from a website’s server. It then interperets the data and displays it to a user in a way that makes sense (for example, these words you are reading).

 

Most browsers have some basic features in common. For example, most browsers let you visit multiple websites at the same time. This can be through multiple “windows” or through multiple “tabs.” You can see the content on multiple windows at the same time, however, you can only see one tab at a time. You can have multiple tabs in one window but not multiple windows in one tab.

 

 

3) Advanced definition

The Oxford dictionary, Lexico defines a browser as,

 

A computer program with a graphical user interface for displaying and navigating between web pages.”

 

Additional information about browsers:

– For browsers installed on a mac, to open a link in a new tab, hold down the “command” key then click on the link. For non-mac computers the shortcut tends to be “control” + click.

 

– For browsers installed on a mac, to open a new blank tab press “command” + “t.” For most other computers it is “control + t.”

 

– To open a new blank window, on a mac browser, hold down “command” + “n.” On a non-mac browser do the same but with “control” + click instead.

Operating System – noun

1) Basic Definition

An operating system is like the parts of a car that you interact with using your hands and feet. The steering wheel, the pedals, the blinkers, the AC controls and the radio are all good examples. You don’t directly turn the wheels with your feet. Instead you interact with the gas pedal which makes many internal components interact so that the wheels turn. Similarly, a computer or a smart device has an operating system which the user interacts with. This operating system is meant to be easier to understand than the internal workings of the computer.

 

Just as different cars have different layouts and ways to interact with their controls, different electronic devices have different operating systems.

 

Examples of common operating systems:

-Windows

-Mac OS

-Linux

-iOS

-Andriod 

2) Intermediate definition

A computer has a language it uses to complete all of the tasks we give it. This language has two letters, “1” and  “0.” All the words of this language are made up of these two letters. This language is called “Binary.”

 

Since it is really hard and impractical for humans to become fluent in Binary, we have made “operating systems.” These are systems in the computer that translate our more natural language and interractions (clicks and keystrokes) into Binary for the computer to understand.

 

Operating systems also translate in the other direction, helping us understand the tasks that the computer is doing for us. For example, if the current time is “10:07am,” the computer’s internal clock will say the time is “00110001 00110000 00111010 00110000 00110111 01100001 01101101″ and the operating system will take that information, translate it into “10:07am” and display it for you to see in the corner of your screen.

3) Advanced definition

The Oxford dictionary, Lexico defines an operating system as,

 

The low-level software that supports a computer’s basic functions, such as scheduling tasks and controlling peripherals.”

 

There is not much more to be said about operating systems. But if you have questions, feel free to comment at the bottom of this page.

Helpful links:

GCFGlobal: What is an operating system?

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Search  Engine – noun

1) Basic Definition

Picture a wide sprawling city, like Los Angeles. If each of the  houses and businesses represent websites, then a “search engine” is like a phonebook and a taxi service rolled into one. It gives you information about what businesses are out there, and where they are located. It also provides you with the means of transport to get you there!

 

Examples of common search engines:

Google

Yahoo

Bing

Duck Duck Go

Startpage

2) Intermediate definition

A search engine is a service on the internet. This service regularly scans almost the whole of the internet. During this scan the seach engine creates a huge index that keeps track of what it finds.

 

This index is a bit like an index in a library, which keeps track of all the books in a library and organizes this information by title and by author etc.

 

Then, users like you can give the search engine a word or phrase and the search engine will use its index to get you a list of what it thinks are the most relevent things on the internet related to the word or phrase you gave.

 

Finally, the search engine provides you with links to each of these things that it has found, so you can visit those parts of the internet.

3) Advanced definition

The Oxford dictionary, Lexico defines a search engine as,

 

A program that searches for and identifies items in a database that correspond to keywords or characters specified by the user, used especially for finding particular sites on the World Wide Web.

 

Dig deeper:

Moz.com: How Search Engines Work: Crawling, Indexing and Ranking

 

A fun fact: search engines not only analyse the locations of other things on the internet, but they themselves are on the internet! So this has the funny consequence that you can search for one search engine through another search engine. Search engines can even have themselves as a search result!

Server – noun

1) Basic Definition

A server is kind of like a hotdog stand. Let’s say this stand has a variety of different hotdogs and drinks. As a customer, if you ever want one of these items, a few things need to happen. You need to check if the hot dog stand is in the same location as you remember, you need to wait in line, ask the vendor the price, they tell you the price, you ask for a specific meal, they give it to you, you pay for it, you eat it. There is a lot of back and forth communication that goes on.

 

The relationship between your computer and an internet server is surprisingly similar! Here are some similarities:

 

– A server is a physical thing. It has a physical location somewhere on the earth.

– Instead of hot dogs, a server stores all the information of a website. For example, the Facebook servers store the photos that you put on Facebook.

– Just as your voice travels through the air between you and the hotdog vendor, your computer’s communication with a server happens through the internet. In other words, the internet is the means through which your computer and the server “talk face to face.”

– For more similarities, see the “Intermediate definition” section.

2) Intermediate definition

Not only is a server a “thing,” it is basically a fancy computer. The main elements of the computer are this:

 

1) A server has storage (websites need to store information about their users and the things they provide, such as photos and videos, even the very text on this page is stored in a server!).

 

2) A server has an internet connection. This is like saying that a hotdog stand has a window or counter where the communication and transaction occurs.

 

3) It has the ability to process many requests at once that come through the internet (kind of like a many-headed hotdog vendor who could manage many requests at once).

_____________________

For any service on the internet there is a server doing most of the work behind the scenes. Here is a closer examination of the hotdog analogy:

– Whenever you visit a website your computer checks to see that the server is up and running. This is like checking if the hotdog stand is in its usual spot today.

– Your computer waits in line to be in communication with the server, just like the situation with the hotdog stand. Only, the computer gets through the line in milliseconds!

– You may have heard that a server “crashed.” This is sometimes because too many people try to communicate with the server at the same time, so it malfunctions. In the case of the hotdog stand, it is as if so many people violently rush the hotdog stand that it gets pushed into the road and hit by a car. A very literal server crash!

3) Advanced definition

The Oxford dictionary, Lexico defines a server as,

 

A computer or computer program which manages access to a centralized resource or service in a network.”

 

Servers do not only provide storage, they also provide services. For example, gaming servers allow multiple people to play the same video game together at the same time while each person is on her own device.

 

Some different types of servers and links to thier wikipedia articles:

database servers,

file servers,

mail servers,

print servers,

web servers,

game servers,

application servers,

cloud storage servers.

 

Servers are often a part of a “server farm,” which is owned by one of the big tech companies like Google. These server farms are usually a collection of servers for a few different websites and services. There is a lot of structural, electrical and systems engineering that goes into making these server farms work.

 

Dig deeper:

Little Known Facts About Servers And Data Storage

 

4 Fun Facts about Server Farms That You Probably Didn’t Know

Helpful links:

Wikipedia: “Server”

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User – noun

1) Basic Definition

This term is actually fairly straightforward! The user is the person who uses a piece of technology.

2) Intermediate definition

There is a more nuanced meaning of the term “user.” This comes up when multiple people want to use the same computer. In a case like this, you can create different “users” on the computer for different people. In this case, each “user” is an individual account for each person. You usually need a passoword to access the computer as one of the users.

 

Each “user” account will have its own folders on the computer for storing files, and its own applications that can be used by the user (though it is possible to install applications for use by all users on a computer). Each user cannot access the files and folders of other users while logged in to their own account.

 

There is usually a “shared” folder in a computer which all users can access and share files between.

3) Advanced definition

The Oxford dictionary, Lexico defines a link as,

 

A person who uses or operates something, especially a computer or other machine.

 

Additional informationabout users:

– In the case of the intermediate definition, it is usually also possible to use a computer as a guest who does not log into someone’s acount. In this case they will log in to a “guest user” which usually doesn’t require a password.

 

This guest user is similar to the other users in the fact that it cannot access the other files on the computer. Only those in the “shared” folder. But this guest user also usually has nothing much in it except the files and applications built into the computer.

 

Helpful links:

Wikipedia: “User (Computing)”

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If you have any questions or comments about any of the definitions on this page please write them in the “Submit a Comment” section below: