Monday, December 30, 2013

Common Technology Terms & What they Actually Mean

Technology vocabulary is everywhere and the more we understand this vocabulary the easier it will be to keep up with technology.  We often hear about people using WiFi and Bluetooth and making VoIP phone calls and checking into locations with their Facebook app as they sit down to lunch but we might not understand exactly what each of those means or how they work.  Having a clear understanding of common technology terms can help you understand how to use existing and new technology tools, save you time when you are using technology, and also help you troubleshoot any issues that may arise.  Even if your troubleshooting process only entails calling for technical support, using the right terminology will help the support person resolve your issue faster saving you a minimum of some time, and quite possibly money.

Internet - The Internet (yes it should be capitalized) is commonly referred to as the world wide web, and being online.  The Internet is really a conglomeration of computer and server systems that pass traffic along to the correct recipient and share data.  Think of all of the freeway systems in the United States.  The freeways must have unique numbers and intersect in different ways but if you need to travel from Florida to Washington, you can do that across the freeway.  The Internet is a similar system but it is carrying data in packets instead of people in cars.

ISP or Internet Service Provider - An ISP is the person you pay to gain Internet access.  Comcast, AT&T, and Time Warner Cable are some of the larger ISP's, but certainly there are many more.  While browsing the Internet is free except for paid subscription sites, getting access to the Internet is usually not free.  Many people mistake WiFi for Internet access and think the access is free.  Even when you use a "free" WiFi network, someone is still paying to host that access and providing it to you for free.  See WiFi definition below.

Web Browsers - Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera are all examples of web browsers.  A web browser is a type of software program or application that displays web pages from the Internet.  You wouldn't open up Paint or your antivirus software to surf the Internet.  The Internet uses a specific language to display each web page so you need a web browser to translate that language into something understandable by the requester.  Use caution not to confuse a web browser with an ISP.  The web browser displays the Internet information, but that is not who you are paying to provide the access. 

WiFi or Wireless Fidelity - WiFi is a term for connecting to a network wirelessly and requires you to select the specific network you want to connect to and enter a password if the network requires a password.  WiFi is used to connect to the Internet or some other network (this could be a private network such as one you would have at work or at home, etc.) without physically connecting to the network.  WiFi works with computers that have wireless network cards installed and comes standard in laptops, ultrabooks, tablets, etc.  

WiFi is what you want to use to access the Internet on your smart phone when you can because it reduces the amount of data you have to pay for at the end of the month.  When you use WiFi to access the Internet, download apps, play online games, and more with your smart phone, the data usage does not appear on your bill.  You accumulate data charges when you do these things on the cellular data plan, but WiFi is already being paid for somewhere else and does not utilize the cellular network to transfer the data.

Open wireless networks allow access to anyone without requiring a password.  Be careful of open wireless networks you are unfamiliar with as they are often used to gain unauthorized access to your data.  Open wireless networks can have people who deploy "Man in the Middle Attacks" which means they capture your data before it gets to its original destination, then pass it along and get the response first then pass that back to you.  What this means is that they could potentially capture user id's and password logins for places you go and try to use them again at a later date.

Bluetooth - Bluetooth is a protocol with a signal range of 10 meters or less.  Bluetooth is a wireless technology that focuses on short range communications as in situations where the distance between devices is limited.  Some examples of where this technology is used is in keyboards and mice, phones, speaker devices, headsets, and more.

E-mail (technically hyphenated is correct but the de facto standard is email) or Electronic Mail  - Email has been around for quite some time and most everyone has a few email accounts, usually one used to communicate with friends and family and one to order items from and create online accounts for websites.  Email can be accessed using either an email program or application, or on the Internet via webmail.  The big difference between email programs and webmail is in functionality.  Many common email functions are easier with an email program.  For example, attaching multiple files, pasting in screen shots, creating calendar events and repeating events, and moving and organizing emails are much easier with an email program or application.

Email Programs & Applications -   Email programs are pieces of software installed that import your email and allow you to create folders to organize email, have calendars, allow you to create email recipient lists and contacts and much more.  Examples of email programs are Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Evolution.  These programs require an install on your local device and some configuration to get started.  Once this is done, you can open the software to get connected without putting in your credentials each time.  Email programs can usually be set to delete emails off of the mail server of origin once they are downloaded to the application or to leave copies in both locations.

Webmail - Webmail is basically accessing your email via the Internet or a website.  This means you type in a URL or save it to your favorites, open that webpage, enter your credentials if they are not saved, and then you get access to your email.  Examples of different webmail providers are AT&T Yahoo, Microsoft Live, Xfinity, Google GMail, AOL, Hotmail, and Apple ME.  When you use webmail you are accessing your mailbox directly so deleting an email usually means it is gone unless it is set to go to a trash bin first.  Be sure you understand where deleted emails go before you delete them permanently.

While there are thousands of other technology terms, this short list is comprised of some of the most commonly used and misunderstood terms.  The examples in each list are not exhaustive and other examples could be given but the examples are used to give you an idea of what the terms mean and hopefully share terms you are familiar with.  Hopefully these explanations will come in handy next time you get a new tech tool, or are working with tech support.  Having an accurate understanding of the technologies you use can be an immeasurable help to the person working with you.

As always, good luck and be adventurous!

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