If you think you know what most techie terms mean--then read on

Readers often e-mail me questions about computer terms, so I thought it was time to
write a real-world glossary of common technical words. Please e-mail me your additions and

Battery life: Lies, damned lies and statistics.

Boot: To reject with disgust, as in, "It didn't work, so I kept booting and
rebooting it." Cold boot: The same operation, but performed with the contempt
born of long experience.

Buyer: Person designated in advance to take the blame for purchasing decisions
made by higher-ups.

CD-ROM: The invention that led to gigabyte-size hard drives; or, a software
distribution medium that lets programmers ignore code optimization.

Columnist: A delusional drunk (definition supplied by several Apple Macintosh

Committee: Group charged with ratifying a decision previously adopted by upper
management, but not until new product releases made the choice irrelevant.

Computer: Electronic device that accelerates the creation of errors and
disseminates them to the world before you catch them.

Consultant: Someone who receives $100 per hour to have his or her advice
ignored. Washington consultant: Same as above, but pay is $300 per hour plus a
bonus for rejected advice.

Desktop publishing: Computer-assisted production of documents so complex they
are almost illegible.

Documentation: Compilation of marketers' dreams and visions; printed manual
labeled prominently with the product name so users can tell what it goes with; or, bulky
booklets and manuals used to weigh down software boxes to prevent theft.

E-mail: Haystack for hiding important messages.

Encryption: You can't read it but we can (the FBI's definition); you can't read
it and neither can we (the CIA's definition); if you can't read it, how do you know it
isn't what it says? (National Security Agency definition); or, essential part of software
that you can't take overseas (White House definition).

Enhancement: A bug the programmers couldn't fix before the product's ship date.

Feature: A bug the programmers didn't find before ship date.

56K: Dueling modem standards that would violate Federal Communications
Commission regulations if they worked as advertised.

Firewall: Software designed to make it impossible for anyone except hackers to
use an Internet connection.

Grammar-checker: Utility that absorbs an unlimited amount of your time but fails
to improve your writing.

Groupware: Memo writing by committee.

Java: Programming language whose code executes slowly enough that users can take
a coffee break.

Kenneth Starr: Attorney who succeeded in lowering White House electric bills by
making e-mail too risky to use.

Major upgrade: Vendor shorthand for "We need more income this

Minor upgrade: Vendor shorthand for "We have to give this one away

Network: String of computers connected by an optimist.

Network administrator: Person responsible for keeping network users optimistic.

Experienced network administrator: Twitch case huddled in a corner of the wiring
closet, connected to an intravenous Valium drip.

Paperless office: Concept that inspired consultants to publish massive reports,
books and articles, thus reducing the amount of paper available to offices.

Power user: User who runs software and hardware without reading the

Press release: Detailed description of a new product written by someone who
hasn't tried it.

Support: Something that the more you need, the less you get.

24X drive: 10X CD-ROM drive with good PR.

Videoconferencing: Communication that produces public humiliation upon
expressing a silly opinion; supersedes e-mail, in which the humiliation is more private.

Virus: Bonus software often included with upgrades.

Y2K: Entertainment for the technologically literate who don't buy into
astrology; or, work release program for old Cobol programmers.

John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.

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