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Tech Jargon Buster: technology terms explained - September 2014

What is AMOLED? What is JavaScript? What is Haptic Feedback? What is a feature phone? These and other tech terms explained

Tech jargon explained

We explain in plain English technology terminology. Tech terms explained in our Tech Jargon Buster. Updated 11 April 2014.

What is 3D printing? Put simply, a 3D printer is a device which prints real three-dimensional objects rather than flat images onto two-dimensional sheets of paper. The designs for the 3D objects are stored in modelling software on a computer and can be created from scratch or input via a 3D scanner. Various technologies exist, but all currently construct models by building them from layers of material, one on top of the other, which are fused together during the process. Working machines and even electrical circuits can be printed in this way. See: 3D printing: print three-dimensional objects at home.

What is a 4K monitor? This is a monitor that's capable of displaying ultra-high definition content at a resolution of roughly 4000 pixels horizontally. Although actual resolutions may vary, the most common is 3840x2160 pixels, which is the equivalent resolution of four 'Full HD' screens arranged in a 2x2 rectangle.

What is 802.11ac? This is the latest version of the 802.11 Wi-Fi standard. It improves on previous versions (including 802.11n) by enabling much faster transmission speeds and better performance on crowded networks. Check out our router reviews, and our reviews of the first 802.11ac wireless routers from Buffalo and Netgear.

What is 802.11ad? This is an industry standard for Wi-Fi compatible wireless communications at up to 7Gbit/s. However, the standard operates in the 60 GHz band which can't usually travel through walls.

Tech jargon explained: A

What is an access point? In the home, you’ll typically gain wireless access to the internet via a Wi-Fi router that provides access to your broadband service as well as setting up a Wi-Fi network. An access point creates the Wi-Fi network that’s to be added to an existing wired network, which may already have an internet connection set up using other hardware.

What is an ADSL filter? A small box that's connected between a telephone wall socket and a DSL modem, a telephone or both. The filter's function is to separate the broadband and voice signals so they don't interfere with each other.

What is AMOLED? Active-matrix organic light emitting diode or AMOLED displays feature heavily in mobile devices and TVs, due to excellent contrast and colour saturation. Each pixel in an AMOLED is formed from a thin piece of organic film which emits its own individual light when current passes through it. This differs from LCD which uses a backlight shining through from the rear of the display. 

What is Android 4.1 Jelly Bean? Version 4.1 of Google’s Android operating system for smartphones and tablets. It incorporates an enhanced and more responsive user interface than 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

What is an Android phone? See: What is an Android phone?

What is an Android tablet? See: What is an Android tablet?

What is Anti-poopsocking? Poopsocking refers to the phenomenon where a user becomes so engrossed in an activity such as online gameplay that they prioritise the game over all other functions, such as visiting the toilet. Anti-poopsocking features force the player to stop playing periodically, perhaps by requiring them to ask other users for assistance and wait for a response before they're able to proceed to the next level.

What is Apple Maps? A new Apple-created mapping app that's available in iOS 6.0. Apple designed Maps to replace the rival Google Maps on its mobile devices. Lightning connector: Introduced with the iPhone 5, iPod nano and iPod touch, Lightning is the name given to Apple's new smaller connector that replaces the 30-pin port found on earlier models. An adaptor is available to connect to most, but not all, previously compatible accessories. The initial adaptors available from Apple don't support video output.

Tech jargon explained: B

What is Bitcoin? A digital currency and some associated protocols which allow online payments to be made worldwide. It works with no central authority and runs on free, open-source software. Bitcoins are stored in virtual wallets which can reside on a computer, a mobile device or in a wallet stored online. They can be transferred without the need for an intermediate financial authority. For more, see: What is Bitcoin? The future digital currency explained.

What is Bit-rate? The speed at which bits – or units of binary information – are transferred or processed over time. For audio data it can be thought of as analogous to resolution for image files. The greater the number of bits per second, the more detailed and clear the audio can be. In video it doesn't affect the resolution in terms of the number of pixels in a frame, but it does affect how frequently and accurately they are updated. A low bit-rate usually manifests itself as blurry or blocky video with unwanted visual artefacts.

What is Bittorrent? BitTorrent is a widely-used peer-to-peer file sharing protocol, designed to dispense high-volume data via the Internet. It’s used for distributing large files, such as Linux distributions and also for illegal file sharing. The protocol was invented by Bram Cohen in 2001.

What is a botnet? A network of computers that have been infected with malware that allows them to be remotely controlled without the knowledge of their owner. Botnets become powerful distributed computing platforms capable of co-ordinated attacks against websites, sending spam and enabling large-scale identity theft. It's important to keep your security software up-to-date to safeguard your machine from being co-opted into a botnet.

What is Bluetooth 4.0? The latest Bluetooth standard greatly improves on previous versions by adding two new technologies and using considerably less power.

What is BYOD? Standing for Bring Your Own Device, this is a policy by which employees are encouraged to use their own devices for work purposes. Advantages of this policy are that users don't need to carry two phones or two laptops and can work on a device with which they are already familiar. Disadvantages include concerned over privacy of employees data and far-reaching powers of corporations to modify or erase data on the devices, including personal data.

Tech jargon explained: C

What is a cache? In computing terms, cache is a quantity of fast memory or storage that transparently stores frequently used data kept on a slower medium such as a hard disk or slower memory. A computer's CPU incorporates a small amount of cache to speed up access to your main system RAM, and you can use an SSD cache to speed up access to a hard drive.

What is a capacitive touchscreen? Most commonly used in premium smartphones and tablets, capacitive touchscreens are able to sense the electrical conductivity of a human fingertip and use it to determine its location on the screen. Insulating materials such as gloves will prevent such touchscreens working but, unlike resistive alternatives, they don't require you to exert physical pressure on the screen.

What is a Chromebook? A Chromebook is a notebook computer running Google's Chrome OS operating system. Relying heavily on the cloud computing model, these PCs are designed to be used while connected to the internet, with almost all functions carried out via the Chrome browser rather than installing traditional applications, although some offline functionality is available.

What is cloud storage? A form of online storage where individuals or companies can store data that can then be remotely accessed from any PC with an active internet connection. The data may be physically stored on multiple servers and separated geographically, but it will appear in a single storage location to the user. Examples include Dropbox and Mozy.

What is a CMOS battery? Used to maintain the settings stored in your PC's BIOS or UEFI setup, such as the date and time, a CMOS battery usually resembles a medium-sized silver coin. It can be found installed in your PC's motherboard.

What is Cortana? Named after a character in the Halo series of video games and voiced by the same actor, Cortana is Microsoft’s personal assistant. It’s built in to the Windows Phone 8.1 operating system and will respond to natural voice commands. It can access Bing, as well as the user’s personal information and settings, to provide personalised output and perform functions based on the user’s requirements, such as setting reminders.

What is crowdfunding? Crowdfunding is the funding of a project by taking a small contributions from a large number of people in return for some form of reward, such as equity in your venture. This approach is most easily facilitated through use of the Internet which can quickly bring together a large number of like-minded contributors. Popular Crowdfunding sites include Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Tech jargon explained: D

What is a Device Driver? Often simply called a 'driver', this is a piece of programming code that enables a host device, such as a PC, to operate an attached device such as a mouse, graphics card or webcam. A large number of device drivers come pre-packaged with Windows and other operating systems, enabling the devices to work without any extra software. However, the latest features and bug fixes will be found in the most recent versions of the drivers, which can usually be downloaded from manufacturers' websites.

What is Devil’s Canyon? Devil’s Canyon is Intel’s codename for the unlocked ‘K’ editions of the “refresh” revision of the Core i5 and Core i7 Haswell processors. These include the Core i5-4690K and Core i7-4790K which feature improved thermal interface material, thereby allowing cooler operation and improved overclocking.

What is a DisplayPort? A high-performance digital interface for connecting displays to PCs and laptops. Like HDMI, it can also include audio information, but adds support for other forms of data transmission, such as USB. It is backward-compatible with VGA and DVI via adaptors, and is capable of higher resolutions than HDMI.

Tech jargon explained: E

What is an Easter Egg? As well as being a delicious seasonal chocolate-based confectionery, an easter egg is a hidden feature inserted into any media, sometimes for the amusement of the creator and other times to increase user engagement. Examples include ‘cheat codes’ in video games, hidden extras on DVDs and even a flight simulators hidden within early versions of Microsoft Excel. (Try searching Google for ‘askew’).

What is an e-book aggregator? Such services act as middle man between an author and an e-book store. They can offer a more convenient way for an author to publish to multiple stores, and often offer additional services, such as cover design and layout. They will charge an upfront fee or take a cut from any sales.

What is Electronic paper? Electronic paper, also known as e-paper and electronic ink, is a form of digital display designed to emulate, as closely as possible, the experience of reading ink on paper. Most commonly used in eReaders such as Amazon’s Kindle or the Nook from Barnes & Noble, this technology relies on external light and allows for very long battery life, but only supports monochrome displays with no support for moving pictures.

What is exFAT? A Microsoft file system used primarily on removable devices such as flash memory and hard drives. As a replacement for the FAT32 file system, it removes the maximum 4GB size limit on individual files. It is also supported by modern version of both Window and Mac OS X operating systems, making it the file system of choice when using a removable drive on both PC and Mac computers.

Tech jargon explained: F

What is FAT32? FAT32 is a file system introduced by Microsoft in 1996 and commonly used to store information on lower capacity disks and memory cards. Its key advantage is that almost all operating systems and devices can read the format, but it is limited in that no single file can exceed 4GB in size.

What is a feature phone? This is a mobile phone with advanced features, though, these are less sophisticated than a fully-fledged smartphone. Feature phones don't run a full smartphone operating system such as Android and therefore offer very limited support for apps, although the distinction between feature phones and smartphones is blurring as technology improves.

What is firmware? Firmware is program code stored in non-volatile memory in an electronic device. It often forms a bridge between the hardware device itself and the higher-level software that runs on it. A typical example would be a PC's BIOS and UEFI software. In modern devices such as smartphones, the entire operating system could be thought of as firmware, with new versions of Android, iOS or Windows Phone being considered firmware updates.

What is FTTC? Fibre To The Cabinet typically refers to a broadband connection which uses high-speed optical fibre cabling between the local exchange and a cabinet in the street close to the consumer's premises. The connection between the cabinet and the customer then uses the existing copper wiring from the telephone network. This results in much higher potential broadband speeds. BT Infinity is one such service, offering download speeds of up to 76Mbps.

Tech jargon explained: G

What is a gamut (monitor or printer)? The range of colours displayable by a device is known as its ‘gamut'. On monitors, this is determined largely by the choice of backlight and red, green and blue filters used to create the picture. With printers it's down to the formulation and colour of the printing inks along with the colour of the paper.

What is a Gesture? In computing terms, a gesture is a command initiated by a movement, usually of a mouse pointer or a finger on a touchscreen. They command depends on the path traced by the movement and sometimes the position on the screen, but does generally does not depend on interaction with icons or other on-screen items. Windows 8 introduces many gestures to Microsoft's latest operating system such as swiping left from the right hand edge of the screen to bring up the Charms.

What is Google Chrome OS? Created by Google and found on its Chromebook range of laptops, Chrome OS is an operating system that's designed almost exclusively for use via the Chrome web browser. It also has the ability to run specially-written applications coded in HTML5.

What is Google Glass? Also known as Project Glass, Google Glass is a head-worn gadget incorporating a battery powered Head Up Display (HUD). Sitting just above the user's right eye, it is able to display visual information in your field of view. This could be anything you like, but will usually be similar to the kind of information you would interact with on a smartphone. You can also use it to take pictures and record video of what you're seeing. See also: What is Google Glass? Everything you need to know

What is Google Nexus? A Google-branded mobile phone or tablet running the Android platform. The hardware is manufactured by various OEMs, including LG (Nexus 4), Asus (Nexus 7) and Samsung (Nexus 10).

Unlike the majority of Android devices, Nexus runs a vanilla copy of Android that hasn't been customised by hardware manufacturers or mobile operators. Nexus devices are designed to make it easier for developers to install their own modified versions of Android and are the first to receive new versions of the mobile OS upon release by Google.

Tech jargon explained: H

What is H.265? This video format offers around twice the compression of H.264, the current standard for compressing high-definition video. It will therefore halve the bandwidth required to transmit TV channels and significantly reduce the burden on mobile networks.

What is Haptic Feedback? Haptic feedback involved conveying information to the user through the sense of touch. This is usually designed to mimic the effect of interacting with real objects with the fingers, adding a sense of feel to tell the user when certain on-screen items have been touched or activated. Many mobile phones employ haptic feedback in this manner by making subtle use of the vibrating alert.

What is a hashtag? A hashtag is a word, phrase or just a collection of letters preceded by a hash (#) symbol. It's simply a way of creating a label by which people can refer to the same thing. The # means 'this is a tag' and enables other users to search for content marked with the same label by searching for the same hashtag. Although they've been around for many years, it's their use on Twitter which has pushed them further into mainstream use. They are also used on services such as Instagram and Facebook. There is no official directory of hashtags as they can be invented by users at any time and inserted into posts. Promotional hashtags in the media can be a good way of creating a buzz. For example, displaying a hashtag on a TV show can be a handy way of initiating group discussion and generating fan interest.

What is Heartbleed? Heartbleed is the name given to a flaw in very widely-used digital cryptography software. The software was fixed in April 2014, but a large proportion of Web servers had already been vulnerable to the attack which could have revealed personal details such as email addresses and passwords available to hackers before the problem was fixed.

What is Hyper-V? A virtualisation technology created by Microsoft. It allows the creation of virtual PCs, which can concurrently run multiple operating systems on a single PC. It is available as a free download, and a version of the software is also included in Windows 8 Pro. Unlike popular applications such as VMware and VirtualBox, Hyper-V interfaces directly with the hardware rather than the operating system, giving it several performance advantages. However, it cannot be enabled at the same time as running either of those other virtualisation applications.

Tech jargon explained: I

What is ICANN? The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is an organisation that oversees the domain name system (DNS) used to name all sites on the Internet and manages the IP address numbering system.

What is Instagram? Instagram is an online service for capturing and sharing photos and video. Acquired by Facebook in 2012, Instagram runs primarily as an app on iOS and Android devices and, as of February 2013, served over 100 million active users. A variety of simple graphical filters are available to enhance users photos with various effects and pictures can be tagged and hashtagged to allow searching by other users. The service provides integration with other social networking services where its trademark square-format pictures can be automatically shared and users can be "followed" in a similar style to Twitter.

What is Intel Iris? Currently the most powerful integrated graphics chip from Intel. Iris is built into high-end versions of the company's fourth-generation Core processors. It comes in standard and ‘Pro' variants, the latter including 128MB of embedded RAM and capable of delivering more than double the performance of previous-generation Intel graphics chips.

What is Intel NUC? 'NUC' stands for Next Unit of Computing. NUC is a family of ultra-compact PC platforms combining a small motherboard with a non-upgradable Intel processor featuring integrated graphics. Three versions currently exist offering slightly different features and performance levels.

What is the Internet of Things? Sometimes abbreviated to the ‘IoT’, the Internet of Things describes an ecosystem of interconnected objects and devices, which are able to communicate and interact without human intervention often using built-in sensors and wireless networks.

What is an IP address? Rather like a phone number for networks, an IP address is a number used to identify a particular computer or device on a network that uses the Internet Protocol (IP). This network could be within our home or organisation, or part of a much wider network, such as the internet. The most commonly-used version of IP is version 4 (IPv4) which uses 32-bit numbers for addresses, allowing for around four billion unique addresses. This will eventually be superseded by version 6 (IPv6), which uses 128-bit numbers, allowing for up to 2128 unique addresses and expansion of the internet beyond the four billion address limit.

What is IPS? An in-plane switching (IPS) display is a type of LCD panel used in the manufacture of monitors, phones and tablets, among other devices. It differs from less-expensive technologies, such as twisted nematic (TN), in that it offers better colour reproduction across wider viewing angles. However, some TN panels can offer faster response times, which are favoured by gamers who want blur-free high-speed action. Other technologies include PLS, from Samsung, and vertical alignment (VA).

What is ISO (digital photography)? Digital cameras use a sensor to capture the image produced by the lens. The sensitivity of the sensor can be varied according to the international standard ISO 12232:2006, commonly referred to simply as "ISO", which is analogous to the ISO speed designation found on film stock. A setting of ISO 200 is twice as sensitive as ISO 100 and will result in an image twice as bright (assuming all other parameters remaining equal). Higher ISO numbers incur a penalty in the form of increased image noise or grain. Cameras able to shoot at high ISO settings with minimal noise exhibit superior low-light performance.

What are ISO standards? The short form "ISO" stands for the International Organisation for Standardization, a body which sets a wide variety of standards covering everything from Quality Management Systems (ISO 9001) to the specification for an official wine-tasting glass (ISO 3591). Digital cameras calibrate light sensitivity according to ISO 12232:2006.

What is Ivy Bridge? The codename for Intel's third generation of CPUs. The line-up includes Core i5 and i7 3xxx chips, which deliver better performance and lower power consumption than their predecessors. Read our Ivy Bridge review.

Tech jargon explained: J

What is JavaScript? Not to be confused with Java, JavaScript is a programming language used predominantly to create interactive content in web browsers. JavaScript code can be inserted into the code of web pages and the it runs on the viewers’ PCs when they browse the page.

Tech jargon explained: K

What is a KVM switch? Formed from an abbreviation for Keyboard, Video and Mouse, a KVM switch is a device that allows you to connect a keyboard, monitor and mouse to more than one PC simultaneously. You can then switch control between the connected computers without having to unplug and reconnect them by pressing a button or issuing a special keystroke sequence.

Tech jargon explained: L

What is an LED TV? In almost every case, an LED TV is a television set with an LCD panel that's illuminated by light-emitting diodes (LEDs), just like most flat-panel PC monitors. LEDs have all but replaced the older cold-cathode fluorescent (CCFL) backlight, and can allow for reduced power consumption, slimmer design and improved image quality, thanks to better contrast and a greater range of displayable colours.

What is a Local Group Policy Editor? A tool for editing certain advanced settings within Windows. In versions prior to Vista these settings applied to all users on any single PC, but later versions allow configuration on a per-user basis.  Typical settings include enabling or disabling access to Windows features. The concept extends beyond the local PC to networks of computers running throughout an organisation, allowing such settings to be centrally managed.

What is LTE (4G LTE)? The fourth-generation mobile communication standard is known as 4G. It allows for much faster data-transfer speeds than 3G, and faster than many home broadband services. You'll need a compatible phone or 4G dongle to take advantage. LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and is a wireless broadband technology that has been widely adopted and has become interchangeable with 4G - they are the same thing.

Tech jargon explained: M

What is a megapixel? A collection of a million pixels or picture elements. These are the individual coloured dots which represent a digital image, the more of them you have contained within an image, the higher its potential resolution becomes.

Camera sensors with many megapixels are often able to capture more image detail than those with fewer. Be wary of assuming that more megapixels means better quality photos, though. Cramming more pixels onto the same-size sensor usually reduces quality and the lens also plays a big part in quality.

What is MHL? Mobile High-Definition Link is a standard for connecting mobile and portable devices to HD displays such as TVs and monitors. Like HDMI, it uses a single cable to transmit 1080p HD video and up to 7.1 surround audio, but it also adds the capability to power and charge the mobile device.

MHL commonly uses a micro USB connection at one end and an HDMI connector at the other, although others can be used as no specific physical connectors are mandated by the standard. This sometimes leads to incompatibility, as is the case with Samsung's Galaxy S II and Galaxy S III phones, which require different MHL cables to work.

What is a Microsoft Account? Formerly known as a “Windows Live ID”, a Microsoft account is simply an email address and password used to sign in to Microsoft services such as Outlook.com, Skype or a Windows 8 PC.

What are Modern apps? Windows 8 apps have, until recently, been known as Metro apps. The codename Metro has been discontinued, and such apps will now be referred to as Windows 8 or Modern apps; the Metro interface will be known as the Modern interface. However, there remains some confusion, since Windows 8 also supports older programs that run in Windows 7.

What is mSATA? Mini-SATA, more commonly referred to as 'mSATA', is a compact version of the SATA interface designed for use in smaller devices such as netbooks and the thinnest laptops. Rather than using the standard SATA power and data connectors, mSATA uses a connector, which is physically the same as a PCI Express Mini Card interface.

What is multitouch? A touch-input system that supports multitouch is capable of detecting a touch from more than one figure at a time, enabling features such as pinch-to-zoom and gestures that involve swipes.

Tech jargon explained: N

What is Near Field Communication (NFC)? A wireless system that allows suitably equipped devices to transfer data over very short distances – usually of just a few centimetres – or by coming into physical contact with each other. NFC can be used for contactless payments or function as an electronic key. NFC-enabled Android smartphones can use Android Beam to transfer files. This uses an initial NFC connection to set up a Bluetooth file transfer.

What is Nvidia G-Sync? Created by nVidia, G-Sync is a technology that enables compatible monitors to synchronise with the variable frame rates of certain nVidia graphics cards rather than the graphics cards synchronising to a standard monitor refresh rate (typically 60Hz). This allows the graphics cards to run at their maximum speed without creating a 'tearing' effect on screen.

Tech jargon explained: O

What is Open Source software? Software designated as 'open source' is offered with all the programming code or "source code", along with the rights to change and distribute it for any purpose. Benefits of this approach include rapid porting of the software to new platforms (operating systems) and the increased speed of collaborative development and bug-fixing. Prominent open source products include Linux, Android and the Firefox browser.

What is an operating system? This is the software that talks directly to a PC's hardware and provides an environment for applications to be run on it. It manages resources such as memory, and access to devices including hard drives and keyboards. Common operating systems include Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X.

What is Overclocking? Running a processor, graphics card or memory at speeds faster than they are nominally designed to operate. This can result in considerably better performance, but brings with it increased power requirements and the risk of component failure or damage, including through overheating. Some processors are designed to prevent such modification, whereas other are designed specifically to make it easier.

Tech jargon explained: P

What is a partition disk? A disk partition divides a single hard disk into multiple logical pieces, each of which can function as though it were a separate disk. They can be used for organisational reasons or to allow different file systems or operating systems to be installed on one hard disk.

What is Peer-to-peer (p2p)? In a peer-to-peer network, each computer or device both sends and receives data without the need for a central server. This results in a sharing of resources and bandwidth, which reduces the demand on any individual participant.

What is a PenTile display? Colour displays on smartphones and PC monitors use a grid of coloured dots, or pixels, which are themselves each made from red, green and blue subpixels. A standard RGB display typically uses one subpixel of each primary colour to create each pixel, varying the intensity of each to create the full range of displayable colours.

The PenTile system uses a different layout with more green subpixels than red or blue, reducing the total number of subpixels required for a given display resolution and relying on image processing to reconstruct the full-resolution image. In LCD panels, a different PenTile technology is used, adding a white subpixel to the matrix that can allow for significant power savings as more of the backlight can be allowed to shine through. Technically, PenTile displays offer lower image resolution than standard RGB ones, but in modern HD displays this difference is rarely perceptible.

What is a phablet? Bridging the gap between a large smartphone and a small tablet, a phablet combines the portability of the former with the large-screen usability of the latter. With screen sizes typically between five and seven inches, they are often just small enough to use as a phone, but provide a preferable screen size for multimedia viewing. Examples include the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Sony Xperia Z1.

What is a Powerline adaptor? This is a device that allows you to run a network connection over the existing electric mains wiring in your building. It offers the advantages of a wired connection without the need to run existing cables and is a good way to extend the range of your network when a Wi-Fi signal won’t reach.

What is a Processor core? Most modern computer processors are multicore processors. This means they contain more than one internal CPU, each of which is capable of running program code independently and simultaneously. Each of these CPUs is called a core. The more cores a processor has, the more instructions it can process simultaneously, allowing more programs to be run at the same time without slowing down the host computing device.

What is a PS/2 connector? This is a port used to connect a keyboard or a mouse to a PC. Usually coloured purple for a keyboard or green for a mouse, these small, round 6-pin connectors are now considered legacy ports and have generally been replaced by USB connections. However, gaming keyboards are often provided in PS/2 versions to allow an unlimited number of simultaneous keypresses to be detected. The use of PS/2 peripherals also allows all USB ports to be disabled where required for security reasons.

Tech jargon explained: Q

What is a QR code? A Quick Response or "QR" Code is a type of two-dimensional barcode. Unlike the conventional barcodes found on items such as supermarket groceries, a QR code can be read quickly by devices such as cameras and the codes have therefore become popular when designed to be read by smartphones. Usage could be the encoding of a web URL or additional information stored in a code on a printed advertisement. Only scan QR codes you trust. Scammers can make QR codes which link to fake websites that trick you into giving away personal details. (See also: How to create QR codes.)

Tech jargon explained: R

What is ransomware? This is a form of malware that attempts to extort money from its victims by holding their data to ransom until a fee is paid. A recent example is CryptoLocker, which securely encrypts the victim's documents, offering a decryption key only when the ransom has been paid.

What are RAW image files? These can be created by high-end and enthusiast cameras and certain Nokia Lumia smartphones. They contain picture data taken directly from the image sensor in the camera prior to conversion to the more compact JPEG format. As such, they contain more picture information and can allow for higher-quality images to be processed later on your computer. They also require specialised software to process them and take up considerably more disk space. The actual format of the data is often unique to the specific model of camera used.

What is resolution? In terms of displays, the screen resolution is a measure of the amount of detail which can be shown. Either in terms of the absolute number of pixels in an image, such as 1920x1080 or in terms of the number of pixels contained within a certain area – often expressed as pixels per inch (ppi). Apple's Retina displays offer a resolution high enough to exceed the resolution of the human visual system, thereby rending individual pixels invisible and making screen elements appear smooth rather than blocky.

What is 'rooting an Android'? Rooting a phone provides the user with full, unrestricted control over all aspects of the operating system. Prior to rooting, many configuration options are deliberately unavailable to the user in order to prevent possible damage to the operating system or even the hardware. Sometimes functions are disabled to ensure that certain preinstalled apps or settings are not tampered with by the user. This is similar to the concept of ‘Jailbreaking’ on iOS, although Android imposes far fewer restrictions on the user by default and therefore rooting is usually required only for very specific tasks.

Tech jargon explained: S

What is Sailfish OS? This is a mobile-optimised operating system based on the open source MeeGo OS previously owned by Nokia. Based on Linux, it has the advantage of being able to run Android apps, although not via the Google Play store.

What is sandboxing? This is a security technique whereby a program has access only to a predefined set of resources and can’t therefore interfere with other programs or portions of the core OS. This limits the impact of bugs or malicious code, but can make the sharing of data between applications more difficult.

What is SATA Express? SATA Express is a computer interface which can support both SATA and PCI Express devices and is designed as a successor to SATA 3.0 enabling faster data transfers. It allows the use of existing SATA connectors, making it compatible with existing storage devices, but also allows for the use of the much faster PCI Express bus via the latest SATA Express connectors. SATA Express increases the maximum transfer speed from 6Gb/s for SATA 3.0, to about 16Gb/s (but other factors affect it).

What is SATA 6Gbps? Also known as SATA 3, this connection between a motherboard and hard- or solid-state drive offers double the speed of its predecessor. Like USB 3.0, SATA 6Gbps ports tend to be blue.

What is SDHC / SDXC? SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) and SDXC (Secure Digital Extended Capacity) are designations given to larger-capacity SD memory cards and can apply to full-size, mini and micro SD variations. SDHC cards support capacities up to 32GB and come pre-formatted with the FAT32 file system, while SDXC cards cantheoretically support up to 2TB -  although 128GB versions are the largest currently available. These come pre-formatted with the exFAT file system and also enable greater data transfer speeds. You can manually re-format these cards to FAT32 if you need to use them on a system which doesn't support exFAT. It's important to note the distinction between these card formats as not all devices can handle SDHC or SDXC cards. You should therefore check your device for compatibility before purchase.

What is Secure Boot? A standardised method of ensuring that a PC will boot only from trusted firmware and operating systems, Secure Boot prevents malware from installing and hiding underneath the operating system, where it would be difficult to detect or remove.

What is a Skeuomorphism? In the world of computer interface design, skeuomorphism is the imitation of real-world objects and materials, usually with the intention of creating a feeling of instant familiarity. Examples include Windows Sticky Notes which resemble real pieces of coloured sticky paper or Apple’s iBooks store which presents titles as real books on realistic wooden shelves. Apple has recently removed many skeuomorphic items in version 7 of iOS.

What is a smartwatch? A wristwatch with built?in computing features. The first models appeared in the early 1980s and enabled simple data entry and memory features. Modern smartwatches generally integrate with mobile phones to provide app support and notifications.

What is Snapchat (and Facebook Poke)? Snapchat is a multimedia messaging app for iOS and Android devices. It lets you chat via text messages, and send pictures and video clips. The key feature of Snapchat is that content can be set to self-destruct after a pre-determined period of time, at which point they will be deleted from the recipient's device. Facebook Poke is a similar app from the makers of Facebook, currently available only for iOS.

What is S/PDIF? Sony/Philips Digital Interface Format, or 'S/PDIF', is a digital audio connection for consumer-grade audio equipment. It comes in both coaxial and TOSLINK variants, the former using standard copper cables and connectors and the latter using fibre-optic cable with optical transmission.

What is an SSD? A solid-state drive (SSD) is a storage device that appears to your PC as a normal hard disk, but consists of high-speed memory chips that are silent and consume less energy than standard rotating magnetic disks.

What is SteamOS? Valve's SteamOS is a Linux-based operating system designed to power the company's Steam Machine gaming consoles. It's a free-to-use platform that users can install to create their own Steam Machines if they wish.

What is streaming media? This refers to media content, typically audio or video, which is delivered to the user at the time they are consuming it rather than being downloaded beforehand. This offers the advantage of being able to start enjoying the digital content almost immediately without having to wait for a download. It also means no complete copy of the content remains downloaded on the user's device. A disadvantage is that the connection needs to be maintained to the streaming service so you can't watch or listen to such media where no network connection is available.

Tech jargon explained: T

What is Thunderbolt? A computer interface which allows high-speed connections between a variety of peripherals. It uses a mini DisplayPort connector, and combines the capabilities of DisplayPort, PCI Express and DC power over a single cable.

Devices such as monitors and hard drives can be connected via DisplayPort as well as other interfaces such as USB 2.0, USB 3.0 and Ethernet. Current versions allow data throughput of up to 10Gbps per device.

What is a toolbar? A toolbar is a user interface element consisting of a strip of icons, buttons or similar controls. Usually found at the top or the sides of an interface window, they offer a quick and convenient way to access frequently used controls without having to navigate a full menu system. A browser's toolbar is a particular type of toolbar, specific to web browsers, and stays on the screen as you surf the internet. There are, however, many toolbars you may not want and which may be smuggled onto your system as part of the installation of an unrelated program.

What is Trolling (an internet Troll)? Trolling is a slang term for behaviour (generally online) designed to disrupt or de-rail online discussions - often for humorous effect, but sometimes more malicious in intent. Obvious examples include posting a deliberately controversial opinion in an attempt to goad readers into an angry response.

More recent use of the term has expanded to include sometimes criminal levels of offensive posting, designed to cause offense or upset to others. This has resulted in jail sentences for the worst offenders.

Tech jargon explained: U

What is UASP? USB Attached SCSI Protocol is a more efficient technology for the transfer of data over a USB connection. Although USB 3.0 is much faster than USB 2.0, its full performance cannot be unleashed without also upgrading the existing data transfer protocol, known as Bulk-Only Transport (BOT).

Most USB 3.0 devices will operate using BOT unless specific drivers are installed and UAS compatible hardware is used at each end of the connection. Some vendors, such as Asus, have released UASP drivers for Windows 7; full native OS support was introduced with Windows 8.

What is an Ultrabook? A marketing term for a laptop that has been built to a specification set by Intel, in order to ensure a high-quality user experience. The requirements change as new chips are released and, for Ivy Bridge systems, currently include fast startup, a maximum thickness that varies according the screen size, and a battery life of at least 5 hours. See our full piece: What is an Ultrabook?

What is USB 3.0? Version 3.0 is the fastest USB standard to date, and is increasingly becoming available in the latest PCs and laptops. USB 3.0 provides connection speeds around 10 times faster than its predecessor, and offers more power to external devices. USB 3.0 ports tend to be blue, but some are black.

Tech jargon explained: V

What is a Virtual PC? A virtual PC is effectively a software version of a physical PC which is able to run its own operating system and applications. Typically a virtual PC will boot up in its own window and is often used to run a different operating system to the one installed on the host pc on which it runs. You could therefore use it to try out a version of say, Linux, without having to install it on your main system. Microsoft's free Virtual PC software has been available to do this in versions of Windows up to and including Windows 7, but has been superseded in Windows 8 by the faster and more robust Hyper-V system which is incompatible with other virtualisation software.

What is VP9? Developed by Google this video compression standard is available for use royalty-free and is a competing standard to the H.265 format. Both formats are designed to facilitate 4K and higher resolutions.

What is a VPN? A virtual private network, or VPN, allows you to extend a private network across a public network – usually the Internet. To the end user, it will appear as though their device were connected directly to the private network in the remote location. A VPN is often used in business environments where remote workers require secure access to the corporate network. Because the local device appears to be connected to the remote network, VPN can also be used to circumvent local restrictions such as firewalls and the blocking of certain traffic. It can also result in the local device appearing to be situated geographically in the location of the remote network, overcoming geographical restrictions to some sites.

Tech jargon explained: W

What is web scraping? Web scraping is the automated collection of data from websites using an interface designed for human, rather than computer, interaction. It is typically used as a way of extracting unstructured data and importing it into a database for later use. Examples could be reading price or share value information directly from a website or posting queries to an online service and reading the results into an app. Steps are often taken to prevent the scraping of data by machines, so sometimes the most basic approach of copying and pasting by hand as the only solution.

What is a white hat? The term "white hat" is Internet slang for an ethical hacker, or a person who discovers security problems without exploiting them for criminal activity and with a view to improving existing security systems. Facebook offers a "Bug Bounty" reward starting at $500 for the responsible reporting of qualifying security bugs.

What are Windows 8 Charms? Windows 8 brings with it a raft of new interface features, one of which is the use of Charms. Usually hidden from view, the charms slide into view when you swipe a finger inwards from the right hand side of the screen, place your mouse pointer in the top-right corner or type Windows-C on the keyboard. This column of monochromatic icons consists of a selection of context-sensitive icons which provide quick access to functions and settings relevant to what you're currently doing on your PC.

What is the Windows Registry? Windows stores information about configuration and settings in a centralised database called the Registry. It’s used extensively by the operating system, while most applications also store information here. Some low-level configuration tweaks involve manually editing the Registry using the Windows application Regedit.

What is wireless charging? Also known an ‘inductive charging', wireless charging uses magnetism to charge a battery without a cabled connection between the charger and the device. It works by creating a magnetic field in a coil located in the charger, which them induces a similar field in a coil in the device and is converted into power. A newer technique called ‘resonance charging' also uses a pair of coils, but can operate over a distance of a few centimetres rather than requiring physical contact.

What is a wireless extender? A device that can extend the range of your wireless router by receiving and re-transmitting its Wi-Fi signal.

What is a .WMF file?  A Windows metafile, usually saved with the file extension .WMF, is a now less often used image format. It can contain bitmap graphics, but has also been popular for storing the vector graphics required for re-sizable clipart.

What is Wireless N150? Wireless N150 is a subset of the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard. It incorporates most of the improvements introduced by previous versions, but omits the channel-bonding feature. This limits it to a maximum theoretical data rate of 150Mbps, rather than the 300Mbps available to dual-channel equipment.

Tech jargon explained: X

Tech jargon explained: Y

Tech jargon explained: Z

What is a zero-day bug? A security vulnerability for which no fix or patch is available. Developers of the affected program have zero days to produce a patch before malicious exploitation of the bug can occur. The term could also be used to refer to a zero-day virus, which is a piece of malware that currently cannot be removed by security software.

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