Each month we explain technology terms in plain English. Here's our updated A-Z of technology jargon explained. Let us know in the comments below any confusing words or acronyms you want us to explain.
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 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.
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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 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.
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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 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.
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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 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 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.
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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.
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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 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.
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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 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.
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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 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.
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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 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.
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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 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.
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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? The fourth-generation mobile communication standard is known as 4G. Currently supported in the UK by service provider EE, it allows for much faster data-transfer speeds, in excess of many home-broadband services. You'll need a compatible phone or 4G mobile hotspot to take advantage. See our feature: What is 4G? A complete guide to 4.
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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 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 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.
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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.
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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 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.
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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.
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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.)
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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.
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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 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 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 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 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 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.
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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 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.
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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.
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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 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.
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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.
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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.