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Antique Computer Terminology

Now that smartphones, tablets, and laptops are an accepted way of life, I thought we might take a moment to look back at some of the humorous terms we heard around the time the Internet was taking hold. Thanks go to Ron Rothenberg for posting this glossary on our online forum August 2, 1995 shortly before the birth of RealTalk.

“If you’re serious about using computers, then it’s useful to know what some of the terminology means. Like:

ALPHA – Software undergoes alpha testing as a first step in getting user feedback. “Alpha” is Latin for “doesn’t work.”

ASCII CHARACTERS – Non-alphabetic characters such as “<&^$%@~?”. These are used to denote expletives after a hard drive crash.

BETA – Software undergoes beta testing shortly before it is released. “Beta” is Latin for “still doesn’t work.”

CPU – Central Propulsion Unit. The CPU is the computer’s engine. It consists of a hard drive, an interface card and tiny spinning wheel that is powered by a running rodent – a gerbil if the machine is a 286 and a ferret if it’s a 386 or higher.

DRIVER – The best club to hit the computer with first, then use a #9 iron.

HARDWARE – Collective term for any computer-related object that can be kicked or battered.

MEGAHERTZ – What your head feels like after reading a computer manual.

MONITOR – The device where the computer displays error messages.

PRINTER – A joke in poor taste. A printer consists of three main parts: the case, the jammed paper tray, and the blinking red lights.

REFERENCE MANUAL – Object used to raise the monitor to eye level; also used to compensate for that short table leg.

UNSTABLE – What the user becomes after the fifth “Drive B: not ready. Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail?” message.

USER-FRIENDLY – Of or pertaining to any feature, device or concept that makes perfect sense to a professional programmer.

USERS – Collective term for those who stare vacantly at a monitor. Users are divided into three types: novice, intermediate, and expert.

NOVICE USERS – People who are afraid that simply pressing a key might break their computer.

INTERMEDIATE USERS – People who don’t know how to fix their computer after they’ve just pressed a key that broke it.

EXPERT USERS – People who break other people’s computers.

Ron was famous for ending his posts with a tag, such as:

  • Bugs are Sons of Glitches!
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