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E-commerce & IT Jargon Buster

Making things clearer Running a small business often means having to turn your hand to many different specialist subjects. Each of them use terms and abbreviations that can be baffling to a newcomer. Our Jargon Busters try to provide you with plain English explanations for some of the most common ones.
This jargon buster is regularly added to and updated, but it can never be completely comprehensive. If the particular word or phrase you are puzzled by cannot be found here, try www.whatis.com for one of the web's most all-embracing glossaries.


Asyncronous digital subscriber line. Simply put different speeds for in and out of information. DSL has the same speed in and out. ADSL has advantages as when you are surfing (browsing) the Internet it is more important to get information downloaded (in) than upload information (out). A web page for example has contains 10.000 characters which need to flow to your computer but to request it you only need to send about 100 characters. This allows the providers to share bandwidth more economical.

Analogue -

The technology used by the original cellphones. Like traditional radio broadcasts, phone conversations and information are transmitted in the form of a continually varying current or radio wave. The transfer of information can be slow, so newer digital technology has largely taken its place. Analogue is still useful if you want to use mobile phones in remote areas poorly covered by digital networks.

Audio conferencing -

A bureau service provided by telephone service providers (such as BT) can allow you to have a telephone conference call involving several people in different locations.

Back-up -

The essential job of saving and storing data on a tape or other storage device, such as a CD-ROM, outside your computer hard disk or computer network.

Bandwidth -

The volume of data a line or channel can carry every second. Digital bandwidth is measured in bps (bits per second). BPS - Bits per second. The rate at which one bit can be carried, normally expressed in thousands, Kbps, or millions, Mbps.

Broadband -

A communication system operating at a bandwidth between .5 -2Mbps. (ADSL, DSL etc.)

Browser -

Software, such as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft's Internet Explorer, that lets you navigate around the web. Most browsers are provided free of charge.

Cabling -

Cables used to link computers together so they form a network and can communicate with each other.


One of the most popular formats for storing large amounts of electronic information. A CD-ROM can store 400 times as much information as a floppy, equivalent to 300,000 pages of text or one hour of video and audio footage.

Client/server -

A type of network that has a powerful main computer (the server or file server) and a string of computers linked to it (clients).

Configuration -

The way a computer or piece of software is connected or set up to operate in a particular way.

Coverage -

The land area where mobile phone services are available.


Digital Audio Tape (DAT) is a compact, high capacity form of data storage, suitable for archiving or backing up large amounts of data.

Database -

A database collects information into an electronic file, for example a list of customer addresses and associated orders. Each item is usually called a 'record' and the items can be sorted and accessed in many different ways. Data compression - A process that reduces the amount of data needed to store or send a video or audio signal.

Data Storage -

Any type of information - words, figures, still or moving images, sound or music - can be coded into a single electronic form: digital. Once in digital format, all these types of material can be shared, copied, processed, indexed and transmitted from computer to computer, quickly and flexibly. Part of the answer in: Marketing - electronic catalogues, brochures Sales - presentations, information kiosks Operations - electronic storage Managing information - archiving Customer service - information provision Training - interactive learning

Drive -

The device in a computer that reads data from a disk.

Desktop publishing -

Desktop publishing (DTP) software was originally developed to allow computer users to create professional-looking newsletters, magazines and brochures, complete with pictures, diagrams and colour. Now that word-processing software can do most of these things, DTP software has become more of a tool for professional designers, though small companies often use DTP for producing newsletters and reports.

Document management systems -

Document management is the control of electronic documents, such as images, spreadsheets and word processed files. A document management system is created by combining several types of software to control document identification, storage, retrieval, tracking, version control, workflow management and presentation. Good systems can create, use and control documents across different computers, software packages and company divisions.

Domain name -

The domain name is the part of an e-mail or website address that details the name of an organisation or company, what type of organisation it is, and often which country the organisation is from.


See Desktop publishing.


DVD (digital versatile disk) is a high density format for playing full motion video. It provides vast data storage capacity.

E-commerce -

Ill-defined popular term for almost any sort of business, or part of a business, that takes advantage of the new opportunities opened up by the technologies of the World Wide Web. E-commerce can be business-to-business (B2B), business-to-consumer (B2C), consumer-to-consumer (C2C, as in the case of auction sites, such as eBay and QXL) and even, in rare instances, consumer-to-business (C2B, as at Priceline.com, where consumers say how much they want to pay for an air ticket and wait for an airline to take up their offer).


Electronic data interchange. EDI is the exchange of business documents, like orders and invoices, between computers run by trading partners. It is fast, saves on paperwork, gives greater control over the way you operate and develops closer trading partnerships. It depends on proprietary systems which are not always compatible with each other, and it can be expensive to implement.


This is an international standard for EDI, allowing information to be successfully transferred between trading partners.

E-mail -

An e-mail, and any computer file attached to it, can be sent over the phone lines in minutes. Distance is no object. E-mail is cheap, quick, convenient and flexible. You can send an e-mail to a colleague, if your company's computers are networked, or to customers around the world, via the Internet.

Encryption -

A method of scrambling sensitive messages and data so that they cannot be read without a password.

Expansion port -

A slot inside a computer into which additional hardware, such as a network card or an internal modem, can be plugged.

Ethernet -

A popular standard for linking computers into a network. Thin Ethernet networks use the same coaxial cable that is used to connect a TV to an aerial.

Fax -

The fax is still a useful business tool. Computer-based faxes save time and paper by sending faxes (and receiving them) directly to your computer. You can send numerous faxes at the press of a button and programme the fax to send them at off-peak hours. File server - Also known as a server, this is a dedicated machine that runs the network operating system that services all the other computers in a network (the 'clients'). All the working files of a company are stored centrally on this server.


FTP (file transfer protocol) is a method of transferring files from one computer to another. It is the standard way of uploading web pages to a server.

Group calendaring -

A shared electronic diary, where everyone records meetings, appointments, leave and things to do. Group calendars are particularly useful in planning meetings between busy people, group working and project teams. They can also be used to log progress on a project.

Groupware -

Software programs to support groups of people who work together, but not necessarily in the same place. Examples include Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise. Groupware ties together common activities, such as e-mail and group calendaring and helps people share information more effectively.


GSM (global system for mobile communications) is a digital network technology used by mobile phone network operators. Hard disk - Situated inside the computer, the hard disk stores permanent data.

Home page -

The first page you see when you connect to a website. Getting your home page right is one of the first essentials for e-commerce.


HTML (hypertext mark-up language) is the computer language web pages are written in. You do not need to learn to write HTML code, as there are inexpensive software packages that will do the coding for you, behind the scenes. Hyperlink - A connection linking different pieces of information on the web. Hyperlinks (or 'hot links') appear as hot spots on a web page, in the form of highlighted words or images. By clicking on the hyperlink, the reader can instantly jump to another part of your site or to a completely different website.

Internet -

The Internet is a global network of computers with roughly 200 million users, all over the world. Anyone can join this network. From your computer you can send and receive information anywhere in the world - all at the cost of a local phone call, 24 hours a day. As people gradually learn more and more about how to use this technology, the Internet is transforming whole industries and creating new ones from scratch. Intranet - An intranet is a 'private Internet', not necessarily linked to the Internet itself, that can provide a powerful means of communication within a company or a group of trading partners. If it is linked to the larger Internet, it will be via secure 'firewalls' to protect your private information. An intranet can help a business which has several different kinds of computer - Windows or DOS PCs, Macintosh computers, Unix workstations - which need to talk to one another. Internet standards are designed to allow different computers and network types to communicate, so an intranet can remove many potential technical headaches.


ISDN (integrated services digital network) is a fast phone line that significantly increases the rate at which you can transmit and receive information, for example when connect to the Internet. If you have large files of data to transmit (such as video or high resolution photography) or you want to video and data conference regularly, you may want an ISDN line.


An ISP (Internet service provider) is a company that provides third party access to the Internet. All ISPs offer some standard basic services, such as 24-hour Internet access, a unique e-mail address for your company, storage space for your own website and basic software programs for browsing the Internet. Java - Java is a special programming language used in creating more sophisticated and enhanced Web pages - for example, with animated graphics or built in spreadsheets.


A method of reducing stock holdings by having the necessary amount of materials arriving 'just-in-time' for production.


Local Area Network. A way of linking computers in one building together so that they can share files, software, hard disks and peripherals such as a printer or scanner.

Mobile communications -

Mobile communications let you operate without the need for a fixed phone line, giving your business greater operational flexibility, faster customer responsiveness and savings in staff time. Connecting your phone to a laptop computer lets you send, receive and access business information wherever you are, creating a 'virtual office'.

Modem -

Modulator/Demodulator. A device that enables computer signals to travel over phone lines. Modems come in different speeds. If you intend to use the Internet, you should usually go for a fast 56 Kbps V90 standard modem.

Multimedia -

Applications combining the use of more than one media, e.g. data, voice and video.

Net -

The Net is a common term for the Internet.

Networking -

A network is nothing more than two or more computers joined together by a cable and software. They can then share information, like a customer database, and peripherals, like printers and CD-ROM writers. They can share software programs, such as work processing packages, and communicate using e-mail.

Network card -

A wafer-shaped piece of hardware that enables a computer to be linked up, via cabling, to other machines in the network.

Palmtop -

A palmtop (or PDA, personal digital assistant) is basically a computer in the form of an electronic organiser, like the Psion Organiser or the Apple Newton. They are becoming increasingly powerful and can be used as an alternative to laptops, though their keyboards and displays are much smaller.

PC - Personal computer.


PCN (personal communications network) is a digital network technology operated by some of the mobile phone operators. PDA - See palmtop.


It is important, when you dial to log on to the Internet, that you do so though a local Point-of-Presence (POP). This means that all your connections are charged as local rate calls. If you had to call long-distance, your phone bill would soon mount up.

Plug and play -

A Windows option that allows multimedia peripherals, such as a CD-ROM drive, to be automatically recognised and set up by the operating system.

Peer-to-peer -

One of the simplest network arrangements, involving linking a series of computers together without the use of a server.

Peripheral - A peripheral is anything that is not part of the main computer unit, such as the keyboard, monitor or printer.

Proprietary -

A proprietary operating system is one that can only be used on one brand of computer and uses software especially written for that system. Protocol - The set of rules governing the format and control of messages being sent around a network.


Random Access Memory - is the main memory of a computer. Upgrading the available RAM will often dramatcically improve a PC's performance.

ROM -ROM is read-only memory.

Scanner -

A scanner is a device that captures text or images from a document for storage in a computer system. Scanners can be used to grab photographs for desktop publishing or to store copies of incoming letters, invoices and so on. Once you have digital copies of documents, you can cut the amount of paper you need to store, access their contents from anywhere on your network and, with the right software, search for information faster and more accurately.


Pronounced 'scizzy', a SCSI (small computer system interface) port is a specification for connecting hard disks, CD-ROMs, printers and other devices to a computer.

Search engines -

Search engine software (on sites such as Yahoo!, Alltheweb, Alta Vista or Lycos) helps you find what you are looking for on the World Wide Web. When you type in a word or phrase to describe what you are looking for, the search engine matches this against its index, to offer a list of likely matches. Getting an e-commerce site listed on the major search engines is vital for attracting visitors and business. Shareware - Shareware software is distributed free, usually via the Internet. You can use it for evaluation purposes, but are trusted to send money to the authors if you want to use it regularly. Sometimes sending a payment brings a more powerful version of the software, together with access to technical support and future upgrades. For small software firms, shareware can provide access to markets without the need to invest heavily in marketing and distribution.

Software -

Software is the program, or set of instructions, that tells a computer what to do. There are two basic types of software. The 'operating system' controls the basic workings of a computer, while 'application software' allows you to do particular jobs. There are also other types of software - for example, network software, which enables a group of computers to communicate with one another, and language software, which helps programmers to write other software.

Sound card - A device that allows a computer to play sophisticated audio files.

Spreadsheet -

Software that allows you to store, compare and analyse large amounts of numerical data. Spreadsheets are commonly used for budgets, forecasting and accounts. One distinctive feature of a spreadsheet is its ability to project possibilities and answer 'what-if?' questions.

Surfing -

Slang term for the process of moving around the web. Now out of favour, because of its implications of directionless wandering. Teleworking - Teleworking is what happens when people use technology such as video and data conferencing to work with each other at a distance.

Topology -

A network's topology is a description of the kind of layout that has been used to cable the computers together. Twisted pair - Twisted pair is a networking cabling system that uses the same kind of cabling as ordinary phone wires.


A UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) is a system which allows computers to keep running for a limited time during a power failure. It gives you the chance to save data before your system crashes.


A URL (uniform resource locator) is the address of a file accessible on the Internet, such as a website address.


Companies using EDI (electronic data interchange) usually exchange transactions through a third party VAN (value added network). These VANs enable their customers to send electronic messages to any number of trading partners, whenever they choose.

Video and data conferencing -

Video and data conferencing lets you see and speak to a customer anywhere in the world, work on documents together, present your products or discuss new ideas. It can save fares and travel time, improve customer relationships, allow quicker decision making and cut time to market. Voicemail - Voicemail is effectively a personal answering machine, which allows callers to leave you messages that can then be stored, copied or forwarded.


Wide Area Network. WANs offer ways of linking computers at different office sites, perhaps hundreds of miles apart, so that they can share information and specialised peripherals.

World Wide Web -

The web gives you user-friendly access to millions of pages of business information and thousands of sources of supply you never knew about before. It also offers the opportunity to access customers and markets you could never have hoped to reach in the past. Having your own website lets you promote and sell your products and services to the world. Customers can potentially look through your catalogue, place orders and pay by credit card - all on-line, 24 hours a day. The web can also provide cheap, effective ways to beef up your after-sales service and to work more closely with all your trading partners.

Web - The web is the common shorthand term for the World Wide Web.

Web page -

A web page is a 'page' of information - though it can be almost any length - made available via the Internet. Website - A website is an organised and structured collection of web pages. A clear, interesting, well-planned website is the cornerstone of any e-commerce operation.

We hope this has helped but please do not heasitate to contact us for any question you may have.

MBGJ last checked 11/2005


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