General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionTechnology & Practice Guide



ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). The predominant character set encoding of present day computers. The modern version uses seven bits for each character, whereas most earlier codes (including an early version of ASCII) used fewer. The change to seven bits allows the inclusion of lowercase letters—but does not provide for accented letters or any other letterforms not used in English.

BBS (Bulletin Board Service). A computer with a modem on standby to allow users to log in from remote locations, exchange messages, and upload or download programs. Many of them are run by hobbyists and can be accessed free of charge. Some of the larger BBSs have 200 telephone lines and several gigabytes of storage. Many BBSs call other BBSs automatically, electronically propagating newly arrived materials across the entire United States. This network of BBSs provides a free means for the broadcasting of programs and data.

Browser. A program that allows you to read hypertext.

Bug fix release. A software program release that introduces no new features, but merely aims to fix bugs in previous releases of the program.

Ciphertext. Text that has been encrypted by an encryption system.

Client-Server. A common form of distributed system in which software is divided between server tasks and client tasks. A client sends requests to a server, according to some protocol, asking for information or action, and the server responds. This is analogous to a customer (client) who sends an order (request) on an order form to a supplier (server) who dispatches the goods and an invoice (response). The order form and invoice are part of the “protocol” used to communicate. There may be either one centralized server or several distributed ones. This model allows clients and servers to be placed independently on nodes in a network, possibly on different hardware and operating systems appropriate to their function.

Clipboard. A temporary memory area used to transfer information within a document being edited or between documents or between programs. The fundamental operations are “cut,” which moves data from a document to the clipboard, “copy,” which copies it to the clipboard, and “paste,” which inserts the clipboard contents into the document in place of the current selection.

Cryptography. The practice and study of encryption and decryption—encoding data so that it can only be decoded by specific individuals. A system for encrypting and decrypting data is a cryptosystem. These usually involve an algorithm for combining the original data or plaintext with one or more “keys,” which are numbers or strings of characters known only to the sender and recipient. The security of a cryptosystem usually depends on the secrecy of the keys rather than with the supposed secrecy of algorithm. A strong cryptosystem has a large range of possible keys, which enables it to resist all previously known methods for breaking codes.

Decryption. Any procedure used in cryptography to convert ciphertext (encrypted data) into plaintext.

Directory. An index of files stored on a disk, the listing of which can be displayed on a screen or printed by invoking a computer command. A directory occurring within another directory is called a subdirectory.

Emoticon. A sequence of symbols used to indicate an emotional state in e-mail. Although originally intended as jokes, emoticons are virtually required under certain circumstances in high-volume, text-only communications, where the lack of verbal and visual cues can otherwise cause what were intended to be humorous, sarcastic, or ironic comments to be misinterpreted, resulting in arguments and flame wars. The smiley face :-) is the most common.

Filename extension. The portion of a filename, following the final point, which indicates the kind of data stored in the file. Many operating systems use filename extensions. They are usually from one to three letters in length. Examples are “wpd” and “txt.”

Freeware. Software, often written by enthusiasts, that is distributed at no charge by users’ groups or via electronic mail, local bulletin boards, Usenet, or other electronic media.

Hypertext. Words and/or phrases in the body of a document (generally identified by underscored colored text) that link to other documents when selected.

Intranet. A network within an organization that provides services similar to those provided by the Internet. An Intranet is not necessarily connected to the Internet. A company would set up an Intranet for distribution of information within the company.

Mhz (Megahertz). One million cycles per second. It is based on the hertz, a unit of frequency that equals one cycle per second. A central processor’s speed is defined by the number of cycles per second at which it runs. Most instructions require more than one clock cycle to complete. A CPU must be used at its rated clock cycle. Sometimes a manufacturer may run a CPU at a higher speed than it is rated for. This is not an accepted practice and may cause serious problems. Also, different parts of the machine run at different speeds. For example, the CPU and mainboard may run at 12, 25, or 33 MHz, but the AT bus only runs at 8 MHz, a VESA local bus at 33 MHz, and IDE hard disk at 10 MHz.

Topology. A network topology shows the hosts and the links comprising the network. A network layer must stay abreast of the current network topology to be able to route packets to their final

UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). A battery powered power supply that is guaranteed to provide working voltage to a computer regardless of interruptions in the incoming electrical power. The rating of the UPS determines the length of time that it will provide power. Modern UPSs connect to the computer’s serial port and provide information such as battery time remaining, which allows the computer to shut down gracefully before completely losing power. n

Source: Compiled from various sources, including: The Dictionary of Computer Terminology, Computers and Computer Law Committee, ABA Young Lawyers Division; and the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing (

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