The following definitions have been adapted from the Sharpened.net website. For a complete list of easy-to-understand definitions, please click here to visit their site.

Webopedia.net is also a good source for definitions of computer and internet terms - especially acronyms. Click here to visit their site.

To download a more detailed technical glossary for the Saturna Net Co-op system click here

:: Bandwidth

Bandwidth refers to how much data you can send through a network or modem connection. It is usually measured in bits per second, or "bps." You can think of bandwidth as a highway with cars travelling on it. The highway is the network connection and the cars are the data. The wider the highway, the more cars can travel on it at one time and therefore, more cars can get to their destinations faster. The same principle applies to computer data -- the more bandwidth, the more information that can be transferred within a given amount of time.

:: Bluetooth

This wireless technology enables communication between Bluetooth-compatible devices. It is used for short-range connections between desktop and laptop computers, PDAs (like the Palm Pilot or Handspring Visor), digital cameras, scanners, cellular phones, and printers.

Because the technology is based on radio waves, there can be objects or even walls placed between the communicating devices and the connection won't be disrupted. Also, Bluetooth uses a standard 2.4 GHz frequency so that all Bluetooth-enabled devices will be compatible with each other. The only drawback of Bluetooth is that, because of its high frequency, its range is limited to 30 feet. While this is easily enough for transferring data within the same room, if you are walking in your back yard and want to transfer the address book from your cell phone to your computer in your basement, you might be out of luck. However, the short range can be seen as a positive aspect as well, since it adds to the security of Bluetooth communication.

:: Broadband

Broadband refers to high-speed data transmission in which a wide band of frequencies is available to transmit information/data. Because a wide band of frequencies is available, information can be multiplexed and sent on many different frequencies or channels within the band concurrently, allowing more information to be transmitted in a given amount of time (much as more lanes on a highway allow more cars to travel on it at the same time).

The common types of Internet broadband connections are cable modems (which use the same connection as cable TV), DSL modems (which use your existing phone line) and Wireless broadband (which does not require a phone line or cable connection as all traffic is transported with wireless technology utilizing high capacity transceivers and antennas.).

:: Browser

You are probably using a browser to read this right now. A Web browser, often just called a "browser," is the program people use to access the World Wide Web. It interprets HTML code including text, images, hypertext links, Javascript, and Java applets. After rendering the HTML code, the browser displays a nicely formatted page. Some common browsers are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, and Apple Safari.

:: Client

In the human world, businesses have clients. In the computer world, servers have clients. The "client-server" architecture is common in both local and wide area networks. For example, if an office has a server that stores the company's database on it, the other computers in the office that can access the database are "clients" of the server.

On a larger scale, when you access your email from a mail server on the Internet, your computer acts as the client that connects to the mail server. The term "client software" is used to refer to the software that acts as the interface between the client computer and the server. For example, if you use Microsoft Outlook to check your email, Outlook is your "email client software" that allows you to send and receive messages from the server.

:: Cookie

A cookie is data sent to your computer by a Web server that records your actions on a certain Web site. It's a lot like a preference file for a typical computer program. When you visit the site after being sent the cookie, the site will load certain pages according to the information stored in the cookie. For example, some sites can remember information like your user name and password, so you don't have to re-enter it each time you visit the site. Cookies are what allow you to have personalized web sites like "My Excite" or "My Yahoo," where you can customize what is displayed on the page. While cookies have many benefits, some people don't like to have their information recorded by Web sites that they visit. For this reason, most Web browsers have an option to accept or deny cookies.

:: Data Transfer Rate

The data transfer rate is commonly used to measure how fast data is transferred from one location to another. For example, a hard drive may have a maximum data transfer rate of 480 Mbps, while an ISP may offer an Internet connection with a maximum data transfer rate of 1.5 to 10. Mbps. Data transfer rates are typically measured in bits per second (bps) as opposed to bytes per second, which can be understandably confusing. Because there are eight bits in a byte, a sustained data transfer rate of 80 Mbps is only transferring 10MB per second.

:: DHCP

Stands for "Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol." A network server uses this protocol to dynamically assign IP addresses to networked computers. The DHCP server waits for a computer to connect to it, then assigns it an IP address from a master list stored on the server. DHCP helps in setting up large networks, since IP addresses don't have to be manually assigned to each computer on the network. Because of the slick automation involved with DHCP, it is the most commonly used networking protocol.

:: DNS

Stands for "Domain Name System." The primary purpose of DNS is to keep Web surfers sane. Without DNS, we would have to remember the IP address of every site we wanted to visit, instead of just the domain name. Can you imagine having to remember "17.254.3.183" instead of just "apple.com"? The reason the Domain Name System is used is because Web sites are acutally located by their IP addresses. For example, when you type in "http://www.adobe.com," the computer doesn't immediately know that it should look for Adobe's Web site. Instead, it sends a request to the nearest DNS server, which finds the correct IP address for "adobe.com." Your computer then attempts to connect to the server with that IP number.

:: Domain Name

This is the name that identifies a Web site. For example, "microsoft.com" is the domain name of Microsoft's Web site. A single Web server can serve Web sites for multiple domain names, but a single domain name can point to only one machine. For example, Apple Computer has Web sites at www.apple.com, www.info.apple.com, and store.apple.com. Each of these sites could be served on different machines.

:: Encryption

Encryption is the coding or scrambling of information so that it can only be decoded and read by someone who has the correct decoding key. Encryption is used in secure Web sites as well as other mediums of data transfer. If a third party were to intercept the information you sent via an encrypted connection, they would not be able to read it.

:: Firewall

A computer firewall is used to protect a networked server or client machine from damage by unauthorized users. The firewall can be either hardware or software-based. A router is a good example of a hardware device that often has a built-in firewall. Software programs that monitor and restrict external access to a computer can also serve as firewalls. A network firewall allows only certain messages from the Internet to flow in and out of the network.

:: Firmware

Firmware is a software program or set of instructions programmed on a hardware device. It provides the necessary instructions for how the device communicates with the other computer hardware. But how can software be programmed onto hardware? Good question. Firmware is typically stored in the flash ROM of a hardware device. While ROM is "read-only memory," flash ROM can be erased and rewritten because it is actually a type of flash memory. Firmware can be thought of as "semi-permanent" since it remains the same unless it is updated by a firmware updater. You may need to update the firmware of certain devices, such as hard drives and video cards in order for them to work with a new operating system. CD and DVD drive manufacturers often make firmware updates available that allow the drives to read faster media. Sometimes manufacturers release firmware updates that simply make their devices work more efficiently. You can usually find firmware updates by going to the "Support" or "Downloads" area of a manufacturer's website. Keeping your firmware up-to-date is often not necessary, but it is still a good idea. Just make sure that once you start a firmware updater, you let the update finish, because most devices will not function if their firmware is not recognized.

:: FTP

Stands for "File Transfer Protocol." It is a common method of transferring files via the Internet from one computer to another. Some common FTP programs are "Fetch" for the Mac, and "WS_FTP" for Windows. However, you can also use a Web browser like Netscape or Internet Explorer to access FTP servers. To do this, you need to type the URL of the server into the location field of the browser. For example: "ftp://ftp.servername.com/" will give you a listing of all the directories of the FTP server, "ftp://ftp.servername.com/directory/" will give you a listing of all the files available in that directory, and "ftp://ftp.servername.com/directory/filename" will download the actual file to your computer. Many FTP servers are "anonymous FTP" servers which means you can log in with the user name "anonymous" and your email address as the password. Other FTP servers require a specific login in order to access the files.

:: Host

This is a computer that acts as a server for other computers on a network. It can be a Web server, an email server, an FTP server, etc. The main server for our system is in Lyall Harbour. It assigns internet addresses and authenticates your connection when you open a web browser. Additional examples are Hostgator, a company in Huston, Texas, which hosts this site and SaturnaNet's email and BareMetal, a company in Victoria, hosts SaturnaCAN's email.

:: Hub

This is a hardware device that is used to network multiple computers together. It is a central connection for all the computers in a network, which is usually Ethernet-based. Information sent to the hub can flow to any other computer on the network. If you need to connect more than two computers together, a hub will allow you to do so.

:: http(s)

Stands for "HyperText Transfer Protocol." This is the protocol used to transfer data over the World Wide Web. That's why all Web site addresses begin with "http://". Whenever you type a URL into your browser and hit Enter, your computer sends an HTTP request to the appropriate Web server. The Web server, which is designed to handle HTTP requests, then sends to you the requested HTML page.

:: Hyperlink

A hyperlink is a word, phrase, or image that you can click on to jump to a new document or a new section within the current document. Hyperlinks are found in nearly all Web pages, allowing users to click their way from page to page. Text hyperlinks are often blue and underlined, but don't have to be. When you move the cursor over a hyperlink, whether it is text or an image, the arrow should change to a small hand pointing at the link. When you click it, a new page or place in the current page will open. Hyperlinks, often referred to as just "links," are common in Web pages, but can be found in other hypertext documents. These include certain encyclopedias, glossaries, dictionaries, and other references that use hyperlinks. The links act the same way as they do on the Web, allowing the user to jump from page to page. Basically, hyperlinks allow people to browse information at hyperspeed.

:: IMAP

Stands for "Internet Message Access Protocol" and is pronounced "eye-map." It is a method of accessing e-mail messages on a server without having to download them to your local hard drive. This is the main difference between IMAP and another popular e-mail protocol called "POP3." POP3 requires users to download messages to their hard drive before reading them. The advantage of using an IMAP mail server is that users can check their mail from multiple computers and always see the same messages. This is because the messages stay on the server until the user chooses to download them to his or her local drive. Most webmail systems are IMAP based, which allows people to access to both their sent and received messages no matter what computer they use to check their mail. Most e-mail client programs such as Microsoft Outlook and Mac OS X Mail allow you to specify what kind of protocol your mail server uses. If you use your ISP's mail service, you should check with them to find out if their mail server uses IMAP or POP3 mail. If you enter the wrong protocol setting, your e-mail program will not be able to send or receive mail.

:: ISP

Stands for "Internet Service Provider." In order to connect to the Internet, you need an ISP. It is the company that you pay a monthly fee to in order to use the Internet. If you use a dial-up modem to connect to your ISP, a point-to-point protocol (PPP) connection is established with another modem on the ISP's end. That modem connects to one of the ISP's routers, which routes you to the Internet "backbone." From there, you can access information from anywhere around the world. DSL, cable and wireless broadband connections work the same way, except after you connect the first time, you are always connected.

:: IP Address

Also known as an "IP number" or simply an "IP," this is a code made up of numbers separated by three dots that identifies a particular computer on the Internet. Every computer, whether it be a Web server or the computer you're using right now, requires an IP address to connect to the Internet. IP addresses consist of four sets of numbers from 0 to 255, separated by three dots. For example "66.72.98.236" or "216.239.115.148". Your Internet Service Provider (ISP), will assign you either a static IP address (which is always the same) or a dynamic IP address, (which changes everytime you log on). ISPs typically assign dial-up users a dynamic IP address each time they sign on because it reduces the number of IP addresses they must register. However, if you connect to the Internet through a network or broadband connection, it is more likely that you have a static IP address. ISPs and organizations usually apply to the InterNIC for a range of IP addresses so that all their clients have similar addresses. There are three classes of IP address sets that can be registered: Class C, which consists of 255 IP addresses, class B, which contains 65,000 IP addresses, and class A, which includes hundreds of thousands of IP addresses. Because there are so many computers now connected to the Internet, the InterNIC is actually running out of IP addresses. Therefore, Class A and Class B address blocks are very hard, if not impossible, to get. Most large companies have to register multiple Class C addresses instead. To resolve this problem, the Internet Engineering Task Force, which created the original IP address standard, is working on a new protocol called "IP Next Generation" or "IPng."

:: Kbps (Kilobits Per Second)

Stands for "Kilobits Per Second." Don't confuse this with Kilobytes per second (which is 8 times more data per second). This term is commonly used in describing data transfer rates. For example, two common modem speeds are 33.6 Kbps and 56 Kbps.

:: LAN (Local Area Network)

Stands for "Local Area Network," and is pronounced like "land" without the "d". A LAN is a computer network limited to a small area such as an office building, university, or even a residential home. Most mid to large-sized businesses today use LANs, which makes it easy for employees to share information. Currently, the most common type of LANs are Ethernet-based and use software from Novell or Oracle. However, with the emergence of wireless networking, wireless LANs have become a popular alternative.

:: MAC Address

Stands for "Media Access Control Address," and no, it is not related Apple Macintosh computers. A MAC address is a hardware identification number that uniquely identifies each device on a network. The MAC address is manufactured into every network card, such as an Ethernet card or Wi-Fi card, and therefore cannot be changed. Because there are millions of networkable devices in existence, and each device needs to have a unique MAC address, there must be a very wide range of possible addresses. For this reason, MAC addresses are made up of six two-digit hexadecimal numbers, separated by colons. For example, an Ethernet card may have a MAC address of 00:0d:83:b1:c0:8e. Fortunately, you do not need to know this address, since it is automatically recognized by most networks.

:: Mbps (Megabits Per Second)

Stands for "Megabits Per Second." One megabit is equal to one million bits or 1,000 kilobits. While "megabit" sounds similar to "megabyte," a megabit is roughly one eighth the size of a megabyte (since there are eight bits in a byte). Mbps is used to measure data transfer speeds of high bandwidth connections, such as Ethernet and cable modems. Saturna Network Co-op's broadband speed is approximately 1.5 Mbps.

:: Name Server

A name server translates domain names into IP addresses. This makes it possible for a user to access a website by typing in the domain name instead of the website's actual IP address. For example, when you type in "www.microsoft.com," the request gets sent to Microsoft's name server which returns the IP address of the Microsoft website. Each domain name must have at least two name servers listed when the domain is registered. These name servers are commonly named ns1.servername.com and ns2.servername.com, where "servername" is the name of the server. The first server listed is the primary server, while the second is used as a backup server if the first server is not responding. Name servers are a fundamental part of the Domain Name System(DNS). They allow websites to use domain names instead of IP addresses, which would be much harder to remember. In order to find out what a certain domain name's name servers are, you can use a WHOIS lookup tool.

:: Network

When you have two or more computers connected to each other, you have a network. The purpose of a network is to enable the sharing of files and information between mulitple systems. The Internet could be described as a global network of networks. Computer networks can be connected through cables, such as Ethernet cables or phone lines, or wirelessly, using wireless networking cards that send and receive data through the air.

:: P2P (Peer-to-Peer)

Stands for "Peer to Peer." In a P2P network, the "peers" are computer systems which are connected to each other via the Internet. Files can be shared directly between systems on the network without the need of a central server. In other words, each computer on a P2P network becomes a file server as well as a client. The only requirements for a computer to join a peer-to-peer network are an Internet connection and P2P software. Common P2P software programs include Kazaa, Limewire, BearShare, Morpheus, and Acquisition. These programs connect to a P2P network, such as "Gnutella," which allows the computer to access thousands of other systems on the network. Once connected to the network, P2P software allows you to search for files on other people's computers. Meanwhile, other users on the network can search for files on your computer, but typically only within a single folder that you have designated to share.

:: Packet

This is a small amount of computer data sent over a network. Any time you receive data from the Internet, it comes to your computer in the form of many little packets. Each packet contains the address of its origin and destination, and information that connects it to the related packets being sent. The process of sending and receiving packets is known as "packet-switching." Packets from many different locations can be sent on the same lines and be sorted and directed to different routes by various computers along the way. It works a lot like the post office, except billions of packets are transferred each day, and most packets take less than a few seconds to reach their destination.

:: PDA

Stands for "Personal Digital Assistant." These are the little electronic devices you see people jotting stuff down on in public. The first PDA, called the Newton, was created by Apple in 1993. Since then, numerous other companies have jumped on the bandwagon and have added many new designs and options to the PDA market. The Palm Pilot, Handspring Visor, HP Jordana, Compaq Aero, Sharp Mobilon, and Sony Clié are all common PDAs. Ironically, Apple's Newton was discontinued when the company was having financial difficulties in 1998. Today's PDAs allow you to organize your schedule, take notes, do math calculations, play games, write memos, and even surf the Internet and send e-mail.

:: PDF

Stands for "Portable Document Format." PDF is a multi-platform file format developed by Adobe Systems. A PDF file captures document text, fonts, images, and even formatting of documents from a variety of applications. You can email a PDF document to your friend and it will look the same way on his screen as it looks on yours, even if he has a Mac and you have a PC. Since PDFs contain color-accurate information, they should also print the same way they look on your screen. To view a PDF file, you need Adobe Reader, a free application program distributed by Adobe Systems. Adobe also makes an Acrobat Plug-in for Web browsers that enables PDF files to be viewed inside a browser window.

:: Ping

A ping is a test to see if a system on the Internet is working. "Pinging" a server tests and records the response time of the server. Pinging multiple computers can be helpful in finding Internet bottlenecks, so that data transfer paths can be rerouted a more efficient way. A good way to make sure you do not get disconnected from your dial-up ISP for being idle is to send a ping every 5 minutes or so. Ping is a command in most operating systems including Windows, Mac, and Linux.

:: POE

Stands for "Power Over Ethernet." Uses unused conductors in an Ethernet cable (CAT5 cable) to carry low-voltage power.

:: POP3

Stands for "Post Office Protocol." POP3, sometimes referred to as just "POP," is a simple, standardized method of delivering email messages. A POP3 mail server receives emails and filters them into the appropriate user folders. When a user connects to the mail server to retrieve his mail, the messages are downloaded from the mail server to the user's hard disk. The main difference between IMAP and POP3 is that POP3 requires users to download messages to their hard drive before reading them while with IMAP the messages stay on the server until the user chooses to download them to his or her local drive. Most webmail systems are IMAP based, which allows people to access to both their sent and received messages no matter what computer they use to check their mail. When you configure your email client, such as Outlook (Windows) or Mail (Mac OS X), you will need to enter the type of mail server your email account uses. This will typically be either a POP3 or IMAP server. The Gmail server uses either protocol, the SaturnaNet server also uses either protocol and the SaturnaCAN email server uses POP3.

:: Power Cycle

While the phrase "power cycle" appears to be a noun, it is actually more commonly used as a verb. In simple terms, to power cycle a device means to turn it off and turn it back on again. For example, the user manual of a router may ask you to power cycle the router if it stops responding. This may mean switching the power to OFF and then ON again or may require physically unplugging the device and then plugging it back in again. Power cycling is often synonymous with resetting a device. As we all know, computer equipment can be rather finicky at times. A device that was working fine ten minutes ago may begin acting strangely or may not be responding at all. Often the low-tech solution of simply turning off the device and turning it back on again will fix the problem. This is because information stored in the device's RAM may have gotten corrupted and caused the device to hang up or stall on a certain instruction. Power cycling the device erases the RAM and allows it to boot up with fresh information. Typically it is a good idea to wait 5 to 10 seconds before turning the device back on to make sure it has chance to fully reset. Of course, if you need to power cycle your computer, you should save any work you currently have open, since it will be erased from the RAM once the system is restarted.

:: PPP

Stands for "Point to Point Protocol." It is the Internet standard for dial-up modem connections. PPP is a set of rules that defines how your modem exchanges packets of data with other systems on the Internet. If you connect to your ISP with a dial-up modem, you are most likely using PPP.

:: Protocol

When computers communicate with each other, there needs to be a common set of rules and instructions that each computer follows. A specific set of communication rules is called a protocol. Because of the many ways computers can communicate with each other, there are many different protocols -- too many for the average person to remember. Some examples of these different protocols include PPP, TCP/IP, SLIP, HTTP, and FTP. The last "P" in each acronym stands for "protocol."

:: Proxy Server

Note: Saturna Network Co-op does not use a proxy server so when you are setting up your connection to the internet, make sure that "proxy server" is not checked.

Most large businesses, organizations, and universities these days use a proxy server. This is a server that all computers on the local network have to go through before accessing information on the Internet. By using a proxy server, an organization can improve the network performance and filter what users connected to the network can access.

A proxy server improves Internet access speeds from a network primarily by using a caching system. Caching saves recently viewed Web sites, images, and files on a local hard drive so that they don't have to be downloaded from the Web again. While your Web browser might save recently viewed items on your computer, a proxy server caches everything accessed from the network. That means if Bob views a news story at cnn.com at 1:00 and Jill views the same page at 1:03, she'll most likely get the page straight from the proxy server's cache. Though this means super-fast access to Web pages, it also means users might not be seeing the latest update of each Web page. The other main purpose a proxy server is to filter what is allowed into the network. While HTTP, FTP, and Secure protocols can all be filtered by a proxy server, HTTP is the most common. The proxy server can limit what Web sites users on the network can access. Many organizations choose to block access to sites with objectionable material such as hacking information and pornography, but other sites can be filtered as well. If an employer notices workers are spending too much time at sites like eBay or Quicken.com, those sites can be blocked by the proxy server as well.

:: Router

This is a hardware device that routes data (hence the name) from a local area network (LAN) to another network connection. A router acts like a coin sorting machine, allowing only authorized machines to connect to other computer systems. Most routers also keep log files about the local network activity.

:: Search Engine

Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, ConduitSearch and Yahoo are all search engines. They index millions of sites on the Web, so that Web surfers like you and me can easily find Web sites with the information we want. By creating indexes, or large databases of Web sites (based on titles, keywords, and the text in the pages), search engines can locate relevant Web sites when users enter search terms or phrases. When you are looking for something using a search engine, it is a good idea to use words like AND, OR, and NOT to specify your search. Using these boolean operators, you can usually get a list of more relevant sites.

:: Server

As the name implies, a server serves information to computers that connect to it. When users connect to a server, they can access programs, files, and other information from the server. Common servers are Web servers, mail servers, and LAN servers. A single computer can have several different server programs running on it.

:: SMTP

Stands for "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol." This is the protocol used for sending email over the Internet. Your email client (such as Outlook, Eudora, or Mac OS X Mail) uses SMTP to send a message to the mail server, and the mail server uses SMTP to relay that message to the correct receiving mail server. Basically, SMTP is a set of commands that authenticate and direct the transfer of electronic mail. When configuring the settings for your -mail program, you usually need to set the SMTP server to your local Internet Service Provider's SMTP settings (i.e. "smtp.yourisp.com"). However, the incoming mail server (IMAP or POP3) should be set to your mail account's server (i.e. hotmail.com), which may be different than the SMTP server.

:: TCP/IP

Stands for "Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol." These two protocols were developed in the early days of the Internet by the U.S. military. The purpose was to allow computers to communicate over long distance networks. The TCP part has to do with the verifying delivery of the packets. The IP part refers to the moving of data packets between nodes. TCP/IP has since then become the foundation of the Internet. Therefore, TCP/IP software is built into all major operating systems, such as Unix, Windows, and the Mac OS.

:: URL

Stands for "Uniform Resource Locator." A URL is the address of a specific Web site or file on the Internet. It cannot have spaces or certain other characters and uses forward slashes to denote different directories. Some examples of URLs are http://www.cnet.com/, http://web.mit.edu/, and ftp://info.apple.com/. As you can see, not all URLs begin with "http". The first part of a URL indicates what kind of resource it is addressing. Here is a list of the different resource prefixes:
  • http - a hypertext directory or document (such as a Web page)
  • ftp - a directory of files or an actual file available to download
  • gopher - a gopher document or menu
  • telnet - a Unix-based computer system that you can log into
  • news - a newsgroup
  • WAIS - a database or document on a Wide Area Information Search database
  • file - a file located on your hard drive or some other local drive

The second part of a URL (after the "://") contains the address of the computer being located as well as the path to the file. For example, in "http://www.cnet.com/Content/Reports/index.html," "www.cnet.com" is the address or domain name of the host computer and "/Content/Reports/index.html" is the path to the file. When an address ends with a slash and not something like ".html" or ".php," the Web server typically defaults to a file in the current directory named "index.html," "index.htm," or "index.php." So, if you type in "http://www.apple.com/" and http://www.apple.com/index.html," you should get the same page.

:: VoIP

Stands for "Voice Over Internet Protocol," and is often pronounced "voip." VoIP is basically a telephone connection over the Internet. The data is sent digitally, using the Internet Protocol (IP) instead of analog telephone lines. This allows people to talk to one another long-distance and around the world without having to pay long distance or international phone charges.

In order to use VoIP, you need a computer, an Internet connection, and VoIP software. You also need either a microphone, analog telephone adapter, or VoIP telephone. Many VoIP programs allow you to use a basic microphone and speaker setup. Others require VoIP phones, which are like regular telephone handsets, but typically connect to your computer via USB Analog telephone adapters allow you to use regular phones with your computer. IP phones are another option that connect directly to a router via Ethernet or wirelessly. These phones have all the necessary software for VoIP built in and therefore do not require a computer.

The largest provider of VoIP services is Vonage, but there are several other companies that offer similar services. While Vonage charges a monthly service fee, programs like Skype and PeerMe allow users to connect to each other and talk for free. These programs use a "peer-to-peer" sharing scheme and bandwidth useage can become an issue. Make sure you quit these applications when you're not using them.

VoIP is also referred to as IP telephony, Internet telephony, and digital phone.

:: Webmail

There are two primary ways of checking your email — using an email program like Microsoft Outlook or with a Web-based interface called webmail. When you check or send email via the Web, you are using webmail. Most free email services, such as Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail offer webmail interfaces that allow you to send, receive, and organize your e-mail on the Web. Some common webmail systems include Horde, NeoMail, and SquirrelMail.

:: Wi-Fi

Short for "Wireless Fidelity" (Wi-Fi is pronounced like "Hi-Fi"). Wi-Fi refers to wireless network components that are based on one of the Wi-Fi Alliance's 802.11 standards.

The Wi-Fi Alliance created the 802.11 standard so that manufacturers can make wireless products that work with other manufacturers' equipment. So, if you have a "Wi-Fi Certified" wireless network card, it should be recognized by any "Wi-Fi Certified" access point, and vice-versa.

If your laptop has a wireless network card installed, you can access the internet wirelessly in coffee shops, hotels, etc. that offer "wireless internet access." At home, if you have a wireless router and wireless card in your computer, you can access the internet provided you have a broadband connection.

Wi-Fi uses radio waves to provide wireless high-speed Internet and network connections. The Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization that owns the Wi-Fi (registered trademark) term specifically defines Wi-Fi as any "wireless local area network (WLAN) products that are based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) 802.11 standards."

Initially, Wi-Fi was used in place of only the 2.4GHz 802.11b standard, however the Wi-Fi Alliance has expanded the generic use of the Wi-Fi term to include any type of network or WLAN product based on any of the 802.11 standards, including 802.11b, 802.11a, dual-band, and so on, in an attempt to stop confusion about wireless LAN interoperability.

Wi-Fi works with no physical wired connection between sender and receiver by using radio frequency (RF) technology, a frequency within the electromagnetic spectrum associated with radio wave propagation. When an RF current is supplied to an antenna, an electromagnetic field is created that then is able to propagate through space. The cornerstone of any wireless network is an access point (AP). The primary job of an access point is to broadcast a wireless signal that computers can detect and "tune" into. In order to connect to an access point and join a wireless network, computers and devices must be equipped with wireless network adapters.

Wi-Fi is supported by many applications and devices including video game consoles, home networks, PDAs, mobile phones, major operating systems, and other types of consumer electronics. Any products that are tested and approved as "Wi-Fi Certified" (a registered trademark) by the Wi-Fi Alliance are certified as interoperable with each other, even if they are from different manufacturers. For example, a user with a Wi-Fi Certified product can use any brand of access point with any other brand of client hardware that also is also "Wi-Fi Certified". Products that pass this certification are required to carry an identifying seal on their packaging that states "Wi-Fi Certified" and indicates the radio frequency band used (2.5GHz for 802.11b, 802.11g, or 802.11n, and 5GHz for 802.11a).

A common misconception is that the term Wi-Fi is short for "wireless fidelity," however this is not the case. Wi-Fi is simply a trademarked term meaning IEEE 802.11x.

:: Wireless

In the computing world, the term "wireless" can be rather ambiguous, since it may refer to several different wireless technologies.

Wireless broadband (provided by Saturna Network Co-op) is a method of delivering high speed data utilizing wireless connections. There is no need for any phone or cable connection. All traffic is transported with wireless technology utilizing high capacity transceivers and antennas.

The two most common types of wireless capabilities computers have are Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Wi-Fi is the technology used for wireless networking. If your computer has a wireless card, it is most likely Wi-Fi compatible. The wireless card transmits to a wireless router, which is also based on the Wi-Fi standard. Wireless routers are often connected to a network, cable modem, or DSL modem, which provides Internet access to anyone connected to the wireless network. Bluetooth is the technology often used for wireless keyboards and mice, wireless printing, and wireless cell phone headsets. In order to use a device such as a Bluetooth keyboard or mouse, your computer must be Bluetooth-enabled or have a Bluetooth adapter installed. Computers may also use other wireless technologies aside from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Products such as remote controls and wireless mice may use infrared or other proprietary wireless technologies. Because of the many wireless options available, it is a good idea to check the system requirements of any wireless device you are considering buying.