How to Talk to Your Tech

by Roberta Piket on January 29, 2014

in Messages from the Owner, News

In the course of troubleshooting for our many business and residential clients I have noticed that there is a gulf between the way techs understand computer terminology and the way some users might use the same terminology. The better you are able to communicate with your IT person, whether at your company or at home, the faster your IT issues can be resolved. Here are some suggestions on how to present your tech situation clearly and concisely so that it can be resolved with maximum efficiency.

“My computer keeps shutting off” means just that. It does not mean your web browser crashed or you are seeing a blue screen (see below). It means no power, no fan noise, just a dead box. 

“My computer is slow.” This can mean almost anything. Do you mean slow to start? Slow to open files? Slow to open a web page? Equally vague and unhelpful is “my computer stopped working” or “Internet Explorer doesn’t work”. The more specific you can be about what you are experiencing, the better.

“I see the blue screen”. When techs talk about a “blue screen” they are referring to the so-called “Blue Screen of Death”, which is an error message that comes up when Windows crashes. The screen that may come up when you start your computer, where you click on your name and possibly enter a password, is called the “welcome screen”. You may instead have a screen that asks you to type your user name rather than clicking on it. That screen is called the “log-on screen”. 

Sometimes I will ask a residential client for their computer or Windows (or Mac) user name and password so that I can access their machine remotely at their request. I can’t count how many times the client starts telling me their email address. Your username is specific to your computer. It is not your email address (unless you’re using Windows 8 and created your Windows account using your Microsoft account’s email address). 

To see your Windows user name, click the start menu (the little Windows logo in the lower left corner of your screen) and it will be at the top of the box that flies out.

On a Mac, click the little apple and you will see the words “log out of…”. The name after that is your user name.

Your password is what you type in order to see your desktop when your computer starts up. If you don’t have to type anything and the computer just goes straight to your desktop, you still may or may not have a password. (You can change it in the control panel but that’s a different subject.)

Here is some other terminology people commonly misuse:

“Can you fix my CPU?” The CPU is not your tower. It is a small chip inside the computer that processes almost every calculation your computer makes. The box that contains all the components is generally called a “tower” or a “computer” or a “desktop computer”. (It is a bit confusing to use the term “desktop” as in “can you fix my desktop?”, because the desktop also refers to the first screen you see after logging in, where all your icons are, whether you are on a desktop computer or a laptop computer.)

Your computer is also not called a hard drive. The hard drive is the device inside the tower that stores your data and operating system. In other words, it is yet another component inside the computer.

Know the difference between an operating system and an application (also called a program). The operating system is the software that runs your computer, such as Windows 7 or Mac OS X. Specifically, Microsoft Office is not an operating system. It is a productivity application that runs on top of the operating system. Microsoft Office may contain Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. It does not “come with” your operating system or your computer, although you may have purchased it at the same time, so whoever built your computer may have installed it for you. (The confusion may happen because both products are made by Microsoft.) However, it is separate software. So when you are asked what operating system you have, it is never correct to respond with your Office product info. Likewise when asked what version of MS Office you have, it is never correct to say “Windows XP” or “Windows 8”. Windows is an operating system, Office is a productivity application.

Memory (also known as RAM for “random access memory”) does not mean “hard drive space”. A lack of memory does not have anything to do with how much data you are storing on your hard drive. Memory is a module consisting of chips where your computer temporarily stores information it needs to access quickly, such as programs you currently have open. The more RAM you have for this purpose, the faster your computer will run. System memory or RAM (or Random Access Memory) is what is called “volatile memory”. That means that once you turn off the computer, its contents are gone. That is why you cannot “clean up” your memory (although you can clean up your hard drive). Your hard drive of course stores your data even when your computer is turned off.

Is there a computer term whose usage you’re confused about? Tell us in the comments.

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