Defining Computer Terminology for Easy Comprehension


macrumors member
Original poster
Aug 21, 2009
I work as a tech for geeksquad and work in the back fixing mostly. But when elderly or REALLY clueless people ask me technical questions I struggle translating it into a comprehensible way they can fully:confused: understand and learn.

How would you define each of these terms so that a grandmother would be able to understand in detail?:

Operating System


macrumors G3
Aug 19, 2008
The Anthropocene
  • PC - Personal computer; a computer that doesn't take up an entire room
  • Mac - A type of personal computer that uses particular operating system
  • Hardware - the physical pieces in a computer and connecting to a computer
  • Software - the programs that make the hardware work for you
  • RAM - temporary information storage for software while it runs
  • Operating System - basic software that directs the operation of other software and manages the hardware resources
  • Internet - a network of interconnected computers that communicate with each other
  • Webpage - a way to serve information from one computer to another
  • Flashdrive - a small piece of hardware that you plug into your computer to store files; often used to transfer them to another computer
  • iPad - a small flat computer about the size of a piece of paper
  • Email - it is like mail, but electronic; you can send it over the internet
  • Desktop - a larger computer that isn't easily portable; sits on your desk top


macrumors 6502
Feb 23, 2009
92 ft above sea level, UK
PC - Politically Correct computing.
Mac - Typical computer operator clothing
Hardware - The exact opposite of software
Software - The exact opposite of hardware
RAM - The required action for putting a CD in a slot loader
Operating System - Something a surgeon adheres to
Internet - An electronic storage repository for recipes
Webpage - An old Word file
Flashdrive - A computer operator in typical garb (see earlier) exposing themselves whilst driving a vehicle
iPad - An incontinence pad
Email - A letter from He-man to She-ra
Desktop - Somewhere to put a computer

Sorry. Bored. Waiting for reinstall on main machine ;-)


macrumors 68040
Jan 25, 2009
Sometimes I find that explaining computer stuff in terms of other things in their life makes them understandable. With that in mind, here are my explanations:

It means personal computer. Either a Desktop or a Notebook. It's a computer that is used by ordinary people and businesses to do things. In the past many of these things used to be done with physical items, like mailing a letter, can now be done electronically on a PC. PCs like people have a language they use or "speak". Some speak "Windows", some speak "Mac OS X" and some speak "Linux".​
A Mac is also a PC made by Apple Inc.. It's a personal computer that uses Mac OS X​
Are the mechanical parts of a PC.​
This can be either the OS, the language the computer speaks, or the programs, the instructions or recipes that the computer use to do things.​
This is like your car, you get in it, others get in it, you put things in it and it will take you to and from places. Only so many people and/or things can fit in it at one time. If you have more people and/or things than will fit in it at one time you'll have to make multiple trips back and forth to get it all done. If you had a bigger vehicle like a van or a truck you could make few trips to accomplish the same thing. RAM works like your car for getting software and information back and forth for things that you are having the computer do.​
Operating System
The language the computer speaks,​
Are computers all over the world connected to one another through Internet Service Providers. Internet Service Providers are like the phone company, heck some of them even are the phone company, and it allows all of us all over the world with our computer to connect to one another and share things and do things on the internet.​
It can be a lot of things, but basically it's an electronic version of a newspaper or a magazine.​
A piece of computer hardware that acts as bag or briefcase to hold/carry electronic information like software, photos, music, etc.​
A small computer, the size of a magazine that you can use to do many of the same things that you do on a full size computer.​
An electronic version of physical mail. Just like writing and sending a letter, or getting a bill through the postal service, except it's all done electronically with a computer.​
This is usually the first thing you see when you turn on a computer. Its an electronic representation of the foyer or vestibule to your house. When you come into your house you'll be in the foyer and in front of you you can see places you can go. You could go into your living room and pickup your paper and read it, you could go into your closet and get out your umbrella, or you could go to your family room and watch TV, your computer's desktop is like the foyer, it gives you access to other things on your computer.​


macrumors 6502a
"I work as a tech for geeksquad and work in the back fixing mostly. But when elderly or REALLY clueless people ask me technical questions I struggle translating it into a comprehensible way they can fully:confused: understand and learn."

You have my sympathy. I work part-time in a public library that sees a lot of public internet use and we offer basic computer classes. Covering only one thing at a time helps. But our seniors are getting better. An increasing number of our wi-fi users are seniors. I also see that glowing Apple a lot more these days.