Glossary

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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.

Macro

Macro has two computer-related definitions, both of which involve making your computer experience more efficient.

1. A Keyboard Shortcut

The term "macro" is often used synonymously with "keyboard shortcut." Keyboard shortcuts are key combinations that perform commands, such as saving a file, closing a window, or copying and pasting data.

2. A Small Program

A macro can also be a small program, or script, that automates common tasks. These scripts are usually run within programs and can often be created by the user. For example, a user might record a macro for Microsoft Word that inserts his entire address when he presses a custom key combination. A Microsoft Excel user might record a macro to format the data in the selected column of a spreadsheet.

While Word and Excel both make it easy to create custom macros, many other programs allow users to create macros as well. However, not all programs refer to the automated commands as macros. For example, Photoshop allows users to record changes made to an image and saves the series of steps as an "action." These actions can then by applied to other images. Regardless of what they are called, macros can save you a lot of time by automating repetitive tasks. If you find yourself doing the same thing over and over again when using a certain program, you may want to simplify the process by recording a macro.

Mainframe

A mainframe is an ultra high-performance computer made for high-volume, processor-intensive computing. They are typically used by large businesses and for scientific purposes. You probably won't find a mainframe in any household. In the hierarchy of computers, mainframes are right below supercomputers, the most powerful computers in the world. (Which is why they are aptly named "supercomputers.") Yet a mainframe can usually execute many programs simultaneously at a high speed, whereas supercomputers are designed for a single process. Currently, the largest manufacturers of mainframes are IBM and Unisys.

Malware

Short for "malicious software," malware refers to software programs designed to damage or do other unwanted actions on a computer system. In Spanish, "mal" is a prefix that means "bad," making the term "badware," which is a good way to remember it (even if you're not Spanish).

Common examples of malware include viruses, worms, trojan horses, and spyware. Viruses, for example, can cause havoc on a computer's hard drive by deleting files or directory information. Spyware can gather data from a user's system without the user knowing it. This can include anything from the Web pages a user visits to personal information, such as credit card numbers.

MANET

Stands for "Mobile Ad Hoc Network." A MANET is a type of ad hoc network that can change locations and configure itself on the fly. Because MANETS are mobile, they use wireless connections to connect to various networks. This can be a standard Wi-Fi connection, or another medium, such as a cellular or satellite transmission.

Some MANETs are restricted to a local area of wireless devices (such as a group of laptop computers), while others may be connected to the Internet. For example, A VANET (Vehicular Ad Hoc Network), is a type of MANET that allows vehicles to communicate with roadside equipment. While the vehicles may not have a direct Internet connection, the wireless roadside equipment may be connected to the Internet, allowing data from the vehicles to be sent over the Internet. The vehicle data may be used to measure traffic conditions or keep track of trucking fleets. Because of the dynamic nature of MANETs, they are typically not very secure, so it is important to be cautious what data is sent over a MANET.

Markup Language

A markup language is a type of syntax used for defining elements within a document, such as a webpage or data file. It uses tags to define the beginning and end of each element. Since markup files are saved as plain text files, the code can be viewed and edited in a text editor.

Popular markup languages include HTML, SGML, and XML. HTML, which is a subset of SGML (the Standard Generalized Markup Language), is used to define the layout of webpages, as well as the elements within each page. A typical HTML page starts with a <head> section, which may include a title, metadata, and references to one or more CSS files. The <body> section of an HTML page defines the content, which may include text, references to image files, and links to other pages.

XML files contain custom tags that are used to define elements and sub-elements within a document. While HTML files are used to format how information is displayed, XML files are generally used to store data in a structured format. For example, an <employee> tag could be used to define an employee element within an XML data file. The tags <name> and <title> could be used as sub-elements to define the employee's name and position. The simplicity and flexibility of XML has made it a popular choice for sharing structured data between programs.

Mashup

The term "mashup" has several meanings. It was originally used to describe songs that meshed two different styles of music into one song. For example, a classic rock song put to a well-known hip-hop beat may be considered a mashup. It is also used to describe videos that have been compiled using different clips from multiple sources. For example, a skateboarding movie created from several different skateboard videos found would be considered a video mashup.

A mashup also describes a Web application that combines multiple services into a single application. For example, a Web forum may contain a mashup that uses Google Maps to display what parts of the world the users are posting from. Yahoo offers a mashup called Yahoo! Pipes that aggregates RSS feeds into a single page that can be navigated using a graphical interface.

The primary purpose of most Web mashups is to consolidate information with an easy-to-use interface. Because the combinations of Web applications are limitless, so are the possibilities of mashups.

Maximize

Maximizing a window makes it larger. In Windows, a maximized window fills the entire screen, while on a Mac, it takes up only as much space as needed. The maximize button in Windows is located in the upper-right corner of the window, next to the close button. If you double-click the title bar, it will also maximize the window. On a Mac, the maximize button is three green button located next to the red and yellow buttons in the upper-left corner of the window.

To hide an open window, you can click the minimize button, which is located next to the maximize button on both Macintosh and Windows computers.

mbps

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.

MBR

An MBR, or "master boot record," is a special section on a hard disk that defines the disk partitions and contains the boot code. It is located in the first sector of the disk and is only 512 bytes in size.

Master boot records were introduced in the early 1980s and were used by DOS-compatible computers for over twenty years. However, MBRs can only define up to 2TB of space, which means they are not meant to be used by storage devices larger than two terabytes. Therefore, most computers now format disks using the GPT (GUID partition table), which does not have a two terabyte limit.

MCA

Stands for "Micro Channel Architecture." It is an expansion bus created by IBM that was used in the company's PS/2 desktop computers. An expansion bus allows additional cards to be connected to the computer's motherboard, expanding the number of I/O ports. These include SCSI, USB, Firewire, AGP, and DVI connections, as well as many others.

The MCA standard was designed to take the place of the AT and ISA buses used in previous IBM PC/AT compatible computers. While the MCA bus architecture was an improvement in both size and speed over AT and ISA, it was kept as a proprietary standard by IBM. This discouraged other manufacturers from adopting the standard, since the MCA architecture was not compatible with other standards. Most PC companies incorporated the more universal PCI and AGP expansion buses into their computers, which are both widely used today.

Media

In general, "media" refers to various means of communication. For example, television, radio, and the newspaper are different types of media. The term can also be used as a collective noun for the press or news reporting agencies. In the computer world, "media" is also used as a collective noun, but refers to different types of data storage options.

Computer media can be hard drives, removable drives (such as Zip disks), CD-ROM or CD-R discs, DVDs, flash memory, USB drives, and yes, floppy disks. For example, if you want to bring your pictures from your digital camera into a photo processing store, they might ask you what kind of media your pictures are stored on. Are they on the flash memory card inside your camera or are they on a CD or USB drive? For this and many other reasons, it is helpful to have a basic understanding of what the different types of media are.

Megabyte

A megabyte is 2 to the 20th power, or 1,048,576 bytes.

It can be estimated as 10 to the 6th power, or one million (1,000,000) bytes. A megabyte is 1,024 kilobytes and precedes the gigabyte unit of measurement. Large computer files are typically measured in megabytes. For example, a high-quality JPEG photo from a 6.3 megapixel digital camera takes up about 3MB of space. A four minute CD-quality audio clip takes up about 40MB of space and CDs can hold up to 700MB of space.

Megahertz

One megahertz is equal to one million cycles per second. It is used to measure transmission speeds of electronic devices. The most common area you will see Megahertz used is in measuring processor clock speed, such as an 800 Mhz Pentium III.

It is important to know that megahertz only measures the clock speed of the processor (how many cycles it can handle per second) ? not the overall performance. Because megahertz measures only a single aspect of the CPU, it is possible that one processor may be faster than another that has a slightly higher megahertz reading. For example, a Mac with a 500 MHz PowerPC G4 can perform some calculations faster than a PC with a 800 Mhz Pentium III. This is because the G4 can process more instructions per clock cycle than the Pentium. Mac users would often stress this point, but it is irrelevant now since Macintosh computers also use Intel processors.

Megapixel

A megapixel is one million pixels. It is commonly used to describe the resolution of digital cameras. For example, a 7.2 megapixel camera is capable of capturing roughly 7,200,000 pixels. The higher the megapixel number, the more detail the camera can capture. Therefore, the megapixel count is a significant specification to look for when buying a digital camera.

A camera's megapixel number is calculated by multiplying the number of vertical pixels by the number of horizontal pixels captured by the camera's sensor, or CCD. For example, the original Canon Digital Rebel captures 2048 vertical by 3072 horizontal pixels, for a total of 6,291,456 pixels (2048 x 3072). Therefore, it is estimated to be a 6.3 megapixel camera. The Sony T10 captures 3072 x 2304 pixels, totaling 7,077,888, which makes it a 7.2 megapixel camera (because not all the pixels are used).

Megapixels are helpful in marketing digital cameras, because it is easier to say, "6.3 megapixels" than "6,291,456 pixels." It is also a little easier to remember. However, while megapixels are important, it is helpful to know the other specifications of a camera as well. For example, shutter speed, shooting modes, start-up time, flash quality, and color accuracy can also make a big difference in the camera's performance. After all, it doesn't matter how many megapixels your camera has if all your pictures turn out blurry and have poor color. Therefore, while you should check the megapixel count on a camera before buying it, make sure you check the other specs too.

Memory

Just like humans, computers rely a lot on memory. They need to process and store data, just like we do. However, computers store data in digital format, which means the information can always be called up exactly the way it was stored. Also, unlike our memory, the computer's memory doesn't get worse over time.

While memory can refer to any medium of data storage, it usually refers to RAM, or random access memory. When your computer boots up, it loads the operating system into its memory, or RAM. This allows your computer to access system functions, such as handling mouse clicks and keystrokes, since the event handlers are all loaded into RAM. Whenever you open a program, the interface and functions used by that program are also loaded into RAM.

RAM is a very high-speed type of memory, which makes it ideal for storing active programs and system processes. It is different than hard disk space in that RAM is made up of physical memory chips, while hard disks are magnetic disks that spin inside a hard drive. Accessing RAM is much faster than accessing the hard disk because RAM access is based on electric charges, while the hard drive needs to seek to the correct part of the disk before accessing data. However, all the information stored in RAM is erased when the computer's power is turned off. The hard disk, on the other hand, stores data magnetically without requiring any electrical power. For more information on the difference between RAM and hard disk space, view this Help Center article.

Another common type of memory is flash memory, which is typically used for small devices such as digital cameras, USB keychain drives, and portable music players like the iPod nano. This kind of memory, known as "electrically erasable programmable read-only memory" (EEPROM), is convenient for portable devices, since it stores information even when its power source is turned off, but is smaller and more resilient than a hard drive.

To summarize, memory is a vital part of the way computers and many electronic devices function. While memory and RAM can often be used synonymously, it is good to know about other types of memory as well. Hopefully you will be able to store the information you've learned in your own memory.

Memory Bank

A memory bank is an individual section of data stored in a computer's memory. It typically contains data that only needs to be stored temporarily and is commonly used as a memory cache. Memory banks are ordered consecutively, which provides easy access to individual items stored in RAM.

Memory Leak

A memory leak is like a virtual oil leak in your computer. It slowly drains the available memory, reducing the amount of free memory the system can use. Most memory leaks are caused by a program that unintentionally uses up increasing amounts of memory while it is running. This is typically a gradual process that gets worse as the program remains open. If the leak is bad enough, it can cause the program to crash or even make the whole computer freeze.

The most common reason programs have memory leaks is due to a programming error where unused memory is not allocated back to the system. This means the amount of RAM the program uses is always growing. Therefore, the program is constantly "leaking" memory. A memory leak may also be caused by a program that requests new memory too frequently, instead of using available memory. This means each time more memory is requested, the program takes up additional RAM instead of using memory that has already been made available to the program.

Fortunately, memory leaks are not as messy as oil leaks and can be more easily fixed. Software development applications often include debuggers that can check programs for memory leaks. Once the source of the leak is found, the programmer can modify the code so that the program uses memory more efficiently. If you are using a program that has a memory leak, you can temporarily fix the problem by simply quitting the program and opening it again. Once the program has been quit, the memory is automatically allocated back to the system. Of course, if the leak continues to be a problem, the best solution is to let the developer know about the issue so it can be fixed.

Memory Module

A memory module is another name for a RAM chip. It is often used as a general term used to describe SIMM, DIMM, and SO-DIMM memory. While there are several different types of memory modules available, they all serve the same purpose, which is to store temporary data while the computer is running.

Memory modules come in different sizes and have several different pin configurations. For example, the original SIMMs had 30 pins (which are metal contacts that connect to the motherboard). However, newer SIMM chips have 72 pins. DIMMs commonly come in 168-pin configurations, but some DIMMs have as many as 240 pins. SO-DIMMs have a smaller form factor than standard DIMM chips, and come in 72-pin, 144-pin, and 200-pin configurations.

While "memory module" is the technical term used to describe computer memory, the terms "RAM," "memory," and "RAM chip" are just as acceptable. But remember, while memory terms may be interchangeable, the memory itself is not. This is because most computers only accept one type of memory. Therefore, if you decide to upgrade you computer's RAM, make sure the memory modules you buy are compatible with your machine.

Memory Stick

Memory Stick is a type of flash memory developed by Sony. It is used to store data for digital cameras, camcorders, and other kinds of electronics. Because Memory Stick is a proprietary Sony product, it is used by nearly all of Sony's products that use flash media. Unfortunately, this also means Memory Stick cards are incompatible with most products not developed by Sony.

Memory Stick cards are available in two versions: Memory Stick PRO and Memory Stick PRO Duo. Memory Stick PRO cards are 50mm long by 21.5mm wide and are 2.8mm thick. Memory Stick PRO Duo cards are 31mm long by 20mm wide and are only 1.6mm thick. High-speed versions of Memory Stick media support data transfer rates up to 80Mbps, or 10 MB/sec, which is fast enough record high-quality digital video.

Menu Bar

A menu bar is a horizontal strip that contains lists of available menus for a certain program. In Windows programs, the menu bar resides at the top of each open window, while on the Mac, the menu bar is always fixed on the top of the screen. Despite this major difference, the menu bar serves the same purpose on each platform.

Nearly all programs have a menu bar as part of their user interface. It includes menu items and options specific to the particular program. Most menu bars have the the standard File, Edit, and View menus listed first. The File menu includes options such as Save and Open File..., the Edit menu has items such as Undo, Copy, Paste, and Select All, while in the View menu you'll find viewing options such as changing the layout of open windows. Word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, also include menu options such as Insert, Format, and Font which you will most likely not find in a Web browser's menu bar. But a Web browser may contain menu options such as History and Bookmarks, which you will not find in a word processing program.

Many items located within the menu bar often have keyboard shortcuts that enable you to choose menu options by just pressing a key combination. For example, to copy an object or text selection, most programs allow you to press Control-C (Windows) or Command-C (Mac) instead of selecting Copy from the Edit menu. When browsing through the items in a program's menu bar, you should see the keyboard shortcuts located next to each option that has a shortcut available. The menu bar is a fundamental part of the graphical user interface (GUI), so it is worth you time to get familiar with it. You may even discover features you did not know about before.

Metadata

Metadata describes other data. It provides information about a certain item's content. For example, an image may include metadata that describes how large the picture is, the color depth, the image resolution, when the image was created, and other data. A text document's metadata may contain information about how long the document is, who the author is, when the document was written, and a short summary of the document.

Web pages often include metadata in the form of meta tags. Description and keywords meta tags are commonly used to describe the Web page's content. Most search engines use this data when adding pages to their search index.

Metatag

This is a special HTML tag that is used to store information about a Web page but is not displayed in a Web browser. For example, meta tags provide information such as what program was used to create the page, a description of the page, and keywords that are relevant to the page. Many search engines use the information stored in meta tags when they index Web pages.

MIDI

Stands for "Musical Instrument Digital Interface." It is a connectivity standard that musicians use to hook together musical instruments (such as keyboards and synthesizers) and computer equipment. Using MIDI, a musician can easily create and edit digital music tracks. The MIDI system records the notes played, the length of the notes, the dynamics (volume alterations), the tempo, the instrument being played, and hundreds of other parameters, called control changes.

Because MIDI records each note digitally, editing a track of MIDI music is much easier and more accurate than editing a track of audio. The musician can change the notes, dynamics, tempo, and even the instrument being played with the click of button. Also, MIDI files are basically text documents, so they take up very little disk space. The only catch is that you need MIDI-compatible hardware or software to record and playback MIDI files.

Mini DV

Most digital camcorders record video and audio on a Mini DV tape. The cassettes measure 2.6 x 1.9 x 0.5 inches (L x W x H), while the tape itself is only .25 inches thick. A Mini DV tape that is 65 meters long can hold an incredible 11GB of data, or 80 minutes of digital video.

The small size of Mini DV tapes has helped camcorder manufacturers reduce the size of their video cameras significantly. Some consumer cameras that use Mini DV tapes are smaller than the size of your hand. Because Mini DV tapes store data digitally, the footage can be exported directly to a computer using a Firewire (IEEE 1394) cable. So if you want to record video and edit it on your computer, avoid the SVHS and Hi-8 options and make sure to get a camera that uses Mini DV.

Minimize

Minimizing a window temporarily hides it from view without closing it. In Windows, a button for the minimized window is added to the taskbar. In Mac OS X, a small icon for the window is added to the dock. Clicking the window's button or icon will reopen the window. You can then click the maximize button to increase the window's size.

To minimize a window in Windows, click the button with a horizontal line icon in the upper-right corner of a window. In Mac OS X, click the yellow button in the upper-left corner of the window or double-click the title bar.

MIPS

Stands for "Million Instructions Per Second." It is a method of measuring the raw speed of a computer's processor. Since the MIPS measurement doesn't take into account other factors such as the computer's I/O speed or processor architecture, it isn't always a fair way to measure the performance of a computer. For example, a computer rated at 100 MIPS may be able to computer certain functions faster than another computer rated at 120 MIPS.

The MIPS measurement has been used by computer manufacturers like IBM to measure the "cost of computing." The value of computers is determined in MIPS per dollar. Interestingly, the value of computers in MIPS per dollar has steadily doubled on an annual basis for the last couple of decades.

Mirror

A mirror is something that you can see your reflection in. Most mirrors consist of a sheet of glass with a sheet of metal behind it. When light hits the metal, it reflects onto the glass and produces the image you see. In the computer world, however, a mirror is a Web or FTP server that has the same files on it as another server. Its purpose is to provide an alternate way to access files when the main server is so swamped with people connecting and downloading files that other people can't get through. Unlike real-life mirrors, when you download a picture off a mirror server, the image isn't backwards.

Mirrored Volumne

A mirrored volume is a hard drive or other form of storage media that stores an exact copy of the data from another volume. It is used for fault tolerance, which means mirrored volume serves as a backup device in case the primary device fails.

Companies and organizations that store critical information typically "mirror" the data on another drive. Using a mirrored volume decreases the chance of losing data exponentially. For example, if the odds of a hard drive going bad is 1 out of 200, the odds of two drives going bad at the same time is 1 out of 40,000.

Mirroring data can be done using various backup software programs or may be enabled within operating systems that support disk mirroring. While using a mirrored volume helps keep data safe, it also slows down data transfers because the data must always be written twice. It also costs more, since mirroring data requires twice as much disk storage than what would otherwise be required. However, the cost of an extra hard drive is usually well worth the security of having important data backed up.

Mirroring may also be referred to as "duplexing" or RAID 1.

Mnemonic

A mnemonic (pronounced "nemonic") is a pattern that can be used as an aid for memorizing information. Most often, this pattern consists of letters or words. For example, the phrase "Every Good Boy Does Fine" can be used to help music students remember the notes of the staff, E, G, B, D, and F. The name "Roy G. Biv" is often used to memorize the order of colors in a rainbow (or other light spectrum) -- Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.

While initials of words are commonly used as mnemonic devices, rhyming words and poems can also be used to memorize information. Furthermore, images can be associated with words or phrases to help memorize them. Because the human brain organizes information in "chunks," mnemonics help people categorize information better, which makes it easier to remember.

Modem

The word modem is actually short for Modulator/Demodulator. (There's something you can really impress your friends with). A modem is a communications device that can be either internal or external to your computer. It allows one computer to connect another computer and transfer data over telephone lines. The original dial-up modems are becoming obsolete because of their slow speeds and are being replaced by the much faster cable and DSL modems.

Modifier Key

A modifier key is a key that modifies the action of another key when the two are pressed together. Common modifier keys include Shift, Control, Alt, Command, Option, and Function. The Control (Ctrl) and Alt keys are typically found on Windows keyboards, while the Command (Cmd) and Option keys are typically found on keyboards designed for Macs.

The Shift key, which is found on all computers, is used to capitalize letters and enter symbols (such as the ones found above the number keys). The Control and Command keys are typically used to enter keyboard shortcuts.

Monitor

The term "monitor" is often used synonymously with "computer screen" or "display." The monitor displays the computer's user interface and open programs, allowing the user to interact with the computer, typically using the keyboard and mouse.

Older computer monitors were built using cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which made them rather heavy and caused them to take up a lot of desk space. Most modern monitors are built using LCD technology and are commonly referred to as flat screen displays. These thin monitors take up much less space than the older CRT displays. This means people with LCD monitors have more desk space to clutter up with stacks of papers, pens, and other objects.

"Monitor" can also be used as a verb. A network administrator may monitor network traffic, which means he watches the traffic to make sure the bandwidth usage is within a certain limit and checks to see what external sources may be attempting to access the network. Software programs may monitor the system's CPU performance as well as RAM and hard disk usage.

Finally, monitors also refer to speakers used for monitoring sound. Audio engineers typically use "studio monitors" to listen to recordings. These high-end speakers allow the engineers to accurately mix and master audio tracks. So a sound mixer could be monitoring a recording visually using a computer monitor, while monitoring the sound using audio monitors at the same. As you can tell, "monitor" serves as a rather multipurpose word.

Motherboard

The motherboard is the main circuit board of your computer and is also known as the mainboard or logic board. If you ever open your computer, the biggest piece of silicon you see is the motherboard. Attached to the motherboard, you'll find the CPU, ROM, memory RAM expansion slots, PCI slots, and USB ports. It also includes controllers for devices like the hard drive, DVD drive, keyboard, and mouse. Basically, the motherboard is what makes everything in your computer work together.

Each motherboard has a collection of chips and controllers known as the chipset. When new motherboards are developed, they often use new chipsets. The good news is that these boards are typically more efficient and faster than their predecessors. The bad news is that older components often do not work with new chipsets. Of course, if you are planning on upgrading multiple components, it may be more cost-effective to just buy a new computer.

Mount

In order for a hard disk or disk partition to be accessible by a computer, it must first be mounted. This is a software process that "activates" the disk, which makes the folders and files on the disk readable by the computer. If a hard drive is physically connected, but not mounted, the computer will not recognize it.

Fortunately, most operating systems, such as Windows and Mac OS X, mount newly connected disks by default. In Windows, the disk will appear in the "My Computer" window. In Mac OS X, the disk will appear on the desktop. This is true for all types of disks, such as internal and external hard drives, optical media, such as CDs and DVDs, and USB flash drives. Disk image files may have to be mounted manually using a program like Nero or WinImage (Windows) or Apple Disk Utility (Mac OS X).

If a disk is not being used, it can be unmounted. Optical disks are typically unmounted automatically when they are ejected. However, before you disconnect an external hard drive or a USB flash drive, you should unmount the disk to avoid possible data corruption.

Mouse

A mouse, along with the keyboard, is one of the two main input devices used by computers. It is a small handheld device that tracks the user's motion and is used for moving the cursor on the screen. It also has buttons that are used for clicking and right-clicking objects.

While early mice used a mouse ball to track the movement of the mouse, modern mice use a beam of light or an actual laser. This optical technology is more accurate than the rolling ball method and also keeps mice from getting dirty inside.

MP3

Stands for "MPEG-1 Audio Layer-3." MP3 is popular compressed audio file format that helped popularize digital music downloads beginning in the late 1990s. MP3 files are typically about one tenth the size of uncompressed WAVE or AIFF files, but maintain nearly the same CD-quality sound. Because of their small size and good fidelity, MP3 files have become a popular way to store music files on both computers and portable devices like the iPod.

To listen to MP3s on your computer, you'll need an MP3 player like Nullsoft Winamp (for Windows) or Apple iTunes (for Mac and Windows). Most MP3 players also allow you to create MP3 files from CD audio tracks or other from other audio file types. Once you have converted your favorite songs to MP3 files, you can transfer them to a portable music player, like the Apple iPod, Microsoft Zune, or a music-enabled cell phone. You can also burn the MP3 files to a CD, which can be played in MP3-compatible CD players.

MPEG

Stands for "Moving Picture Experts Group." The MPEG organization, which works with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), develops standards for digital audio and video compression. The group constantly works to develop more efficient ways to digitally compress and store audio and video files.

The term MPEG also refers to a type of multimedia file, which is denoted by the file extension ".mpg" or ".mpeg." These files are compressed movies that can contain both audio and video. Though they are compressed, MPEG files maintain most of the original quality of the uncompressed movie. This is why many videos on the Web, such as movie trailers and music videos, are available in the MPEG format.

MTU

Stands for "Maximum Transmission Unit." MTU is a networking term that defines the largest packet size that can be sent over a network connection. The MTU is typically limited by the type of connection, but may sometimes be adjusted in a computer's network settings. Because a higher MTU allows for more data to be transferred at once, connections with high MTUs typically have more bandwidth than connections with lower MTUs.

For example, the MTU of an Ethernet connection is 1500 bytes. If a system sends packets over an Ethernet network that are larger than 1500 bytes, the data will be fragmented into smaller packets. These packets will then need to be reassembled on the receiving computer. Fortunately, the receiving computer does this automatically. However, it may cause a slowdown in the overall data transfer. Since the majority of computers connected to the Internet go through an Ethernet connection at some point, most computers have a default MTU setting of 1500 bytes.

Multimedia

As the name implies, multimedia is the integration of multiple forms of media. This includes text, graphics, audio, video, etc. For example, a presentation involving audio and video clips would be considered a "multimedia presentation." Educational software that involves animations, sound, and text is called "multimedia software." CDs and DVDs are often considered to be "multimedia formats" since they can store a lot of data and most forms of multimedia require a lot of disk space.

Multiplatform

If a software program is developed for mulitple operating systems, it is considered to be "multiplatform." Since Microsoft Word runs on both the Windows and Macintosh platform, it is a mutliplatform application.

In the consumer gaming market, mutliplatform games run on more than one gaming machine. For example, a sports game developed for Xbox, Playstation, GameCube, and PC would be a multiplatform game. If a game is developed exclusively for one system, i.e. "The Legend of Zelda," for Nintendo, it is not multiplatform. Gaming hardware manufacturers use exclusive software as a reason for consumers to buy their system.

Multitasking

Multitasking is processing multiple tasks at one time. For example, when you see someone in the car next to you eating a burrito, taking on his cell phone, and trying to drive at the same, that person is multitasking.

Multitasking also refers to the way a computer works. Unlike the phone and burrito juggling driver, a computer's CPU can handle many processes at one time with complete accuracy. However, it will only process the instructions sent to it by the computer's software. Therefore, to make full use of the CPU's capabilities, the software must be able to process more than one task at a time, or multitask.

Early operating systems could run multiple programs at one time, but did not fully support multitasking. Therefore, a single program could consume the computer's entire CPU while performing a certain operation. Basic operating system processes, such as copying files, prevented the user from performing other tasks, such as opening or closing windows. Fortunately, since modern operating systems include full multitasking support, multiple programs can run at the same time without affecting each other. Also, multiple operating system processes can take place simultaneously.

Since multitasking can handle several tasks at once, it also improves the stability of the computer. For example, if one process crashes, it will not affect the other running programs, since the computer handles each process separately. In other words, if you are in the middle of writing a paper in a word processing program and your Web browser unexpectedly quits, you won't lose your work.

Multithreading

Multithreading is similar to multitasking, but enables the processing of multiple threads at one time, rather than multiple processes. Since threads are smaller, more basic instructions than processes, multithreading may occur within processes.

By incorporating multithreading, programs can perform multiple operations at once. For example, a multithreaded operating system may run several background tasks, such as logging file changes, indexing data, and managing windows at the same time. Web browsers that support multithreading can have multiple windows open with JavaScript and Flash animations running simultaneously. If a program is fully multithreaded, the different processes should not affect each other at all, as long as the CPU has enough power to handle them.

Similar to multitasking, multithreading also improves the stability of programs. However, instead of keeping the computer from crashing, multithreading may prevent a program from crashing. Since each thread is handled separately, if one thread has an error, it should not affect the rest of the program.

MySQL

MySQL, pronounced either "My S-Q-L" or "My Sequel," is an open source relational database management system. It is based on the structure query language (SQL), which is used for adding, removing, and modifying information in the database. Standard SQL commands, such as ADD, DROP, INSERT, and UPDATE can be used with MySQL.

MySQL can be used for a variety of applications, but is most commonly found on Web servers. A website that uses MySQL may include Web pages that access information from a database. These pages are often referred to as "dynamic," meaning the content of each page is generated from a database as the page loads. Websites that use dynamic Web pages are often referred to as database-driven websites.

Many database-driven websites that use MySQL also use a Web scripting language like PHP to access information from the database. MySQL commands can be incorporated into the PHP code, allowing part or all of a Web page to be generated from database information. Because both MySQL and PHP are both open source (meaning they are free to download and use), the PHP/MySQL combination has become a popular choice for database-driven websites.

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