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Jargonbusters 2 - The world of IT interpreted

Encouraging dialogue between the specialist and the generalist

LANs, WANs, ASDL, IP, bits and bytes can be bad enough. But for those who are not part of an in-crowd, familiar words used in unfamiliar ways can also cause confusion and loss of credibility in meetings.

So our Jargonbusters team provides a gentle introduction to some of the quirks of the IT lexicon. 

Desktop - This used to be where you put your pens, papers and family photographs. It was possible to spill tea on it. The new IT "desktop" travels with you wherever you go and appears on your computer screen. This is very useful as you no longer have a real desk, and your attempts to humanise the office are now in a sad trolley that you trundle around. For the IT manager, a "corporate desktop project" is a key component in recentralising power.

Network - For most managers and sales personnel this conjures up images of talking to people, eating and drinking. Otherwise it is the communications glue that holds organisations together. Networks have mixed blessings: for example, they enable you to have email, but prevent you from accessing it for days on end. Possibly for 10% of the time the second letter of "network" should change to another vowel, like "o".

Microsoft - To most of us consumers this is that nice Mr Gates and his company, who have brought order and standards to a chaotic world. But mentioning "Microsoft" in a meeting of IT personnel can be like mentioning "Macbeth" in a theatre. Microsoft is to blame for all the evils in the IT world. You can measure an IT person's antipathy to Microsoft by the spittle intensity that comes with the third syllable. Far better to have something that doesn't work so well than go Microsoft.

Floppy - Any 20th century western child would connect this word with "bunny", beanie baby and the like. Double entendre specialists may make other associations. But in the world of IT this was a completely rigid little square item used for storing small amounts of data

Portals - In science fiction these are gateways to other parts of the space/time continuum - to adventure, romance and danger. In real life, they are the way in to online shopping malls.

Real time - On the one hand, an ontological paradox. On the other, a misuse of words to describe more or less contemporaneous online communication. "Real" time is really no more real than "real" numbers are. This highlights the problem of entrusting areas of linguistic innovation to people who think and write in numbers and squiggles.

Upgrade - Upgrade is a word developed by IT spin doctors. All IT consists of patched up combinations of workarounds, however slick it's made out to be. This is because all IT is built on a previous generation of seat-of-the-pants development that didn't work right the first time. By the time an upgrade has been developed to work with all other relevant software and hardware, new versions of everything else are being developed to work with older versions of the software you have just redesigned. The result is a field day for IT consultants who have to make the incompatible compatible.

Collaborative working - This is all about achieving impressive improvements in productivity and unleashing new innovative energy in an organisation. It is done by setting up new ways of sharing and processing work using electronic networks. So you go to your IT manager to talk about workflow, cross departmental virtual teams, collaborative forums, electronic document management etc. He/she responds in terms of LANs, gigabits, Exchange servers, Ethernet and routers, plus microscopic detail from the outsourced IT contract. At this point collaborative working begins its descent into trench warfare. Those guys at Babel were singing in harmony compared to this.

Andy Lake (Editor)



A sideways look at the jargon...

If you prefer a more light-hearted approach to flexible work and ICT jargon, try the others in our Jargonbuster series:










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