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PDAs for Doctors: Decoding geekspeak: A glossary of PDA terms


Half the battle in figuring out your hardware and software needs is making sense of the terms beloved of computer files.

PDAs for Doctors

Decoding geekspeak: A glossary of PDA terms

Half the battle in figuring out your hardware and software needs is making sense of the terms beloved of computerphiles.

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You've probably noticed some words in italics in the preceding stories. Here's where they're defined.


To send software programs or data via an infrared- or radio-wave transmission from one PDA to another, or from a PDA to a desktop computer or printer.

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Cable modem

An external modem that hooks up to your computer through your cable network (the same place your cable TV connection comes from). A cable modem Internet connection is even faster than one via DSL, and much faster than an ordinary phone line connection.


The ability to connect your PDA or computer electronically with other computers, printers, or fax machines. The connection can be achieved through an internal computer network, EDI, the Internet, or a combination of these methods. The transmission carrier can be electrical wires, phone lines, cable lines, infrared waves, or radio waves.

CPU (central processing unit)

Also known as the processor, chip, or "brain" of a computer, a CPU controls the operation of a PDA.


A small stand that connects to a desktop computer and allows you to transfer (or hotsync) data from a PDA to a desktop PC or network. You simply put the PDA in the cradle and press a button in the cradle base.

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Dedicated connection

A phone line that's used exclusively to connect to the Internet. The same term is used to describe a phone line used to link one computer with another in a modem-to-modem connection.

DSL (digital subscriber line, also known as high-speed DSL or HDSL)

An accelerated means of connecting a PDA or desktop computer to the Internet over regular telephone lines. While DSL transfers data far more quickly than a conventional analog modem, it isn't universally available yet.

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EDI (electronic data interchange)

A direct computer-to-computer file exchange. EDI messages usually travel over private networks using dedicated phone lines, but they can also be transmitted via the Internet on virtual private networks. With PDA prescribing systems, EDI transmission is faster than electronic faxing and more secure than e-mail. However, many pharmacies don't accept electronic prescriptions, and EDI transmission to pharmacies is illegal in some states.

Ethernet card

A matchbook-size adapter that enables a PDA to connect to an Ethernet, the most common type of local area network (LAN). The "card" is a printed circuit board that plugs into a slot found on many—but not all—PDAs. An Ethernet card may require a cable connection to the network, or it may connect wirelessly.

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An electronic boundary that prevents unauthorized users, like hackers, from accessing confidential files on a private network, or a computer used to maintain such a boundary. If your group or hospital is networked, it most likely has firewall protection.

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Handheld personal computer

A personal digital assistant that's larger than a palm-size PDA but smaller than a notebook computer. It may be roughly the size of a checkbook or nearly as large as a magazine, and may weigh up to three pounds. Many HPCs aren't pocket-size. In contrast to palm-size PDAs, HPCs have a built-in keyboard and a larger display.

Hard drive (also hard disk drive)

A permanent data storage device built into all desktop PCs that permits you to save and retrieve information, and that stores the computer's operating system and other software. The size of a hard drive is usually expressed in gigabytes.


A way to exchange information between a desktop PC and a PDA. Old data on one device is replaced with new data from the other.

Hypertext link (also hyperlink or link)

A word, phrase, symbol, map, or any other item in a Web document that connects you to a different place in the same document or to another Internet resource. Hypertext links may be underlined, highlighted in color, or appear as icons, to distinguish them from the surrounding text. The link must be "selected" by clicking on it with a mouse.

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Infrared-light-wave transmission

Allows PDAs to wirelessly "beam" information to each other, or to properly equipped desktop PCs or printers. All PDAs have infrared communication capability.

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Kilobyte (K)

A unit of measurement for computer file sizes. One thousand bytes equal one kilobyte; 1,000 kilobytes equal 1 megabyte, and 1,000 megabytes equal one gigabyte.

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LAN (local area network)

A network in which computers that are in physical proximity, usually in the same building or complex, are linked via cables. See also: wireless LAN.


See hypertext link.


To start a computer program. Load time may affect your assessment of software usefulness, particularly when patients are present. Some PDA software loads almost instantly. Software that takes 10 to 15 seconds to load is considered slow.

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Megabyte (MB)

A unit for measuring computer memory or file size. One million bytes equal one megabyte (or 1,000 kilobytes).


The working space used by a PDA to hold and run a program and the data it needs, and to process the data. The amount of memory available determines the size of the programs you can run, and whether you can run more than one program at once. Memory is also the means by which you store things on your PDA, whether it's information you enter yourself, images you download from the Internet, or software. There's no such thing as too much memory. The more, the merrier.


A peripheral device that connects computers to each other via phone lines, allowing users to send and receive communications (such as e-mail) and to access the Internet. Handheld PCs have built-in modems. With palm-size PDAs, a modem is usually a separate expense, but all PDAs can accept one. Modems may be analog or wireless. An analog modem must be connected by a cable to a phone jack. A wireless modem requires no cable connection.


Running more than one program at a time. When a PDA has sufficient memory to allow this capability, it's easy to switch between programs to perform sequential tasks.

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A group of interconnected computers.

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Operating system (OS)

The main control program that interacts between a PDA's internal machinery and the software programs you run to ensure that everything works smoothly together.

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The company that makes Palm PDAs and the Palm OS.

Palm OS

An operating system specifically engineered for PDAs that are made by Palm, Handspring, TRG, and Sony.

Palm PDA

Refers only to a PDA made by Palm.

Palm-size PDA

A type of PDA that fits in the palm of your hand. It may or may not refer to a PDA made by Palm. PDAs made by Handspring, TRG, Sony, Casio, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and other companies are also palm-size.

PDA (personal digital assistant)

A palm-size or handheld computer.

PDA with the Palm OS

Not necessarily a PDA made by Palm. PDAs with the Palm operating system are made by Palm, Handspring, TRG, and Sony.

Pentium III

The latest line of computer processors, or chips, made by Intel. Pentium III chips run at speeds ranging from 450 megahertz to 1.3 gigahertz.

Personal digital assistant

See PDA.

Pick list

A scrollable list of tasks presented to you by PDA software. Tap a choice with the stylus and the program automatically performs that task.

Pocket PC

The newest type of palm-size PDA. It runs the latest version of the Windows CE operating system: Windows for Pocket PC. In addition to using a unique OS, Pocket PCs differ from most other palm-size computers in that they're slightly larger, have color screens, and include more built-in storage capacity.


A PDA socket into which you insert a cable to connect the PDA to other devices.


( See CPU )


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Radio-wave transmission

A means of using electromagnetic waves to transmit wireless signals. All PDA prescribing systems either offer or soon will offer radio-wave transmission capability. This enables you to beam scripts from your exam room or office to a desktop PC or a printer in another room. It also lets you access the Internet and send and receive e-mails from a remote location via a satellite network.

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To move through a document either up and down or sideways as if the document were being rolled like a scroll. With many PDA programs, arrows and bars at the right and bottom edges of the display enable scrolling.


To locate information within a PDA program by using a search engine.


The central computer of a computer network, used mainly to store information.

Smart search (also known as auto fill)

A feature of a search engine that saves typing time by automatically producing a keyword in a search box after you type only a couple of letters.

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T-1 line

A telephone line connection for digital transmission typically employed by Ethernet and other local area networks. For connecting to the Internet, a T-1 line is far faster than a standard phone line and may also be considerably faster than DSL service.


The touch-sensitive display on all PDAs. Tap a stylus to an appropriate spot on the PDA's screen, determined by the software you use, and a task is performed automatically.

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WAN (wide area network)

A computer network that spans a relatively large geographical area. The computers are usually connected to each other via telephone wires. See also wireless WAN.


A standard format for storing sound in computer files. When prescribing systems offer digital dictation capability (something they're expected to do within the next few months), your verbal notes will be converted into WAV files that can be transmitted over the Internet to a transcription service.

Windows CE OS (WinCE)

Microsoft's operating system for PDAs, second (albeit a distant second) in popularity only to Palm's.

Windows for Pocket PC

The version of the Windows CE operating system designed specifically for pocket PCs.

Wireless LAN

A local area network that connects computers, including PDAs, by radio waves.

Wireless WAN

A wide area network—which could span a region, a nation, or the globe—that connects computers, including PDAs, by radio waves via a satellite system.

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Suzanne Duke. PDAs for Doctors: Decoding geekspeak: A glossary of PDA terms. Medical Economics 2000;20:122.

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