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4 Tech-Related Words Most People Use Incorrectly at Work

These four tech terms are really common--and really misunderstood.

The words you choose in business are incredibly important. If you are at an investor's meeting and you throw out an idea about an app, it's a good idea know what kind of app you mean--is it a Web app, a smartphone app, a tablet app, or a desktop app? Or is it a hybrid that can do what all of those do? Using the correct word in tech circles is even more important, so that people won't get confused and start working on a multimillion-dollar project that ends up being something different from what you had in mind.

Here are the four tech terms bandied about the most, but without a good understanding of what they actually mean. They are incredibly common and often misunderstood.

1. Internet

You might be thinking, Isn't the word Internet pretty general? Isn't it OK to just use the word in any given situation? It just means "everything" on the Web, email, domains, downloading files, right? You might say, "Hey--I am jumping on the Internet to find the answer to that question." In truth, the Internet is a pretty specific thing. It is an "inter-network" of connected servers, the backbone that forms the connections we use for browsing the Web, downloading files, and grabbing e-mail. Usually, it's more accurate to say you are jumping on the Web for an answer. That's the term to use that describes the actual sites that are all connected by the Internet. The best way to think of it: The Internet is really just the highway. The websites you visit, the email you send, the video games you play are the destinations--those are all stored on servers somewhere.

2. Cloud

It's also important to realize that the cloud is not an all-encompassing term. It is not a totally generic term that means everything that's Web- and Internet-related. The classic definition of the cloud is when an application runs on a Web server instead of in your own data center. That's actually pretty specific! You can store files in the cloud, sure, but that's because there is a Web application like Dropbox or Box.net. People sometimes say they are working "in the cloud" or they can't get a virus because they use "the cloud" all day. Don't mistake "the cloud" for all online activity. If you are chatting over instant message, you are technically not using the cloud. It's a peer-to-peer conversation, and you're probably using a locally stored app. If you think you can't get a virus because you are using Gmail, think again--viruses can still attach to your local files.

3. Apps

Sometimes, people at work get a little confused about the word app (or application). And rightly so! There are smartphone apps, online apps, desktop apps--even hybrids like Dropbox that run partly as a local app you install on a Mac or Windows laptop and partly online. It's really important to understand the difference, especially if you run a business and are concerned about hacking or viruses, or need to make an app for your own company. The misunderstanding about apps is compounded by a new operating system called Chrome. It's been around a while but is getting more popular. When you fire up a Chrome laptop, you will see a row of icons that look suspiciously like desktop apps. They are not. In fact, they are just links to online apps.

4. Online

Here's an interesting one, because the term online has become as generic as a Google search and as misunderstood as the Internet. It's a curious thing, too. Most people think going online means going to a website or grabbing email. It's actually anything you are doing that is not on your local computer. Online means any activity involving another computer and a network. That's why, back in my early corporate days before the advent of the Internet, you could have an online multiplayer death match in a computer game--and it was only between computers on a network. People slowly started using online to mean Internet. These days, it seems there are online shooters like Titanfall for Xbox One that only use the Internet. But online means anything nonlocal, even if it is just two computers.

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Last updated: Jul 7, 2014

JOHN BRANDON | Columnist

John Brandon is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine covering technology. He writes the Tech Report column for Inc.com.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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