INDEX BY: Edition / Title
Dictionary of Information Technology (3rd Edition)
Published in 2002 by Peter Collin Publishing
420pp ISBN 1 901659 55 0 £9.95

Dictionary of Multimedia (3rd Edition)
Published in 2002 by Peter Collin Publishing
234pp ISBN 1 901659 51 8 £8.95

Dictionary of Information Technology and Dictionary of Multimedia

In CE97 (February 2001), we reviewed the full range of specialist dictionaries published by Peter Collin in the field of ICT. For two of these volumes – Dictionary of Information Technology and Dictionary of Multimedia – the editions reviewed then were first published in 1996 and 1997, and so were inevitably out of date. New editions have now been published, and it is interesting to see whether some of the previous criticisms of them have been addressed.

But first, what do we look for in a specialist dictionary? My requirements are that it is comprehensive, clear and accurate, with complete explanations of ideas and ideally examples of use.

How do these small volumes match up to these criteria? Certainly they appear quite comprehensive – everything I might want to look up seemed to be there, together with a lot of terms that I was not familiar with. The clarity good; for example landscape is defined as ‘orientation of a page where the longest edge is horizontal’. Comments are often added to clarify meanings, to aid practical use or to help discriminate between similar terms. For example, defragmentation is defined as ‘reorganisation of files scattered across non-continguous sectors on a hard disk’, and supplemented by the comment ‘When a file is saved to disk, it is not always saved in adjacent sectors; this will increase retrieval time. Defragmentation moves files back into adjacent sectors so that the read head does not have to move far across the disk, and it increases performance’. Plasma display is defined as ‘display screen using the electroluminiscing properties of certain gases to display text; compare with LCD’. A comment adds: ‘This is a modern thin display used in small portable computers’.
Interpreter is defined as ‘software that is used to translate (at the time of esxecution) a user’s high-level program into machine code’, and a further comment suggests comparison with the role of a compiler which is explained clearly.

For some entries, there are also quotes from magazines which may also help to clarify and illustrate usage for some readers.

However, not all ICT concepts are explained with such completeness and accuracy. For example ‘website’ is defined as ‘collection of webpages that have been produced by one company or individual and are linked together by hyperlinks’. Although there is a further explanatory comment concerning how to access websites, there is no reference to the idea of location on a particular webserver. We have to look up webserver in order to find that it is a ‘computer that stores the collection of webpages that make up a website’.

I also tried to find what is meant by ‘model’ in the field of IT. In the role of a verb, it is defined as:
“to make a computer model of a new product or of the economic system, etc.”
So I still need to find out what is meant by ‘computer model’. Looking under ‘computer’ for the complete phrase draws a blank, but ‘model’ is defined as a noun in two ways:
“(a) a small copy of something, to show what it will look like when finished …
(b) style or type of product; version of product”

Neither of these represents what we mean by a computer model, and I was left rather disappointed.

Our 2001 review noted the lack of recognition of informal uses of the term database. This has been partially addressed through the added explanatory comment which explains the record/field structure of a single table or flat-file database, but it does not make clear that this is only a simplified version of the database concept. Nor does it acknowledge that ‘database package’ or just ‘database’ is often used for what it formally defines as a ‘database management system (DBMS)’.

Furthermore, the quotes from magazines are unchanged from the 1996 version, which perhaps explains why they were left undated!

Readers may wonder how these works compare with the BCS Glossary (A Glossary of Computing Terms (10th Edition, 2002, Addison-Wesley: Harlow). The more conceptual structure of the Glossary makes it much better for gaining an understanding of something like database, computer model, or interpreter, where the BCS team provide a considerable amount of general explanation concerning the ideas involved before defining particular aspects and terms. A term such as ‘defragmentation’ it is a little harder to find in the Glossary, although the reader may gain in understanding because it is explained in the context of ‘garbage collection’. But then ‘plasma display’ does not appear at all in the Glossary. The Peter Collin Dictionaries also contain many other items of specialised jargon and abbreviations, particularly in the multimedia field, which are not to be found in the Glossary, and so they clearly gain if you wish to know about Gouraud shading or FIF.

They also contain some useful and some bizarre appendices – HTML, Modulation, Logic Function Tables, how to say numbers in English, Roman numerals, meanings of various mathematical symbols, table converting decimal to binary, octal (??) and hexa decimal, international standard paper sizes, SI units, large/small number prefixes, and ASCII codes. Unfortunately, there is no reference to these appendices elsewhere in the text, not even in a contents page.

Overall, then, the Dictionary of Information Technology provides a helpful supplement to the BCS Glossary, and may be all that is needed for teachers who are not teaching students towards examinations that use the Glossary as their authoritative source and do not need the extra explanation that the Glossary provides.

But I do wonder whether the Dictionary of Multimedia is needed at all, however, when the larger dictionary seems to cover the same ground as well as a lot more for only a little extra cost.

Steve Kennewell
University of Wales, Swansea