Computer and device terms

In the modern world, customers get things done with whatever device is handy. When you write, focus on what the customer wants to accomplish. If you must write about the device itself, use the most general term that works—usually, that's device. Sometimes, it's computer, phone, or wearable device. Occasionally, it's laptop, smartphone, or fitness band.

Device interaction terms

Use these verbs to talk about using devices and peripheral devices:

  • Use turn on and turn off, not power on, power off, switch on, or switch off.
  • Use set up to describe preparing hardware or software for first use.
  • Use install and uninstall to refer to adding and removing hardware drivers and apps.
  • Use connect and disconnect to refer to establishing a relationship between devices (direct or wireless) and connecting a device to a network or the internet.

Preferred device terms

Term Usage
device, mobile device Use device to refer collectively to all types of computers, phones, and other devices.

Use mobile device only when you need to call out the mobility.

It's OK to modify device when it matters. For example, point-of-sale device.
computer, PC Use computer when you need to talk about a computing device other than a phone, wearable device, or gaming console.

It's OK to use PC when space is a constraint, but don't switch between PC and computer.

Don't use mobile computer, portable computer, or mobile PC.
phone, mobile phone, smartphone Use phone most of the time.

If you need to call out the mobility, use mobile phone.

Use smartphone only if you need to distinguish a smartphone from other types of phones.

Don't use wireless phone, cell phone, or cellular phone.
tablet, laptop Use a more generic term unless you're talking about a specific class of computers. Use tablet only to refer to a touchscreen computer without a permanently attached keyboard. Use laptop to refer to a portable computer with a permanently attached keyboard, with or without a touchscreen.

Don't use slate or notebook.
wearable device, fitness band Use only when it's necessary to differentiate devices that are meant to be worn from other devices.

Avoid using wearable as a noun.

Acceptable terms for specific references

Use the following terms only when you need to be more specific than you can be by using the preferred terms.

Term Usage
handheld device Use only to refer to a small, limited-use device that accesses, captures, and updates information in real time, such as the devices often used in line-of-business (LOB) applications. If possible, just use device.

Don't use handheld as a noun.

Don't use handheld PC or handheld computer.
desktop Use only to refer to a type of computer that isn't portable or a server computer.

Don't use desktop as a synonym for computer or PC.
machine Most of the time, don't use machine to mean a computer. Use computer instead. It's OK to use machine in content for a technical audience and in content about virtualization to describe both physical machines and virtual machines.
Updates help to enhance the security and performance of your computer.
Move virtual machines from one physical server to another to balance the load among physical servers.
A signed machine certificate uniquely identifies the computer.
client, server Use client or server only if it's clear to the reader whether the client or server discussed is hardware or software.

Use client computer or server computer if you need to clarify that you're discussing hardware.

Don't use box in reference to client and server hardware.

Peripheral devices and hardware components

In general, use the most generic term that describes a peripheral device or hardware component.

Term Usage
adapter Use instead of adaptor.
disc Use disc, not disk, to refer to a CD or DVD.
disk Use disk only in the context of Azure cloud storage and virtual machines.

Use hard drive, not disk, fixed disk, hard disk, or disk drive to refer to the drive on a PC where programs are typically stored.
display, screen, monitor Use display as a general term for any visual output device, including the built-in display on a computing device and an external monitor or projector.

Use screen to distinguish the usable portion of the display from its edges.

Use monitor only when you need to refer specifically to a standalone desktop or mounted display device that can be connected to a computing device.
drive Avoid talking about drives in content for a general audience. It's usually enough to prompt customers to save a file, picture, song, and so on.

Use drive as the general term for any type of device where a customer can save or retrieve files, including hard drive, CD drive, DVD drive, USB flash drive, or any other removable storage device. Use hard drive when necessary to refer to a drive on a PC where programs are typically stored. Avoid referring to the type of drive if you can.

Use drive C, not drive C:, drive C>, or C: drive, when necessary.

Use network drive, not remote drive, to refer to a logical network drive name.
network drive X
mouse, pen, controller, joystick, touchpad, trackball In general, don't talk about specific input devices. Most of the time, talk about how the customer interacts with the app or game by selecting, choosing, and so on. To learn more, see Describing interactions with UI.

When you must discuss interacting with a specific type of device, don't use pointing device or input device. Instead, use the specific term for that device: mouse, pen, controller, joystick, touchpad, or trackball. Use tablet pen on the first mention, and pen thereafter. Don't use stylus.

Joysticks have controls (not options) for controlling movement on the screen.
network adapter Use instead of network card to describe hardware that supports connecting a computer to a network.
touchscreen One word. Use sparingly. Most of the time, talk about how the customer interacts with the app or product by selecting, choosing, and so on. See Describing interactions with UI to learn more.
USB Don't spell out. Use only as an adjective.
USB drive
USB hub
USB 3.0 port