What Does Desktop Mean?

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What is your computer desktop? The answer can be confusing because there are three different desktops involved with a computer. Here’s what they are, and when to refer to each:



The first desktop is just the top of your desk that your computer sits on. Most people don’t refer to this desktop when they’re talking about your computer, though. It’s this desk’s top that gives the second use of the word “desktop” its meaning. A desktop computer means one that sits at your desk, as opposed to one that sits on your lap, called a laptop. A handheld computer would be a phone, or media player.


Computer Desktop

The most common use of the word “computer desktop” (note that it’s a computer desktop, not a desktop computer) is part of your computer’s software. Specifically, it’s part of your operating system. Whenever you’re looking at your computer’s background image, you’re looking at the “desktop.” The desktop of your computer is actually a special folder in the file system that gets shown when no other windows are open. Both Windows & Mac computers have desktops. The desktop is for frequently-accessed files, just like you use your physical desk top for. All your windows float on top of this desktop.