What Is Software?

Learn more about what software is and what it can do

Software, in broad terms, is a set of instructions (generally referred to as "code") that's positioned between you and the device's hardware, enabling you to use it.

What Is Computer Software?

But what is computer software, really? It's an invisible component of a computer system that makes it possible for you to interact with the computer's physical components. Software allows you to communicate with smartphones, tablets, game boxes, media players, and similar devices.

It's important to note that there's a distinct difference between hardware and software. Software is an intangible resource. You can't hold it in your hands. Hardware consists of tangible resources such as mice, keyboards, USB ports, CPUs, memory, and printers. Phones are hardware. iPads, Kindles, and Fire TV sticks are hardware. Hardware and software work together to make a system functional.

Types of Software

While all software is software, your day-to-day use of software likely comes in two ways: one is the system software, and the other is as an application.

The Windows operating system is an example of system software and comes preinstalled on Windows computers. It's what lets you interact with the physical computer system. Without this software, you couldn't turn on your computer, get into Windows, and access the Desktop. All smart devices have system software, including iPhone and Android devices. Again, this type of software is what runs the device and enables you to use it.

Application software is the second type and is more about the user than the system. Application software is what you use to do work, access media, or play games. It's often preinstalled with the operating system by computer manufacturers and may include music players, office suites, and photo editing apps. Users can also install compatible third-party software.

Examples of application software include Microsoft Word, Adobe Reader, Google Chrome, Netflix, and Spotify. There's anti-virus software too, at least for computer systems. Finally, apps are software. Windows 8 and 10 support apps, as do all smartphones and tablets.

Stand-Alone Software

Many types of software are considered stand-alone software, meaning that the software is not part of a bundle and can run separately from other programs on your device. Some stand-alone software runs on its own using a flash or disk drive; other types don't require internet connections and rely on the manufacturer's disks instead. Some software, however, is dependent upon an operating system or needs access to other programs on the device to run correctly.

Who Creates Software?

The definition of software implies that someone must sit at a computer somewhere and write the computer code for it. It's true; there are independent coding experts, teams of engineers, and large corporations creating software and vying for your attention.

Adobe makes Adobe Reader and Adobe Photoshop; Microsoft makes the Microsoft 365 Suite; McAfee makes anti-virus software; Mozilla makes Firefox; Apple makes iOS. Third parties make apps for Windows, iOS, Android, and more. People are writing software all over the world right now.

How to Get Software

Operating systems come with some software already installed. In Windows 10, there's the Microsoft Edge web browser, for instance, and applications like WordPad and Fresh Paint. In iOS, there are Photos, Weather, Calendar, and Clock apps (software). If your device doesn't have all of the software you need, you can add more.

One way a lot of people add software is by downloading it from specific stores. On the iPhone, for example, people download apps from the App Store, and on the Android, people download apps from Google Play. Apps are software, perhaps with a friendlier name.

Another way people add software to their computers is via physical media such as a DVD.

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