A software calculator is a type of computer program that performs mathematical calculations based on input from an outside source, mimicking the operation of other types of calculators, such as mechanical and electronic calculators. A software calculator is dependent entirely upon the computer code that makes up its program to govern its function rather than a series of mechanical operations or electronic circuitry. Every software calculator is dependent upon the computer code written into its program and requires a computer to run the program in order to work.
Nearly every modern personal computer has some type of software calculator. Most computers sold for home, business, or educational use have a basic software calculator installed as a part of its basic software package, and the graphical interface for these calculators will resemble a simple hand held calculator's keypad. These calculators are generally only programmed to perform basic mathematical functions and operations, such as adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing, plus a few others, like conversion to percentages, squares, and square roots, but some may be more capable. Any spreadsheet has an integral software calculator as part of its code but without the dedicated calculator graphic interface. The first software calculators were generally simple, and few went beyond this fairly basic set of functions, although they could perform them much faster than nearly any human could.
As computer hardware and software technology has advanced, software calculators have become more sophisticated. A typical software calculator is capable of handling any of the functions and operations that can be performed on any hand-held calculator, while the most advanced software calculators are capable of handling any mathematical calculation devised or understood by man. Statistical calculations, algebra, trigonometry, and calculus are all easily performed by these programs. Most allow users to enter their own functions or equations into the software and save them for further use. Many of these more sophisticated software calculators also have graphical interfaces that simulate a keypad of some type.
The Internet has provided a very diverse group of software calculator resources. Free, downloadable software calculators are easily found on the Internet, and many websites feature their own proprietary software calculator programs that allow anyone with Internet access to use them without the need to download or install them on their own computer. Many of these are featured on educational websites. Certain specialized programs are designed for use by professionals and students in certain fields and may be tailored to astronomers, physicists, engineers, chemists, or any other discipline that relies heavily on mathematics.