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What is Computer Software?

By Brad Cole
Updated May 16, 2024
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Computer software is a program that tells a computer what to do. These instructions might be internal commands, such as updating the system clock, or a response to external input received from the keyboard or mouse. Though there are many different types of software made both with open source and proprietary standards, the programming mostly comes down to a few basic rules.

Hardware vs. Software

The fundamental difference between hardware and software is that the first is tangible while the second is not. Hardware is the machine itself and does all of the physical work, while software tells the various hardware components what to do and how to interact with each other. This makes it possible for computers to adapt to new tasks or to install new hardware. While hardware includes things like monitors, Central Processing Units (CPUs), keyboards, and mice; software includes things like word processing programs, operating systems, and games.

Types

There are two main types of computer software: system and application. The first type is used just to run the hardware, while the second is used to do other things. The main types of system software are operating systems, like Windows™ OS X, or Linux; and drivers, which are programs that allow a computer to interact with other devices, like printers and video cards. There are many different types of application software, including games, media players, word processors, anti-virus programs, and applications for making new programs.

How It Works

Hardware only understands the two basic concepts, on and off, which are represented as 1s and 0s in binary language. Software acts as the translator between human languages and binary, which makes it possible for the hardware to understand the instructions being fed into it. Programmers write commands called source code in programming languages that are similar to what someone might use in everyday speech. Another program called a compiler is then used to transform the source code commands into binary. The result is an executable computer program.

Open Source vs. Proprietary

Programmers create either open source or proprietary computer software. The first type can be edited and adapted by users, while the second is protected and not intended to be edited by people outside the company that sells it. While open source programs are usually free, proprietary ones are licensed to distributors and must be paid for.

Both types generally have a comparable quality of programming, but fixes for bugs generally come faster for open source products than for proprietary ones. Also, some people prefer to use open source applications because they can feel a sense of ownership in the end project or feel that computer software companies create monopolies and want alternatives. Others prefer closed source programs because they are sometimes more stable or be less vulnerable to hackers, often come in suites, and come with customer service from the company.

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Link to Sources
Discussion Comments
By anon973160 — On Oct 08, 2014

What is meant by Green Cloud Computing?

By anon323621 — On Mar 06, 2013

How was computer hardware invented in the first place and who invented it?

By anon319042 — On Feb 10, 2013

Are rim and foremost software programs? What are they used for?

By anon257468 — On Mar 27, 2012

When I want to play music or watch movies, my computer always displays this "Windows Media Player cannot play the file because there is a problem with your sound device. There might not be a sound device installed on your computer, it might be in use by another program, or it might not be functioning properly."

Please help.

By anon243771 — On Jan 29, 2012

I am very pleased with the information provided since we are doing research for an introductory computer course. We have written down your website for future use. Thanks. (Denise)

By anon164465 — On Mar 31, 2011

nice and good detail. How can I know more about how to program the computer?

By anon160509 — On Mar 16, 2011

Good site, very simple and informative, well broken down into simpler easily understandable points.

By anon158086 — On Mar 05, 2011

computer software is input device?

By anon152705 — On Feb 14, 2011

I happened to visit this site and was glad to read the material regarding computer, which is immensely worth-studying and informative both for user as well as lay man like me. Good efforts, keep the material updated as the time passes by. abdul

By Uneeb Alvi — On Dec 12, 2010

Thank you was a very useful information so far for the same. perfect optimizer.

By anon115838 — On Oct 04, 2010

Thank you for the information you have put on here. It is very helpful to what am i researching about computer software. Thanks heaps.

By anon115689 — On Oct 04, 2010

thank you. i am really happy with this information. thanks again.

By anon96793 — On Jul 17, 2010

thank you very much.

By anon96633 — On Jul 16, 2010

useful for me.

By anon94340 — On Jul 08, 2010

thanks a lot for the important information about computer software. It really helps us in our reports.

By anon89399 — On Jun 10, 2010

thanks. the information is very useful.

By anon85236 — On May 19, 2010

this information is good for me.

By anon78999 — On Apr 20, 2010

What is the difference between software and hardware? it's really beneficial to me. Thanks for this.

By anon77608 — On Apr 14, 2010

Really helpful. Thanks for sharing useful detail.

By anon64267 — On Feb 06, 2010

why is computer software necessary in this century? it should be in the chip build?

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