What is software?

Software is a generic term, used to refer to a set of algorithms, instructions, or programs which instruct a computer to complete specific tasks. The software on a smartphone allows the device to make calls, access and browse the internet, or send texts. On a games console, the software enables users to navigate titles and load game saves.

Much of the technology we use on a daily basis features software, whether it’s your smartphone, tablet, smart speaker, computer, or even the clever desk phone you have in the office.

What does software do?

As a broad term, software describes all the functional aspects of a computer system not related to physical architecture (hardware like screens and keyboards). Scripts, applications, and anything that “runs” on a computing system are software.

The theory of software was proposed first by Alan Turing in 1935, but it wasn’t until 1958 when John Tukey coined the word software in an issue of American Mathematical Monthly.

What software does depends on the “category” of software in question. There are four main categories available, including:

  • Programming: Programming software is the tools and solutions designed to help developers write programs. These tools include linkers, interpreters, compilers, text editors, and more.
  • System: System software is the foundation of application software, encompassing things like operating systems, disk formatters and text editors. System software also manages hardware components and enables various non-task specific functions.
  • Application: With application software, we can enable computers to perform certain tasks. Examples of application software include database systems, gaming applications, office suites, and educational tools.
  • Malicious software: Malware, or malicious software is intentionally built to damage computer systems and disrupt other software. Examples of malware include computer viruses, spyware, adware, worms, and trojan horses

Where does software come from?

Software is usually relatively easy to access. You can purchase certain kinds of software in stores or download it online over the cloud. Many developers even produce trial and “demo” versions of their software to help customers get a taste for what it can do.

To access software, users also need to be able to install it, which usually means using a disc or download. Software can also be removed from a hardware system via uninstalling. However, in the case of dangerous software, like malware, removing the residual software can be difficult.

Is software important?

While software is just one part of the puzzle for creating a valuable computer system, it’s essential. Software tells your devices what to do. Without it, a computer won’t perform any function, making it virtually useless. Many types of software also work in tandem.

For instance, an application software for word processing wouldn’t work without an operating system software, and the operating software can’t be developed without programming software. The potential of software is practically endless, as developers continue to discover new ways of informing and directing machines.

Updated January 2, 2023

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