Software is any set of instructions or data that describes a computer program and instructs it how to perform tasks. It is contrasted with hardware, which describes the physical aspects of a computer system.
There are 4 main types of software that serve a variety of technological needs. They range from the operating systems that manage hardware resources to application software that empowers end users.
Application software carries out specific user functions and caters to various areas of life such as productivity, entertainment and education. It allows users to efficiently and effectively organize data, primarily by creating and managing spreadsheet systems (such as Microsoft Excel).
It also includes word processing software, which assists with the creation of documents such as handouts or manuscripts; presentation software, which facilitates the delivery of presentations; and database software, which helps store, manage and explore information. In addition, it contains programs that help users keep track of their work progress and productivity through online management systems or project management tools.
It can also be used to perform multimedia functions and create images, videos or audio files. This type of software is often found on mobile devices and can also be downloaded for personal use, such as Angry Birds or WhatsApp. It can be run alongside system and middleware software on a computer. It begins to operate when the device is turned on and stops operating when it is switched off.
System software is a set of computer programs that manages the hardware and provides an environment for application programs to work in. This category of computer software includes operating systems, device drivers and other utility programs.
Computer manufacturers develop this type of software as part of the computer system. It acts as an interface between the computers hardware and application software, so it must be fast and efficient. This category of computer software also has to be written in a low-level language that the central processing unit and other hardware can understand.
Individuals don’t typically interact with system software directly. Instead, they use the graphical user interfaces it creates.
Examples of system software include the operating systems found on desktop and mobile devices, programming language translators and device drivers that enable connections between the central computer and additional hardware like keyboards and mouses. Also included in this category are security programs like antivirus software and optimisation tools such as disk defragmentation.
Middleware can perform many functions, but a few of the most important include:
Unlike application software, which handles tasks at a high level and is not specific to a hardware platform, device drivers operate at the very low level of the OS kernel layer. Using a computer subsystem or a computer bus connected to the hardware, they communicate with it and execute device instructions. Then they transmit the results of these operations back to the operating system.
Every hardware component or peripheral plugged into a computer requires driver software to function. The software programs act as a translator between an OS and the hardware, sending commands to it and assigning duties.
Essentially, it is the hardware equivalent of application software. In modern computer systems, hardware and software are intertwined and neither can operate without the other. The amalgamation of these two gives control and flexibility to computers that we rely on in our daily lives. Without them, the world would be a very different place. Hence, both the terms are often used interchangeably.