What are the Different Types of System Software?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

System software controls a computer and provides the environment for users to run application software. It is a collection of programs, with different functions and purposes, most notably the Operating System (OS) that controls an entire computer. Also included in system software are utilities and device drivers. In contrast to this, computer users typically run application software to perform tasks, play games, listen to music, and otherwise make use of a computer.

A computer's system software allows users to run applications.
A computer's system software allows users to run applications.

Operating Systems

Although it has multiple components, system software on a computer is generally based on the OS installed onto it. There are many different companies that make operating systems, though some of the most prominent include Microsoft®, Apple®, and groups working with open formats such as Linux®. These companies produce and release numerous versions over time, which have included Windows XP®, Apple Mac OS X®, and Ubuntu®. A great deal of debate surrounds the subject of which system is superior, and it often comes down to personal preference and the individual needs of a computer user.

System software typically includes troubleshooting and diagnostic tools.
System software typically includes troubleshooting and diagnostic tools.

Running Multiple Operating Systems

Some computers can run two different types of system software; such as both Mac OS X® and a version of Windows®. Users often employ one of two different methods to run more than one OS at the same time. One way is through software that lets the user choose the preferred OS to initialize at startup. The other is through desktop software that a user runs, which allows two operating systems to be accessed simultaneously on one machine.

System Utilities

Utilities include a variety of specialized programs that can be applied across applications. Basic utilities include trouble-shooting and diagnostic software that can scan a system or other program to find errors and missing files. Additional utilities include data backup programs, file compression software, and tools used to thoroughly uninstall other programs.

Device Drivers

Device drivers are needed for every peripheral and device connected to a computer, from the mouse and keyboard to the printer. This type of system software allows the OS to effectively identify and communicate with hardware connected to a machine. The OS can include device drivers for basic components, like the mouse and keyboard, while peripheral manufacturers often provide discs with drivers for users to install with their hardware.

Other Types of Programs

System software differs from application software in a couple of important ways. First, it is necessary, whereas most computer users consider any particular application optional. It is also complete, in that no computer needs to have more than one version of any type of system software on it at any given time. Applications, on the other hand, are generally placed on a computer in large numbers, some providing similar functionality with only minor differences. In addition, system software is independent and requires no application software to run, whereas applications cannot run without an OS and proper drivers.

Device drivers are needed for computer mice.
Device drivers are needed for computer mice.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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