What is Computer Software?

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  • Originally Written By: Brad Cole
  • Revised By: Larry Ray Palmer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 May 2020
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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.


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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Discuss this Article

Post 56

What is meant by Green Cloud Computing?

Post 51

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

Post 50

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

Post 41

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.

Post 34

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)

Post 32

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

Post 31

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

Post 29

computer software is input device?

Post 28

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

Uneeb Alvi
Post 22

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

Post 18

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

Post 17

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

Post 11

thank you very much.

Post 10

useful for me.

Post 8

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

Post 6

thanks. the information is very useful.

Post 5

this information is good for me.

Post 3

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

Post 2

Really helpful. Thanks for sharing useful detail.

Post 1

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

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