For people who are not familiar with computer terminology, references to software and hardware may be somewhat confusing. The basic difference between the two has to do with the role that each type of tool plays in the use of a computer system. Essentially, hardware is the equipment that is used to assemble the working computer while software consists of the codes and programs that make it possible to perform various tasks using that equipment.
Hardware composes all types of computer equipment and components. This includes the hard drive, the monitor, and any ancillary devices such as scanners and printers that may be used along with the system. Even devices like the keyboard, cords and wires, and the pen drives are considered to be part of the hardware family. Remote storage devices like floppy disks and CDRs are also classed as hardware.
By contrast, software is the programming that provides the roadmap for each and every function that is executed on a computer hard drive. Tools in this category would include computer operating systems, as well as software programs designed to create spreadsheets, slide shows and even electronic letters, manuscripts and other word processing documents. Software also includes programs that are loaded onto a hard drive, either by downloading from the Internet or by using a CD or other data storage device to load the software program onto the system.
The relationship between software and hardware is mutually beneficial. The most efficient software cannot be used without the presence of the right hardware. At the same time, perfectly functioning hardware will be useless to most users unless the proper software is loaded onto the hard drive. From this perspective, software and hardware are often designed with this in mind, making sure that different types of software and hardware combinations can work properly even if a few hardware components are upgraded or replaced over time.
An easy way to remember the difference between software and hardware is to remember that hardware always refers to the physical machines and equipment related to a computer system. Hardware can be touched and moved with ease. In contrast, software consists of not physical in nature, but is code and instructions that are programmed into a computer hardware system so it will perform specified tasks. By equating hardware with touch and software with ideas or thoughts, it becomes easy to remember the difference and use the correct appellation when discussing anything from computer chips to anti-virus programs.