Software has transformed the way we work, the way we shop, and even the way we communicate. But what exactly is it?
Simply put, software is a set of instructions or commands used by a computer processor in order for it to perform a specific function. Broadly speaking, that function could be anything from warding off viruses to editing an image or sorting a spreadsheet.
Hardware vs Software
In order for software to function, it needs to interact with hardware, which can best be described as a physical device that connects to a computer. For example, hard drives, printers, monitors and mobile phones can all be classified as hardware, as can the computer itself.
Software, on the other hand, has no physical form. It is essentially the variable part of a computer. Developers write code in special languages telling a computer system what to do and the hardware delivers these instructions.
Different types of software
Software can be divided into three categories:
- System software
- Application software
- Malicious software
System software refers to software that manages your system and it doesn’t run specific tasks for the user. Consider it your device’s gatekeeper – it’s main function is to keep everything under control.
There are two main types of system software: operating systems and utility software.
An operating system brings together various parts of a computer in order for it to perform tasks and it’s generally pre-installed. For example, Microsoft Window or Mac OS X. Whereas utility software is used to analyse, configure, monitor and help maintain computer software. Anti-virus software for instance is a type of utility software, and it may come with the operating software or be added at a later stage.
Unlike system software, application software is built specifically to perform certain tasks. It can be off the shelf or bespoke and falls under four main categories: business, communications, multimedia and home/ personal.
Microsoft Office is a business application software suite we’re all familiar with that encompasses processing, spreadsheet and data software. This type of application software needs to be installed while Skype is a type of communications application that can only be used online.
Malicious software is the nasty stuff we want to avoid. This software is developed specifically to harm and disrupt your computer. Viruses, trojan horses and spyware all fall under this category.
How do you protect your system from attack? Install antivirus or firewall software and remember to run regular updates.
Software for business
It’s unknown exactly when the first piece of software was produced but we do know that the first algorithm for software was written as far back as the 19th century.
Since then, software has evolved tremendously and it has especially had a positive impact on businesses. Day to day operations within a business have been made easier and faster since the advent of software and advances in technology mean the limitations of what software can do for a business are fading.
Not only does software provide companies with solutions for enhancing performance in the workplace, it can also be sold as a service (SaaS). Increasingly, bespoke software solutions are being developed for companies, with payroll processing software, customer relationship management (CRM) and messaging software some commonly used examples of SaaS business models.
Undoubtedly one of the biggest changes we have experienced in the past decade is cloud computing. Staff are no longer chained to their desks; they can work remotely and still communicate and collaborate with colleagues and clients effectively. Accessing files online as opposed to via a local server grants the user faster access and in general makes the workplace more efficient.
Software has come leaps and bounds in the past 20 years so it’s exciting to see what the future holds.