Software is an array of instructions that tell a particular computer how to perform. This is compared to physical hardware, in which only the machine actually does the work and is capable of interpreting the data. In computer science, software is data processed by various computer systems, which includes instructions and codes. Generally speaking, there are four major types of software: hardware, user code, hardware abstraction and software abstraction. The hardware is what you actually see and use in your computer, while user code and abstraction is what happens behind the scenes.
Softwares are the earliest forms of software. Before computers, software was composed of simple binary programs that could be carried out by individual users with a general purpose machine like an unpacked computer or even a simple calculator. With the advent of personal computers, software became more sophisticated, as hardware became more advanced. For example, microprocessors began to be used in later iterations of personal computers, and operating systems also began to gain in complexity and sophistication. To this day, most personal computers run on Windows, along with other free software for operating the machine as well as routine tasks.
On the other hand, there are two major distinctions in terms of computer software. There are those that need to be installed onto the computer’s hard drive, such as operating systems and application software, while others are installed on the machine itself, such as programming languages, language libraries, image formats, and so forth. Although softwares can be downloaded for free from the Internet, it is much more common for individuals to install the actual physical hardware into their systems. For instance, a person who installs a music player onto their computer without software first will have the program stored on their hard drive, but will not be able to use it without the assistance of the software. Conversely, someone who installs a language library into their machine without software will simply need to install the software on their PC or laptop in order for it to function.
The distinction between software and hardware becomes even more clear when we examine what programs people can use versus what they must have. For example, people may want to download freeware applications that allow them to surf the Internet or chat with friends and family. At the same time, it may be necessary for these individuals to have the very latest operating system in order to get access to Windows updates and to take advantage of the Windows Live Room application. In the latter case, they will need the hardware to connect their PC to the internet, but without the system software, they will not be able to utilize this feature. The same thing goes for video game consoles; without system software in place, players will be unable to communicate with each other over the network, and will therefore be unable to enjoy the benefits of playing the games.
The term “software” itself has two very broad definitions. Technically, it can mean any of the items listed above – actual software programs, specific tasks written by a program, drivers, and so forth. However, in most cases, it is merely a generic term used to describe one type of program. For example, game console hardware is often referred to as software console. Similarly, software designed to operate a digital camera is often called photo software. When talking about generic software, however, it is important to remember that in many cases it is possible to get similar results with generic terms that are used to describe different items.
Software engineers spend a great deal of time defining and describing the various elements that make up a program. Those involved in the computer field refer to this as “software engineering” or “software development”. In many ways, it is the most exact definition of what an engineer or architect does. In fact, those involved in the computer industry spend more time defining the different types of software than those involved in the actual design and creation of the applications.