Software

Microsoft Excel software boxSometimes abbreviated as SW and S/W, software is a collection of instructions that enable the user to interact with a computer, its hardware, or perform tasks. Without software, computers would be useless. For example, without your Internet browser, you could not surf the Internet or read this page and without an operating system, the browser could not run on your computer. The picture to the right is a Microsoft Excel software box and an example of a spreadsheet software program.

Examples and types of software

Below is a list of the different kinds of software a computer may have installed with examples of related programs. Click any of the links below for additional information.

Note: Although software is thought of as a program, it can be anything that runs on a computer. The table below also includes a program column to clarify any software that is not a program.

Software Example Program?
Antivirus AVG, Housecall, McAfee Yes
Audio / Music program iTunes, WinAmp Yes
Database Access, MySQL, SQL Yes
Device drivers Computer drivers No
E-mail Outlook, Thunderbird Yes
Game Madden NFL Football, Quake, World of Warcraft Yes
Internet browser Firefox, Google Chrome, Internet Explorer Yes
Movie player VLC, Windows Media Player Yes
Operating system Mac OS X 10, Windows XP, Windows 7 No
Photo / Graphics program Adobe PhotoShop, CorelDRAW Yes
Presentation PowerPoint Yes
Programming language C++, HTML, Java, Perl, Visual Basic (VB) Yes
Simulation Flight simulator, SimCity Yes
Spreadsheet Excel Yes
Utility Compression, Disk Cleanup, Encryption, Registry cleaner, Screensaver No
Word processor Word Yes

Tip: See our program definition for additional examples of computer programs.

How do you get software?

Software can be purchased at a retail computer store or online and come in a box containing all the disks (floppy diskette, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray), manuals, warranty, and other documentation.

Software can also be downloaded to a computer over the Internet. Once downloaded, setup files are run to start the installation of the program on your computer.

Free software

There are also millions of free software programs available that are separated into different categories.

  • Shareware or trial software is software that gives you a few days to try the software before you have to buy the program. After the trial time expires, you'll be asked to enter a code or to register the product before you can continue to use it.
  • Freeware is completely free software that never requires payment, as long as it is not modified.
  • Open source software is like freeware. Not only is the program given away for free, but the source code used to make the program is as well, allowing anyone to modify the program or view how it was created.

Tip: See our Top 10 free PC programs everyone should have for a listing of software you may want to install on your computer first.

Installing and uninstalling software

How do you use computer software?

Once the software has been installed on to your computer hard drive, the program can be used anytime by finding the program on the computer. On a Windows computer, a program icon is added to the Start Menu or Start Screen, depending on your version of Windows.

How to maintain software

After the software has been installed on your computer it may need to be updated to fix any found errors. Updating a program can be done using software patches. Once updates are installed any problems that may have been experienced in the program will no longer occur.

How is software created and how does it work?

A computer programmer or several computer programmers write the instructions using a programming language that tell the software how to work. Once the program has been completed, it is compiled into a language that the computer can understand.

Related pages

Also see: Application, Hardware, Software engineering, Software terms