Updated: 11/12/2023 by Computer Hope
Microsoft Excel software box

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

Examples and types of software

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

Although application software is considered a program, it can be anything that runs on a computer. The following table also has a "Program?" column to clarify any software that's not a program.

Software Examples Program?
Antivirus AVG, Housecall, McAfee, and Norton Yes
Audio / Music program iTunes and WinAmp Yes
Communication Discord, Skype, and Ventrilo Yes
Database Access, MySQL, and SQL (Structured Query Language) Yes
Device drivers Computer drivers No
E-mail Outlook and Thunderbird Yes
Game Madden NFL football, Quake, and World of Warcraft Yes
Internet browser Firefox, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer Yes
Movie player VLC (VideoLAN client) and Windows Media Player Yes
Operating system Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows No
Photo / Graphics program Adobe Photoshop and CorelDRAW Yes
Presentation PowerPoint Yes
Programming language C++, HTML (hypertext markup language), Java, Perl, PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor), Python, and Visual Basic Yes
Simulation Flight simulator and SimCity Yes
Spreadsheet Excel Yes
Utility Compression, Disk Cleanup, encryption, registry cleaner, and screen saver No
Word processor Microsoft Word Yes

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 comes in a box containing all the disks (floppy diskette, CD (compact disc), DVD (digital versatile disc), 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 process on your computer.

Free software

There are also a lot of free programs available that are separated into the following categories.

  • Shareware or trial software gives you a few days to try the software before buying the program. After the trial time expires, you'll be asked to enter a code or register the product before you can continue to use it.
  • Freeware is free software that never requires payment as long as it is not modified.
  • Open source software is similar to freeware. Not only is the program free, but the source code is also available to everyone.
  • Bundle ware is software bundled with new computers and hardware.

Retail software that's copied but not purchased or has no software license is known as software piracy and is illegal.


See our top 10 free PC programs everyone should have for a list of software you may want to install on your computer first.

Installing and uninstalling software

How do you use computer software?

Once the software is installed on the computer's hard drive, the program can be used anytime. On a Windows computer, a program icon is added to the Start menu or Start screen, depending on your version of Windows. Double-clicking that icon opens the program.

How to maintain software

After the software is 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 programmers) writes the instructions using a programming language, defining how the software should operate on structured data. The program may then be interpreted or compiled into machine code.

When I save a document, is that file also considered software?

When you create or edit a file using software — a Microsoft Word document, for instance, or a Photoshop image — that file is considered a software "resource" or "asset." However, the file itself is not considered "software" even though it is an essential part of what your software is doing.

What was the first piece of computer software?

Tom Kilburn's first program for the SSEM in 1948.

The first program held in electronic memory was credited to and written by Tom Kilburn. The program calculated the highest factor of the integer 218, and was successfully executed on June 21, 1948, at the University of Manchester, England. The computer holding that program was called the SSEM (Small Scale Experimental Machine), aka the "Manchester Baby." This event is widely celebrated as the birth of software.

How expensive is software?

The price for certain applications can vary widely. For example, some games on Steam go for less than $5, and advanced programs, such as Cinema 4D Studio, can cost more than $3,500.

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