Sometimes 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, most computers would be useless. For example, without your Internet browser software, 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 shows a Microsoft Excel box, 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.
It should be noted that 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.
|Antivirus||AVG, Housecall, McAfee||Yes|
|Audio / Music program||iTunes, WinAmp||Yes|
|Database||Access, MySQL, SQL||Yes|
|Device drivers||Computer drivers||No|
|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||Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows||No|
|Photo / Graphics program||Adobe PhotoShop, CorelDRAW||Yes|
|Programming language||C++, HTML, Java, Perl, Visual Basic (VB)||Yes|
|Simulation||Flight simulator, SimCity||Yes|
|Utility||Compression, Disk Cleanup, Encryption, Registry cleaner, Screensaver||No|
Tip: See our program definition for additional examples of computer programs.
How do you get software?
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.
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 similar to 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 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 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 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 computer programmers) write the instructions using a programming language that tell the software how to function and what to do. Once the program has been completed, it is compiled into a language that the computer can understand.
When I save a document using my program, is that file also considered "software"?
When you create or edit a file using your software — a Microsoft Word document, for instance, or a Photoshop image — that file is considered a "resource" or "asset" used by the software. 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?
The first software program that was held in electronic memory was written by Tom Kilburn. The program calculated the highest factor of the integer 2^18 = 262,144 and was successfully executed on June 21st of 1948 at the University of Manchester. The computer that held that program was called the Small Scale Experimental Machine, otherwise known as the "Baby" computer. This "Manchester Baby" is widely celebrated as the birth of software.