The software can be best defined as a set of instructions, technically referred to as programs, that perform operations and specific tasks based on the commands of the user. Every single task that a user intends to perform is regulated by software. Made of binary language (ones and zeroes), there is a variety of software for different tasks. With that said, here’s everything about software that you should know.
Examples and Types of Software
There are several types of software based on their functionalities, which are as follows-
System software allows the user to run computer software or hardware and is responsible for managing their interaction with each other. It perpetually runs in the background to maintain the basic functionalities and the hardware of the computer. It essentially acts as a mediator between the computer and the user to facilitate operations. System software is of four types, which are as follows-
- Operating System – The operating system is a collection of software that helps execute programs and offers a computer application’s general services. There are various types of operating systems, such as iOS, macOS, Windows, Unix, Linux, and Ubuntu, among others.
- Device Drivers – Device drivers handle the operations of the hardware devices connected to a computer. They act as a software interface for the hardware devices so that applications and the operating system of a computer can run the hardware functions without having the knowledge of the hardware’s exact specifications.
- Firmware – Firmware is embedded in the read-only memory of a system and is a type of permanent software that offers low-level control for certain device hardware.
- Utility – Utility software functions to configure, maintain, and offer support in the analysis and optimization of the computer.
Application software or application programs are end-user programs that serve specific functionality to help users accomplish certain tasks. This includes graphic designing, researching online, drafting documents, watching movies or playing games, and managing finance among others. Developers keep creating software applications based on the evolving needs of users. There are various types of application software, which are as follows-
- Word Processors – Word processor software, as the name suggests, is designed for making notes, typing data, and documentation. Users can also format, store, and print their data and documents respectively using word processes.
- Database Software – Also known as Database Management System (DBMS), database software allows users to perform various operations on quickly retrieved data, such as creation, management, organization, and modification. Some popular examples of DBMS are MS Access, dBase, MySQL, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, and FileMaker.
- Multimedia Software – Users can perform certain actions on their computer, such as playing and recording music and video files as well as creating images with the help of multimedia software. This type of software has a massive application in the field of graphic designing where users create gifs, images, animations, and edit videos. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, Windows Movie Maker and Media Player, Corel Draw, and Picasa are some common types of multimedia processors.
- Web Browsers – Web Browsers are used for browsing the internet and their primary function is to allow users to fetch data across the web and also position the data. In simpler terms, you would access the internet with the help of web browsers so that you find the information that you need. Chrome, Opera, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, and UC Browser are very commonly used web browsers.
- Freeware – Freeware software is made available free of cost for a lifetime and it can be downloaded from the internet. This type of software is generally created by companies to improve their reach and gain more popularity. Some such software that is available free of cost for different purposes are Skype, Audacity, Zoom, Adobe Reader, WhatsApp, etc.
- Shareware – Shareware, much like Freeware, can be downloaded from the internet. However, the main difference between both is that, while freeware can be used for an unlimited amount of time without having to make any payment, shareware can be used on a trial basis. Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop, WinZip, and PHP Debugger are some popular types of shareware software.
- Open-Source – Open-source software is also available on the internet free of cost. However, what differentiates them from freeware is that they are available with their source code. This means users who download open-source software can make changes and transformations to it and even add features to it.
Programs and software are created by coders using different software tools, known as programming software. Some such programs used for software development by coders are as given below-
- Compilers – The conversion of codes written by humans into lower-level machine code is performed by compilers. These machine codes can be interpreted directly by computer hardware. While compilers serve a very basic purpose, they are the basis for creating even the most complicated and sophisticated software.
- Debuggers – Debuggers play an essential role in ensuring your software or application performs well by testing and debugging the computer code.
- Linkers – Linkers are responsible for combining various individual files from a compiler into a single executable file. The file converted, as a result, runs on its own without requiring a programming environment.
- Malware – Malware is software developed to attack computers and their software in a harmful way to cause them to misbehave or seize to work. This includes viruses, ransomware, trojans, and worms. Since there are a variety of malware that may be mistakenly downloaded, it is crucial to have antimalware software on your computer to keep it safe from their attacks.
How Does Software Work?
A software serves the purpose of executing commands provided by the user. These commands, known as inputs, are processed by the software. While the input is given in complex language that humans use, it is first converted into a binary language that the software understands. Based on the input, the software provides output to users. This output depends on the nature of the command given and the functionalities of the software.
How Software is Distributed?
There are different ways in which software can be distributed based on various factors. With that said, here are some common distribution mechanisms for software-
The commercial distribution of software means providing users with a license to use that particular software. Since users don’t completely own the software and are only provided a license, they cannot make any modifications or add features to the software. While the most common type of distribution mechanism in the past, it is less popular in recent times.
Open-source software is the opposite of commercial ones as it can be downloaded from the internet along with its source code. Since users can download the source code of the software as well, they can work on the codes and make changes to the software. While some open-source software might be free of cost, some may also be sold at retail prices.
Freeware type of software is available to be downloaded from the internet and is completely free of cost. Freeware is commonly adware, which means it comes with embedded advertising to generate revenue, which compensates for the software being free of cost.
Shareware is a variation of software, which is available for download for a limited period of time on a trial basis. It is aimed at offering a realistic experience to users so that they make the decision to buy the full version of the software for an unlimited amount of time, based on their experience with the shareware.
Design and Implementation
There are several tasks to accomplish when developing software, and project managers use a framework known as the software development lifecycle to describe these tasks. Analysis of the needs of users and planning the software based on this requirement analysis is the first step, followed by coming up with a strategy for fulfilling those requirements.
After designing, implementation is the next step wherein developers accomplish the development of the software and then test it. Once tested, the software passes through the maintenance phase which involves tasks to ensure the system keeps running. Therefore, as a whole, designing and implementation are at the core of the software development lifecycle.
How to Maintain Software Quality?
A software quality test helps ensure it runs smoothly and performs operations as intended. It comprises two parameters- functional and non-functional requirements. While functional requirements are a software’s core capabilities, non-functional requirements are its quality attributes that determine how the system should work.
Software testing is performed to determine and resolve any technical issues in the source code of the software. It also assesses other aspects, such as security, performance, and usability. To maintain software quality post-development, the developer constantly determines the requirements of users and issues pertaining to its features to make the needed modifications.
Modern Software Development
Modern software development leverages Lean and Agile principles. The focus of these principles is the requirements of customers for incorporating new functionalities and features into the software. Whether you make changes to small software products or those that are large-scale and complex, these principles are equally applicable to both types.
Software Licensing and Patents
Software licensing refers to putting a restriction on the usage and distribution of software with the help of a legally binding document known as a software license.
These software licenses, without any copyright violation, give users the rights to one or multiple copies of software. They highlight the basic responsibilities of the concerned parties to an agreement, and also put restrictions on the ways software can be utilized.
The terms and conditions of a software license typically involve the fair use policy of the software, limitations of liability, guarantees and warranties, disclaimers, and protections in case of infringement of the intellectual property rights of others because of the software or its usage.
Even though software infringements can be prevented with the help of copyright laws, these do not completely prevent others from independently developing similar software without copying. Patents, on the other hand, stop a person from making use of the functional aspects of software claimed by a software developer in that patent.
History of Software
Up until the late 1950s, the term software had not been used. Even though different software was being developed during this period, they had not been made available to people commercially. As a result of this, users, which included mostly scientists and big enterprises, often resorted to developing their own software.
Here is a brief timeline of the history of software-
- 21st June 1948 – Tom Kilburn, a computer scientist at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, wrote the world’s first software piece.
- 1958 – John Tukey, a statistician, coined the term software in one of his articles.
- 1977 – Apple II was released by Apple and shortly after VisiCorp released VisiCalc for the Apple II, which was the first spreadsheet for PCs.
- 1981 – IBM began the sale of software. Commercial software became available to consumers.
- In the mid-1980s – Software applications like AutoCAD, MS Word, and MS Excel were released.
- 1985 – Microsoft Windows 1.0 was released.
- 1997 – DVDs were introduced which were able to store the whole MS Office Suite on a single disk.
- 1999 – Salesforce.com started using cloud computing which pioneered software delivery through the internet.
- 2000 – The term Software as a service (SaaS) became a trend.
- 2007 – The first iPhone was launched, and mobile applications started gaining popularity.
- 2010 to present – DVDs became outdated as software could now be easily bought and downloaded over the internet by users.
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It is crucial to have a good understanding of software, its types, how it works, and other aspects pertaining to it for developers and other experts who maintain software. While hardware is extremely important, the software of a system is designed to execute commands and provide users with output. Without software, it is virtually impossible to use your system.
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