Examples of computer software include:
- Application software includes end-user applications of computers such as word processors or video games, and ERP software for groups of users.
- Middleware controls and co-ordinates distributed systems.
- Programming languages define the syntax and semantics of computer programs. For example, many mature banking applications were written in the COBOL language, originally invented in 1959. Newer applications are often written in more modern programming languages.
- System software includes operating systems, which govern computing resources. Today large applications running on remote machines such as Websites are considered to be system software, because the end-user interface is generally through a graphical user interface, such as a web browser.
- Testware is software for testing hardware or a software package.
- Firmware is low-level software often stored on electrically programmable memory devices. Firmware is given its name because it is treated like hardware and run ("executed") by other software programs.
- Shrinkware is the older name given to consumer-purchased software, because it was often sold in retail stores in a shrink-wrapped box.
- Device drivers control parts of computers such as disk drives, printers, CD drives, or computer monitors.
- Programming tools help conduct computing tasks in any category listed above. For programmers, these could be tools for debugging or reverse engineering older legacy systems in order to check source code compatibility.
The first theory about software was proposed by Alan Turing in his 1935 essay Computable numbers with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem (Decision problem). The term "software" was first used in print by John W. Tukey in 1958. Colloquially, the term is often used to mean application software. In computer science and software engineering, software is all information processed by computer system, programs and data. The academic fields studying software are computer science and software engineering.
The history of computer software is most often traced back to the first software bug in 1946. As more and more programs enter the realm of firmware, and the hardware itself becomes smaller, cheaper and faster due to Moore's law, elements of computing first considered to be software, join the ranks of hardware. Most hardware companies today have more software programmers on the payroll than hardware designers, since software tools have automated many tasks of Printed circuit board engineers. Just like the Auto industry, the Software industry has grown from a few visionaries operating out of their garage with prototypes. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were the Henry Ford and Louis Chevrolet of their times, who capitalized on ideas already commonly known before they started in the business. In the case of Software development, this moment is generally agreed to be the publication in the 1980s of the specifications for the IBM Personal Computer published by IBM employee Philip Don Estridge. Today his move would be seen as a type of crowd-sourcing.
Until that time, software was bundled with the hardware by Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as Data General, Digital Equipment and IBM. When a customer bought a minicomputer, at that time the smallest computer on the market, the computer did not come with Pre-installed software, but needed to be installed by engineers employed by the OEM. Computer hardware companies not only bundled their software, they also placed demands on the location of the hardware in a refrigerated space called a computer room. Most companies had their software on the books for 0 dollars, unable to claim it as an asset (this is similar to financing of popular music in those days). When Data General introduced the Data General Nova, a company called Digidyne wanted to use its RDOS operating system on its own hardware clone. Data General refused to license their software (which was hard to do, since it was on the books as a free asset), and claimed their "bundling rights". The Supreme Court set a precedent called Digidyne v. Data General in 1985. The Supreme Court let a 9th circuit decision stand, and Data General was eventually forced into licensing the Operating System software because it was ruled that restricting the license to only DG hardware was an illegal tying arrangement. Soon after, IBM 'published' its DOS source for free, and Microsoft was born. Unable to sustain the loss from lawyer's fees, Data General ended up being taken over by EMC Corporation. The Supreme Court decision made it possible to value software, and also purchase Software patents. The move by IBM was almost a protest at the time. Few in the industry believed that anyone would profit from it other than IBM (through free publicity). Microsoft and Apple were able to thus cash in on 'soft' products. It is hard to imagine today that people once felt that software was worthless without a machine. There are many successful companies today that sell only software products, though there are still many common software licensing problems due to the complexity of designs and poor documentation, leading to patent trolls.
With open software specifications and the possibility of software licensing, new opportunities arose for software tools that then became the de facto standard, such as DOS for operating systems, but also various proprietary word processing and spreadsheet programs. In a similar growth pattern, proprietary development methods became standard Software development methodology.
Software includes all the various forms and roles that digitally stored data may have and play in a computer (or similar system), regardless of whether the data is used as code for a CPU, or other interpreter, or whether it represents other kinds of information. Software thus encompasses a wide array of products that may be developed using different techniques such as ordinary programming languages, scripting languages, microcode, or an FPGA configuration.The types of software include web pages developed in languages and frameworks like HTML, PHP, Perl, JSP, ASP.NET, XML, and desktop applications like OpenOffice.org, Microsoft Word developed in languages like C, C++, Java, C#, or Smalltalk. Application software usually runs on an underlying software operating systems such as Linux or Microsoft Windows. Software (or firmware) is also used in video games and for the configurable parts of the logic systems of automobiles, televisions, and other consumer electronics.
Computer software is so called to distinguish it from computer hardware, which encompasses the physical interconnections and devices required to store and execute (or run) the software. At the lowest level, executable code consists of machine language instructions specific to an individual processor. A machine language consists of groups of binary values signifying processor instructions that change the state of the computer from its preceding state. Programs are an ordered sequence of instructions for changing the state of the computer in a particular sequence. It is usually written in high-level programming languages that are easier and more efficient for humans to use (closer to natural language) than machine language. High-level languages are compiled or interpreted into machine language object code. Software may also be written in an assembly language, essentially, a mnemonic representation of a machine language using a natural language alphabet. Assembly language must be assembled into object code via an assembler.
Types of software
Practical computer systems divide software systems into three major classes: system software, programming software and application software, although the distinction is arbitrary, and often blurred.
System software provides the basic functions for computer usage and helps run the computer hardware and system. It includes a combination of the following:
- device drivers
- operating systems
- window systems
Programming softwareProgramming software usually provides tools to assist a programmer in writing computer programs, and software using different programming languages in a more convenient way. The tools include:
- text editors
Application softwareSystem software does not aim at a certain application fields.In contrast,different application software offers different function based on users and the area it served.Application software is developed for some certain purpose,which either can be a certain program or a collection of some programmes,such as a graphic browser or the data base management system. Application software allows end users to accomplish one or more specific (not directly computer development related) tasks. Typical applications include:
- industrial automation
- business software
- video games
- quantum chemistry and solid state physics software
- telecommunications (i.e., the Internet and everything that flows on it)
- educational software
- Mathematical software
- medical software
- molecular modeling software
- image editing
- simulation software
- Word processing
- Decision making software
- Platform software: Platform includes the firmware, device drivers, an operating system, and typically a graphical user interface which, in total, allow a user to interact with the computer and its peripherals (associated equipment). Platform software often comes bundled with the computer. On a PC you will usually have the ability to change the platform software.
- Application software: Application software or Applications are what most people think of when they think of software. Typical examples include office suites and video games. Application software is often purchased separately from computer hardware. Sometimes applications are bundled with the computer, but that does not change the fact that they run as independent applications. Applications are usually independent programs from the operating system, though they are often tailored for specific platforms. Most users think of compilers, databases, and other "system software" as applications.
- User-written software: End-user development tailors systems to meet users' specific needs. User software include spreadsheet templates and word processor templates. Even email filters are a kind of user software. Users create this software themselves and often overlook how important it is. Depending on how competently the user-written software has been integrated into default application packages, many users may not be aware of the distinction between the original packages, and what has been added by co-workers.
Quality and reliability
Design and implementationDesign and implementation of software varies depending on the complexity of the software. For instance, design and creation of Microsoft Word software will take much more time than designing and developing Microsoft Notepad because of the difference in functionalities in each one.
Software is usually designed and created (coded/written/programmed) in integrated development environments (IDE) like Eclipse, Emacs and Microsoft Visual Studio that can simplify the process and compile the program. As noted in different section, software is usually created on top of existing software and the application programming interface (API) that the underlying software provides like GTK+, JavaBeans or Swing. Libraries (APIs) are categorized for different purposes. For instance, JavaBeans library is used for designing enterprise applications, Windows Forms library is used for designing graphical user interface (GUI) applications like Microsoft Word, and Windows Communication Foundation is used for designing web services. Underlying computer programming concepts like quicksort, hashtable, array, and binary tree can be useful to creating software. When a program is designed, it relies on the API. For instance, if a user is designing a Microsoft Windows desktop application, he/she might use the .NET Windows Forms library to design the desktop application and call its APIs like Form1.Close() and Form1.Show() to close or open the application and write the additional operations him/herself that it need to have. Without these APIs, the programmer needs to write these APIs him/herself. Companies like Sun Microsystems, Novell, and Microsoft provide their own APIs so that many applications are written using their software libraries that usually have numerous APIs in them.
Computer software has special economic characteristics that make its design, creation, and distribution different from most other economic goods. A person who creates software is called a programmer, software engineer, software developer, or code monkey, terms that all have a similar meaning.