A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Types of Software

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published May 22, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Software is a combination of instructions written in a high-level programming language that allows a computer to perform tasks that increase efficiency. This software exists in broad categories based on the specific goal the user plans to accomplish. Understanding the difference between software categories and their usages can assist you with tasks such as creating and editing videos, downloading various content formats, searching for information on the internet, or communicating with others over a long distance. In this article, we explain the meaning of software programs, highlight the two major categories of software, and outline the common software types.

Related: The Best Computer Skills to Develop for Work

What are the major types of software?

Before you can gain insight into the numerous types of software computers use for performing specific tasks, it's essential for you to understand what software means. Software is the combination of data or programs used to complete and simplify specific tasks. A computer system interprets these as instructions. Software is a broad term you can use to describe the brain of a computer since it gives commands to the computer. You can find software in the form of:

  • Applications: Applications are a group of programs that developers create for an end user. They include database programs, word processors, and spreadsheets.

  • Scripts: A script is an alternative term to describe a macro or batch file. It's a list of commands that the computer can execute without user interaction.

Typically, software exists on personal computers, mobile phones, tablets, large interfaces and other smart devices. Software is the second principal component involved in creating a computer system, and the first is the hardware. While the software is the non-physical component installed on your computer's hard drive, the hardware is the component you can hold in your hand. You can also refer to software as the variable part of a computer and the hardware as the fixed part.

Related: Top Skills for Software Developer

What are the main categories of software?

Software often falls into two main categories. These are system software and application software. Here are the definitions of each type:

System software

System software is the critical interface between hardware and user applications. This type of software is what software developers design to run the computer's hardware and application programs. An excellent example of a system software program is the operating system (OS). The OS is a program that manages all the resources a computer possesses and provides plenty of benefits to computer software and software development.

Without an OS, the applications on a computer system may require a separate user interface and a separate comprehensive code for low-level functionality of the underlying computer, such as disk storage and network interfaces. It's important to note that the system software on a computer works in the background, which means you might not see the processes it uses to manage and maintain the computer. This maintenance applies essential functions to the computer and allows users to run high-level application software smoothly.

Related: 10 Technology Careers (With Salaries and Primary Duties)

Application software

Application software is an information technology term that describes programs that perform various productive activities. Therefore, professionals in the technology industry sometimes refer to such software as productivity programs or end-user programs. The tasks you can complete using application software include:

  • Manipulating text

  • Creating and editing text documents

  • Creating and editing spreadsheets

  • Creating and manipulating databases

  • Performing extensive online research

  • Creating and sending e-mails

  • Designing graphics

  • Gaming

Developers create application software specifically for lone tasks. They can be as simple as a calculator application for performing simple arithmetic or as complex as an extraction/unzipping application for the decompression of a file.

Types of system software

Understanding the concepts of system and application software requires more than just knowing the definitions. It's essential to know about the sub-types of both categories of software. Here are the main sub-types of system software:

Device driver

A device driver is a computer program responsible for controlling specific devices typically attached to a computer. For example, a driver allows effortless communication between the already installed OS and hardware devices. This communication provides a pathway for the OS to take over the device without knowing all its intricacies. Due to the wide variety of hardware and OSs in this technology-driven age, device drivers operate in many different environments. Drivers can help with the exchange of information between components, such as:

  • Printers

  • Video adapters

  • Network cards

  • Sound cards

  • Computer storage devices, including hard disks, CD-ROMs, and floppy disk buses

  • Image scanners

  • Digital cameras

  • Radio frequency communication transceiver adapters for wireless personal area networks

Firmware

Firmware is system software that can address the low-level control for a computer's hardware. Low-level control describes the individual parts that comprise a routine operation. An example of firmware is the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS), which exists in a primary personal computer. The BIOS customarily contains the essential functions and may provide hardware abstractions to complex software such as OSs. While firmware works with the device drivers to make hardware function as smoothly as possible, unlike a driver, which is a part of the OS, firmware exists in the hardware itself.

Programming language translator

With multiple programming languages, a computer requires system software that allows it to translate code from one programming language to another. The need for this translation is why developers and software engineers created a programming language translator. The translation process happens when the translator takes a program written in source code, a high-level programming language, and translates it into machine code, a low-level programming language.

Utilities

Utilities mainly help the framework of the computer system by assisting the OS to perform basic tasks, including data security. The majority of utilities are third-party tools. They're pieces of software created by developers that work for a company that is separate from the initial product manufacturer. A few examples of utilities include:

  • File management systems

  • Disk cleanup tools

  • Disk defragmenter

  • Compression tools

  • Backup utilities

Operating systems

You can also refer to the OS as the brain of a computer because it controls the significant components, or software and hardware. The hardware of a computer includes the keyboard, mouse, and hard drive, and the software consists of non-physical parts, such as applications. Another function of OSs is to provide a platform for applications to function.

Types of application software

There are many types of application software available for users, and here are some of the most common types:

  • Spreadsheet software: Spreadsheet software is an application that allows a user to create and edit electronic documents, with the arrangement in rows and columns. This software has many useful features, such as pre-set formulas and specialized tools for creating charts and graphs.

  • Web browsers: Since the beginning of the internet age, individuals have used web browsers to find and access information on the internet. These browsers provide convenience because most allow users to have a browsing history, create webpage bookmarks for easy access, and install extensions to tailor their user experience.

  • Multimedia software: Multimedia software assists with the creation, editing, and exporting of media, including images, audio, and video. This type of software can also allow a user to convert different file formats to ensure compatibility across various programs.

  • Presentation software: Professionals in most industries use visual documents or interactive content in the form of presentation slides and depend on presentation software to do this effectively. Presentation software has features that allow users to format text and display slides in a slideshow format to increase the audiences' attention and engagement.

  • Graphics software: Graphics software refers to programs or collections that allow users to manipulate images or illustrations, including web graphics. The most notable features include options to add layers to images, resize photos, and combine files.

  • Communication software: One of the standard software individuals use daily is an application that enables them to exchange messages in various formats over virtually any distance. Communication software works by utilizing remote systems that send information between computers.

  • Education software: Although primarily used in schools or other learning institutions, education software also provides knowledge on basic or complex subjects in the professional industry. This type of software can help create videos and increase the engagement of an individual in the learning process.


Explore more articles