What is Software?

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What is Software?

Sameeksha Medewar
Last updated on June 16, 2024

    Any computer or computing system has two core components: software and hardware. Hardware is anything physical and tangible. Software, on the other hand, is intangible. It is a set of programs and instructions that tells a computer or device to perform certain tasks. The keyboard, mouse, and processor of a PC, for example, are hardware, while the operating system, Chrome browser, Tekken 7, and the built-in calculator is software.

    Users can get the software from online stores or purchase them from brick-and-mortar shops that sell them. While some software programs are paid, some others are free (known as freeware), and still, some others follow some in-between path, like having a freemium model.

    The software labeled as shareware or trial version allows users to get a taste of what they will get for sparing money. Such software programs are limited in terms of time and/or the number of uses. Certain free software programs are also distributed as open-source software. This means that their underlying code is available publicly for upgrading or tweaking and tailor-making the software to fit specialized personal/commercial requirements.

    What is Software?

    Although various kinds of programming software were developed during the late 1950s, the word software wasn’t known to the world up until this point. John Tukey, an American mathematician, coined the term software in 1958. He used the word in an article about electronic calculators’ programs in the 1958 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly journal.

    The theory of software, however, was first proposed by Alan Turing, the widely-considered father of AI and theoretical computer science. He introduced it in an essay titled On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem much earlier in 1937. During the late 1950s, software wasn’t commercially available. This meant that if an organization required some software, then they had to create it all by themselves.

    By the 1970s, computers became smaller, less costly, and became available for personal use. At this time, software production started to surge. It was during this time that operating systems came to be developed. MS-DOS, one of the earliest operating systems, was released in the August of 1981.

    Moreover, IBM started developing sellable software at this time. Soon, installing various programs on a computer became a usual practice. As computer hardware evolved and software became more intricate during the 1980s, hard drives started to become common for personal computers.

    Now, operating systems are bundled with several types of software. The introduction of CDs during the late 80s aided the mushrooming of software growth. Now, distributing software has become easy, inexpensive, and rapid. By the mid-2000s, CDs were superseded by DVDs that could store several software programs.

    At present, DVDs have almost gone obsolete. This is due to the immense growth and advancements in the internet and cloud technology. Today, users prefer to download software programs directly from the Web or use web apps that don’t even require installing software on the system.

    Types of Software

    1. System Software

    Everything ranging from the operating system and BIOS to the task manager and utilities meant to enhance the efficiency of a system is the system software. This type of software also manages hardware components, such as device drivers. Typically, the system software is developed using high-performance programming languages, such as C. Application software programs require system software to work.


    • Device drivers
    • Disk formatters
    • Firmware
    • Operating systems
    • Programming language translators, or simply translators
    • System Utilities
    • Text editors

    2. Application Software

    Any software program that has the specific intent for performing certain tasks and requires system software to operate is termed application software. Application software can either be a single/standalone program or a set of tools or utilities called a suite. As the application software is designed specifically for the end-users, these are also known as end-user programs.


    • Database management systems
    • Download managers
    • Educational software
    • Games
    • Video editing tools
    • Web browsers
    • Word processors

    3. Programming Software

    As the name suggests, programming software refers to tools that make lives easier for developers. This type of software is specifically designed for decomplexing the process of writing programs. These can also be considered as a specific type of application software.


    • Code Editors
    • Compilers
    • Debuggers
    • IDEs (Integrated Development Environments)
    • Interpreters
    • Software Frameworks
    • Testing Tools

    4. Malicious Software a.k.a. Malware

    Unlike other types of software programs, malware isn’t useful. Instead, it is designed specially to sabotage the user's privacy, steal sensitive data, damage the hardware and/or software, compromise the user/system security, and accomplish various other ill intents. Because this kind of software is designed in such a way that it acts and performs its operation sneakily, unsuspecting users provide it with what it wants.

    When users no longer require application software or programming software, they can simply uninstall them. This is, however, not the case with most malware. They usually necessitate using an antivirus, an application software, to be detected and removed.


    • Adware
    • Computer viruses
    • Ransomware
    • Spyware
    • Trojans
    • Worms

    Importance of Software (and The Interdependence of Its Types)

    Both software and hardware complete a computer or computing system. Even if a device has a state-of-the-art hardware configuration, it is useless without any software. Also, the various types of software programs described previously are interdependent on one another.

    Now, it is not possible to use some application software if there isn’t an operating system available. In turn, an operating system can’t be developed without using programming software. Interestingly enough, programming software programs are also application software. Therefore, the software types depend on one another, both in their operation as well as their development.

    Software Development Life Cycle or SDLC

    SDLC methodologies are employed in order to create performant, high-quality software. Technically, the software development life cycle is a framework that defines various tasks and their sequence aimed at developing powerful software.

    There is a range of SDLC methodologies that can be used for developing software. Choosing one depends on a range of factors, but most notably, it is determined by the type of software to be developed, time and budget constraints, and development preferences. Some of the most popular SDLC methodologies are:

    • Agile
    • DevOps
    • Iterative
    • Lean
    • Scrum
    • Spiral
    • V
    • Waterfall

    The software development approach involves several phases. The sequence of these phases varies for different SDLC methodologies. Moreover, some of these phases might be combined into a single stage in various SDLC techniques. Anyways, the various phases of the software development process are:

    1. Planning & Requirements Gathering

    Every software development process starts with collecting the requirements, officially called requirements gathering. This marks the beginning of the planning phase. From the POV of a project manager, it is the most important part of the SDLC. Now, requirements are of two types:

    • Functional - Defines what the software must do. Can be:
      • Calculations
      • Data manipulation
      • Technical details
    • Non-functional - Also known as quality attributes, these types of requirements define how the software must operate. Can be related to the following:
      • Disaster recovery
      • Portability
      • Privacy
      • Usability

    The planning phase involves not only the development team but also the client(s). To make things easier, the planning phase aims at answering a range of questions, such as:

    • How will the software be used?
    • What will be the input and output for the software?
    • Who are the end-users of the software?

    2. Analysis

    The next step in the software development process is to validate the practicality and feasibility of the requirements collected during the planning phase. As such, this phase is termed analysis. The end result of the analysis phase is a Requirement Specification document. The Requirement Specification doc acts as the base for completing the remaining portion of the SDLC.

    3. Designing

    This is the phase where the software architecture is decided. Some of the most popular software architecture patterns are:

    • Event-driven
    • Microkernel
    • Microservices
    • Layered (n-tier)
    • Space-based

    The hardware and system requirements are also specified during the designing phase. By the end of the phase, the development team has system design specifications, which serve as the input for the development phase.

    4. Development

    This is the phase where coding starts based on the system design specs gained from the designing phase. To make the process of writing code easier, the complete task is partitioned into modules. The development phase is the most important phase from the developer team’s perspective. Usually, this is the second-most longest phase in the entire software development process. Once the code is developed, it’s time to perform testing.

    5. Testing

    The testing phase is the phase of utmost importance for the testing team. Software testing helps in detecting issues pertaining to the written source code. Furthermore, this phase also assesses the software product for compatibility, performance, security, usability, et cetera.

    Note : Some SDLC approaches combine development and testing into one phase.

    6. Implementation

    Once the testing is successfully conducted on the software product in development and the issues found are resolved, it’s time for the first implementation of the software. Naturally, this phase, therefore, is termed the implementation phase.

    In simple terms, the implementation phase means delivering the software to the end-user and/or installing the software upon the customer system(s). Once the product is delivered to the customer, beta testing starts. Following the conclusion of the same, all the bugs and enhancements are reported to the developer team. Once all the changes are done, the final implementation takes place.

    7. Maintenance

    Once the software is implemented successfully, the maintenance phase kicks in. Interestingly, it is the longest phase for most software. The maintenance phase is a continuous phase that keeps on detecting and resolving issues of the developed software faced by the end-users. Moreover, upgrades and enhancements are rolled out for the software during this phase.

    What are the Characteristics of a Software?

    Not every software is great. So, what makes software superb? Well, the simple way is to check what it brings to the table and how well it fares in doing so. The usefulness of a software program can be gauged based on the following parameters:

    1. Maintenance Ability

    • Flexibility
    • Maintainability
    • Modularity
    • Scalability

    2. Operational Ability

    • Cost-effectiveness
    • Efficiency
    • Usability
    • Correctness
    • Functionality
    • Dependability
    • Safety and Security

    3. Transitional Ability

    • Adaptability
    • Interoperability
    • Portability
    • Reusability


    Knowing about software is necessary before diving into the details of building it. Hopefully, you are now well acquainted with the concept of software. It has become an essential commodity in the modern world. It is used for everything ranging from producing chocolates and web development to space research and disaster management. The reliance on software is only meant to grow in the future.

    People are also reading:


    There are primarily four types of software: System software, Application software, Programming software, and Malicious software (Malware).

    A good software possesses three primary characteristics, namely maintenance ability, transitional ability, and operational ability.

    While software is a collection of programs or instructions to accomplish certain tasks, hardware are physical devices that store and run software.

    Some examples of application software are Word Processors, Spreadsheet software, Multimedia software, Email programs, Internet browsers, and application suites.

    Some examples of system software include BIOS (Basic Input/Output System), Boot, Assembler, and Device Driver.

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