What is Computer Software?
Computers have become one of the most important parts of modern society. They facilitate the communication of billions of people around the world and power almost every industry.
Most people are aware of computer hardware since this is the physical equipment they interact with to operate computer systems.
Despite this awareness, some people are still mystified by the software loaded onto computers and how it works.
Here we will explore the definition, history, and types of software.
Computer Software Definition
Computer software is a group of programs, documentation, and data that is built into a computer system to register user inputs and process relevant outputs.
The software is essentially code that is written into custom scripts that run on a device using the commands from the connected hardware. There are different types of computer software that perform different actions on a vast range of devices, varying hugely in complexity and function.
History of Computer Software
The very first example of the principles of computer software could be Ada Lovelace’s programs for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine in the 19th century.
This system was a simple general purpose computer used for solving equations using a complex mechanical device. Alan Turing took these ideas a step further in 1935 when he put forward advanced theories for computer software, branching into the fields of computer science and software engineering.
Software as we know it first emerged in the 1940s, written in binary code for large mainframe computers. The very first time a computer system held a piece of working software within its memory was in 1948 in Manchester. This system was known as the Manchester Baby, and the software was written in binary by the mathematician Tom Kilburn.
A dedicated programming language was developed at IBM in the early 1950s and released under the name FORTRAN in 1957. The software was developed by a team led by computer scientist John Backus and by 1963, most major manufacturers were utilizing FORTRAN within their computers.
Several other programming languages emerged during this period, including COBOL and FORMAC, which were primarily focused on powering business operations. During the 60s, the programming language BASIC was used to power the Apollo Mission to the moon, cementing computer software as one of the most important human innovations in history.
During the 1970s and 1980s, more user-friendly computer software hit the market, focusing on interactable graphical user interfaces (GUIs).
Huge operating systems like Unix, macOS for Apple devices, and of course, Microsoft’s Windows software. These operating systems allowed users to simply interact with computers using peripheral hardware such as keyboards and computer mice.
These operating systems have become the foundation for consumer computing products and made their way into the hands of people around the globe in the 2000s.
While there are examples of handheld mobile devices with operating systems, the iPhone from Apple is the product that introduced pocket software to the masses in 2007. The iOS software built into the iPhone products registers inputs from a touch screen to perform actions and produce visual or audio outputs.
Types of Computer Software
Computer software is encoded programs that do not have a material form and instead operate from within the system memory to execute commands, process inputs, and display outputs. You can generally split the software into two distinct categories, defined below:
Operating System (OS): arguably the most important form of software, an OS is the graphical interface through which the user operates the computer. Examples include Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
Application software: These are installable or preloaded package programs that perform a given function or fulfill a utility purpose. They can be used to create art or music, produce written content, program other pieces of software, provide education, or play games. Examples include Microsoft Office, Internet browsers, Image editing suites like Photoshop, and much more.
Software is designed and run using a programming language such as C++, Java, or Python that operates mostly behind the scenes to make the software work. This is represented as strings of code that convey commands and inputs to the hardware.
What is Computer Software used for?
Computer software has a broad range of uses, and we will summarize the most common uses below:
Navigating a computer system: The role of an operating system is to enable the user to navigate around the user interface, file structures, and applications. This can be done through a mouse and keyboard, tracker pads, voice controls, gaming controllers, touchscreens, and more. These input devices are often referred to as peripherals.
Word processing: Using a software package like Microsoft Word, users can type passages of text and format them to their liking. Images, icons, videos, and animated GIFs can also be integrated into text-based content to make it more engaging or fit for purpose.
Spreadsheets and databases: Spreadsheets are documents that house, process, and output data and are often used in the financial sector due to their powerful calculation capacity. Databases work in a similar way but are more focused on storage and quick access to data and records.
Computer-Aided Design: Through a CAD application, designers can model and draw products, buildings, and civil works that can then be manufactured from these detailed plans.
Computer software has skyrocketed from a theoretical concept in the 1940s to a fundamental part of modern society that powers almost every industry.
Billions of people interact with software on a daily basis, largely due to the increased accessibility of personal computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablet devices.
As we move toward a new era of virtual reality and concepts like computer implants, the software is sure to play a large part in the future of humanity as we interact with computers with inputs to generate a range of outputs.