Computer software

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Software, or program, enable a computer to perform specific tasks, as opposed to the physical components of the system (hardware). This includes application software such as a word processor, which enables a user to perform a task, and system software such as an operating system, which enables other software to run properly, by interfacing with hardware and with other software or custom software made to user specifications.

Image:ScreenHunter 001.JPG
A screenshot of computer software running in Windows XP.


[edit] Relationship to computer hardware

Main article: Computer hardware

Computer software is so called in contrast to computer hardware, which encompasses the physical interconnections and devices required to store and execute (or run) the software. In computers, software is loaded into RAM and executed in the central processing unit. At the lowest level, software consists of a machine language specific to an individual processor. A machine language consists of groups of binary values signifying processor instructions (object code), which change the state of the computer from its preceding state. Software is an ordered sequence of instructions for changing the state of the computer hardware 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.

The term "software" was first used in this sense by John W. Tukey in 1957. In computer science and software engineering, computer software is all computer programs. The concept of reading different sequences of instructions into the memory of a device to control computations was invented by Charles Babbage as part of his difference engine. The theory that is the basis for most modern software was first proposed by Alan Turing in his 1935 essay Computable numbers with an application to the Entscheidungsproblem. <ref>Hally, Mike (2005:79). Electronic brains/Stories from the dawn of the computer age. British Broadcasting Corporation and Granta Books, London. ISBN 1-86207-663-4.</ref>

[edit] Types

Practical computer systems divide software into three major classes: system software, programming software and application software, although the distinction is arbitrary, and often blurred.

[edit] Program and library

A program may not be sufficiently complete for execution by a computer. In particular, it may require additional software from a software library in order to be complete. Such a library may include software components used by stand-alone programs, but which cannot work on their own. Thus, programs may include standard routines that are common to many programs, extracted from these libraries. Libraries may also include 'stand-alone' programs which are activated by some computer event and/or perform some function (e.g., of computer 'housekeeping') but do not return data to their calling program. Programs may be called by one to many other programs; programs may call zero to many other programs.

[edit] Three layers

Starting in the 1980s, application software has been sold in mass-produced packages through retailers

Users often see things differently than programmers. People who use modern general purpose computers (as opposed to embedded systems, analog computers, supercomputers, etc.) usually see three layers of software performing a variety of tasks: platform, application, and user software.

Platform software 
Platform includes the basic input-output system (often described as firmware rather than software), 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, and users may not realize that it exists or that they have a choice to use different 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 almost always 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 
User software tailors systems to meet the users specific needs. User software include spreadsheet templates, word processor macros, scientific simulations, graphics and animation scripts. 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 purchased application packages, many users may not be aware of the distinction between the purchased packages, and what has been added by fellow co-workers.
See also: Software architecture

[edit] Creation

Main article: Computer programming

[edit] Operation

Computer software has to be "loaded" into the computer's storage (also known as memory and RAM). Once the software is loaded, the computer is able to execute the software. Computers operate by executing the computer program. This involves passing instructions from the application software, through the system software, to the hardware which ultimately receives the instruction as machine code. Each instruction causes the computer to carry out an operation -- moving data, carrying out a computation, or altering the control flow of instructions.

Data movement is typically from one place in memory to another. Sometimes it involves moving data between memory and registers which enable high-speed data access in the CPU. Moving data, especially large amounts of it, can be costly. So, this is sometimes avoided by using "pointers" to data instead. Computations include simple operations such as incrementing the value of a variable data element. More complex computations may involve many operations and data elements together.

Instructions may be performed sequentially, conditionally, or iteratively. Sequential instructions are those operations that are performed one after another. Conditional instructions are performed such that different sets of instructions execute depending on the value(s) of some data. In some languages this is known as an "if" statement. Iterative instructions are performed repetitively and may depend on some data value. This is sometimes called a "loop." Often, one instruction may "call" another set of instructions that are defined in some other program or module. When more than one computer processor is used, instructions may be executed simultaneously.

A simple example of the way software operates is what happens when a user selects an entry such as "Copy" from a menu. In this case, a conditional instruction is executed to copy text from data in a 'document' area residing in memory, perhaps to an intermediate storage area known as a 'clipboard' data area. If a different menu entry such as "Paste" is chosen, the software may execute the instructions to copy the text from the clipboard data area to a specific location in the same or another document in memory.

Depending on the application, even the example above could become complicated. The field of software engineering endeavors to manage the complexity of how software operates. This is especially true for software that operates in the context of a large or powerful computer system.

Currently, almost the only limitations on the use of computer software in applications is the ingenuity of the designer/programmer. Consequently, large areas of activities (such as playing grand master level chess) formerly assumed to be incapable of software simulation are now routinely programmed. The only area that has so far proved reasonably secure from software simulation is the realm of human art— especially, pleasing music and literature.

Kinds of software by operation: computer program as executable, source code or script, configuration.

[edit] Quality and reliability

Software reliability considers the errors, faults, and failures related to the creation and operation of software.

See Software auditing, Software quality, Software testing, and Software reliability.

[edit] License

Software license gives the user the right to use the software in the licensed environment, some software comes with the license when purchased off the shelf, or OEM license when bundled with hardware. Software can also be in the form of freeware or shareware. See also License Management

[edit] Patents

The issue of software patents is very controversial, since while patents protect the ideas of "inventors," they are widely believed to hinder software development. See Hacker ethic.

[edit] See also


[edit] Books

[edit] Footnotes

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