programmers working on their computers

All software is not created equal. I was surprised to discover that application and system software were two distinct categories of software. Since I was curious, I spent some time researching the difference between system software and application software. 

What is the difference between system software and application software?

Application and system software are computer programs. The system software is installed when you install the operating system. You can add application software later; however, it needs the system software to run. The system software is necessary to run your computer hardware.

Conversely, application software meets a specific user need.  For example, you use system software to turn on your computer while you use application software to create a Powerpoint presentation.

​What is System Software?

The system software is needed for application software to run. It is used to operate the computer hardware. It is an intermediary between the equipment and the user because it interprets instructions made by the user into instructions the machine can understand. 

The operating system manages the hardware. The system software is the files and programs that make up the operating system. File handling, memory management, and scheduling are some of the tasks that are done by the system software.  

System software can run independently, and you, as the user, do not often interact with it. Debuggers, drivers, macOS, assemblers, file management tools, system utilities, and compilers are types of system software.

Updates are downloaded periodically, usually automatically without any interaction by the user. The system software is sometimes called low-level software. It provides a setting where the application software can run as well as controlling the computer and applications installed. 

Usually, only one type of system software is on a computer at a time. The system software is running from the moment the system starts until you turn off the computer. Creating system software requires a programmer that has a good understanding of both low-level languages and the underlying system hardware.  

​What Is Application Software?

Application software is for a specific task. It is installed and can be interacted with by the user. It does not run on its own because it is dependent on the system software installation. You can add several application software programs on the computer.

Media players, web browsers, spreadsheets, and word processors are types of application software. They are designed to accomplish specific tasks required by the user. Application software is in programming languages like Java, C++, and so on. 

Application software only runs when requested. For example, the Powerpoint program only runs when you open it. It turns off when you close it. Powerpoint does not continue running in the background. 

The system can function without any application software. Application software can only do the tasks that it has been designed to do. Some application software is designed to complete a single task.  

For example, a word processing program can not play music. Other application software can include several integrated duties. A word processing program may also be able to interact with a spreadsheet or a presentation program. 

To create application software, the programmer must have a good understanding of high-level languages and the underlying system software. 

Although you can install most application software on a variety of computers, some application software is only available for specific system software. For instance, a game may only run on computers that are set up with the Windows 10 operating system. These types of applications are called killer applications. 

​What Are The Classifications Of Application Software?

Application software can is either closed or open-source. This type of software is also propriety or free software. Closed software requires the purchase of a license that grants the user limited usage rights and may not be modified. Open-source application software can be altered and is often available with a free license.

Application software can be classified as vertical or horizontal. Applications that are designed for more general use are horizontal. They tend to be more popular, as well.  Word processors are examples of horizontal applications. 

Applications that are designed for a specific type of business or industry are vertical. Citibank’s in-house accounting application software is an example of a vertical application.

​What Are The Different Types Of Application Software?

There are several different types of application software. These include:

  • ​Application suite - An application suite is multiple applications are bundled together. These bundles have apps that can interact with each other, making it easier for you to use. Microsoft Office is an example of an application suite.
  • ​Enterprise software/Departmental Software - Enterprise software and Departmental Software are designed to meet the needs of a particular business or department. These may include accounting programs, sales tracking, and travel expense management. 
  • ​Enterprise infrastructure software - Enterprise infrastructure software contains the tools needed to support a business's enterprise software system. Email servers and databases are examples of enterprise infrastructure software.
  • Information worker software - Information worker software includes word processors, email lists, spreadsheets, and media editors used by workers for individual projects within a business or department.
  • Content access software - Content access software includes web browsers and media players. It is used to access digital entertainment or published digital content.
  • Educational software - Educational software is a content access software that has been adapted to be used by students or teachers. Examples include examinations, encyclopedia software, and progress tracking.
  • Simulation software - Simulation software can be used for training, research, or entertainment. It simulates an occurrence without the need of a physical manifestation.
  • Media development software - Media development software creates media, either printed or electronic. These include desktop publishing software, HTML editors, and graphic-art software.
  • Entertainment software - Entertainment software is items which can be enjoyed through a computer, like screen savers, video games or movie players.
  • Product engineering software - Product engineering software develops other software and hardware products. Computer-aided engineering (CAE), computer-aided design (CAD), and application programmer interfaces are examples.

​​​​​​​​​I hope you can see that the difference between system software and application software is simple with these examples. System software runs your computer and any application software you choose to install on it.