16 Types of Software: What They Are and How To Use Them

By Robert Preston

Updated September 23, 2022 | Published August 18, 2021

Updated September 23, 2022

Published August 18, 2021

Robert Preston is a trained journalist with a deep interest in technology. He has been passionate about and studied coding for over 20 years.

Computer software is an important tool for many modern businesses. Whether you work in a computer science industry or have a career in another field, you likely interact with one or more pieces of software during your work. Learning about various computer software types can help you understand how software packages work and the value they provide.

In this article, we explain what software is, list 16 types of software you may use and provide tips for getting the most out of your software.

What is software?

Software is an application on an electronic device that serves one or more functions for users. Commonly, software allows a user to simplify tasks in their system. These programs usually include a graphic user interface that enables users to access the software and its functions, even if they don't know or use computer programming. A piece of software may run automated tasks or require direct interaction for all tasks it completes.

Related: Learn About Being a Software Engineer

5 types of systems software

Systems software are the programs that allow a computer system to operate. Here are five common types of systems software:

1. Operating systems

An operating system is the primary computer system that allows a computerized device to function. The operating system allows the device to boot up and includes protocols for installing and operating applications on the device to provide functionality. Operating systems may specialize in a particular device, such as a computer or mobile operating system. They often are proprietary systems a manufacturer creates for use on its projects or as a publicly available or licensable operating system multiple manufacturers use.

Read more: 6 Types of Operating Systems (With Functions and Examples)

2. Device driver

A device driver is a computer program that enables communication between the operating system and a hardware device. The driver is part of the operating system and tells the system how to interact with hardware. Some devices that require a driver to work with an operating system include printers, scanners, card readers and modems. New hardware attachments often install and update drivers automatically, but you may download drivers online when installing a new piece of hardware or updating to the most recent driver edition.

Related: What Is a Software Program? Definition, Types and Benefits

3. Firmware

Firmware is a type of systems software that operates a hardware device by telling it how to perform. It works with device drivers to make hardware work as expected, but unlike a driver, which is part of the operating system, firmware exists in the hardware. Firmware is part of most hardware devices related to the computer, such as hard drives, routers, monitors and peripherals.

Related: Firmware vs. Software vs. Hardware: How Do They Differ?

4. Programming language translator

A programming language translator, or a compiler, is a type of systems software that translates code from one programming language to another. It converts programs in source code, a high-level language like Java or C++ that programmers use, into machine code, a low-level language the computer can interpret. The translator also detects and reports any errors during the conversion.

5. Utilities

This is a type of systems software that supports the computer infrastructure. Utilities help the operating system perform tasks, such as data security, to keep the computer running effectively. Many utilities are third-party tools, such as antivirus and file compression software, that users install separately to help keep a computer functioning optimally.

Related: What Is Data Security? Definition, Importance and Strategies

11 types of application software

There are many types of application software available. Here are 11 of the most common types:

1. Word processing

Word processing software is a program that creates text-based documents. This application software has many features that allow users to write, edit and format documents. Some basic features of word processing software include the ability to format text, such as bolding or underlining, and tools to create tables, headers and footers. Many of these programs also have the option to edit the document for spelling and grammar.

Related: How To Embed Excel Files in Word (With Steps and Tips)

2. Database

This type of application software allows users to create and manage a database, which is a set of data. Database application software helps a user structure the database so they can organize the data effectively. Some common features of database software include sorting, filtering and defining criteria for the data. This software can also allow users to perform queries, which are questions or requests, to analyze or change data and access data in the database.

Related: What Are the Different Types of Database Management?

3. Spreadsheet

Spreadsheet software is an application that can create electronic documents and arrange them in rows and columns. These spreadsheets can perform many mathematical calculations, such as adding a column of numbers to determine a total. You also can use spreadsheet software to organize and analyze numerical data. Common features of this software include preset formulas for calculations and tools to create graphs and charts. Spreadsheets are also often ideal for storing data in visual tables, with formatting allowing you to customize their appearance.

Related: Basic Excel Formulas and How To Use Them

4. Web browsers

Web browsers are application software that users can access to search for information on the internet. You can use various web browsers to find data online. When you use a web browser to go to a website, the browser retrieves the information from a web server, translates the web code into a visual representation and displays it on your device. Many web browsers allow users to search their browsing history, set bookmarks of webpages and install extensions to customize the browser.

5. Multimedia

Multimedia applications allow users to create or modify multimedia, including images, audio and video. This software lets you combine these formats to create interactive content. You can use multimedia applications to play or record audio and video, edit files and improve sound quality by applying effects, such as noise reduction. Typically, multimedia software also allows users to convert the formats of files to make them compatible with different programs.

Related: What Is Open-Source Software? (Definition and Examples)

6. Presentation

This application software creates visual documents as presentation slides. Users can add photos, graphics, videos or text to the slides to present information. Common features of this type of application software include the ability to format text, insert multimedia files and display the slides in a slideshow format.

7. Enterprise

Enterprise software is a type of application that addresses an organization's needs, rather than an individual. For example, a business with many customers may use a customer relationship management system, a type of enterprise software, to manage customer information, such as their purchase history. This software works to improve the efficiency of an organization. Other examples of enterprise software include online payment systems and project management programs.

Related: 10 Computer Software Examples (Plus Definition and FAQs)

8. Graphics

Graphics software is a program you can use to create or edit images and illustrations, such as logos or web graphics. You can use graphics software to add text to a photo, crop images and adjust a photo's sharpness. Other common features of this software include options to add layers to images, resize photos and combine files.

9. Communication

Communication software is an application that exchanges messages in one or more formats, including text, audio or video. You can use this software to correspond with others using remote systems transmitting information between computers. Communication also may provide additional security features, such as encryption, to protect the data users send.

Related: 16 Communication Technology Examples To Use at Work

10. Education

This type of application software is a program that provides instruction on a particular topic. Often, this software integrates multimedia content, such as videos, to create more engaging lessons. Many schools and educational institutions use education software as learning tools for students. Some education software programs can also help schools manage and organize student data, such as their parents' contact information. Some examples of education software include language learning programs or reference tools, such as digital encyclopedias.

11. Application suites

Application suites are collections of different software programs that serve related functions. Each software program in the suite often has a similar user interface, which is the way users interact with the software. These suites typically include programs people frequently use. For example, a business application suite may include word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. This makes the suite a convenient, all-encompassing business tool.

Related: 9 Software Platforms People Use Every Day

Tips for using professional software

When using software in a professional capacity, keep these tips in mind:

  • Assess your needs. Examining your professional needs can help you understand what elements you want from your software. This may enable you to identify when purchasing software with limited capabilities provides you with all the required functionality while saving you money.

  • Understand your capabilities. Another important consideration when choosing which software to use is your technical level and that of others within the organization. Choosing based on capability may help you find more affordable software if you're unlikely to use the advanced features in a more expensive option.

  • Pay attention to licenses. Software manufacturers make their products available under various usage licenses that dictate what you can do with the software. It's important to understand licenses for any software you use to ensure your use is within your licenses.

  • Save with bundle offers. A software bundle is a sale offer in which you purchase multiple pieces of software at the same time and receive a discount. Often, companies that offer suites of services may offer a bundle that packages multiple software together, allowing you to get what you want while saving money.

  • Consider software as a service. Although many software developers allow you to purchase a product outright, others use the software-as-a-service model, in which you pay a subscription fee to access the software. This can lower your upfront costs and save you money for a product you use for only a short period.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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