Computer Software (Encyclopedia of Science)
Computer software is a package of specific instructions (a program) written in a defined order that tells a computer what to do and how to do it. It is the "brain" that tells the "body," or hardware, of a computer what to do. "Hardware" refers to all the visible components in a computer system: electrical connections, silicon chips, disc drives, monitor, keyboard, printer, etc. Without software, a computer can do nothing; it is only a collection of circuits and metal in a box.
The first modern computers were developed by the United States military during World War II (19395) to calculate the paths of artillery shells and bombs. These computers used vacuum tubes that had on-off switches. The settings had to be reset by hand for each operation.
These very early computers used the familiar decimal digits (0 to 9) to represent data (information). Computer engineers found it difficult to work with 10 different digits. John von Neumann (1903957), a Hungarian-born American mathematician, decided in 1946 to abandon the decimal system in favor of the binary system (a system using only 0 and 1; "bi" means two). That system has been used ever since.
How a computer uses the binary system
Although computers perform seemingly amazing feats, they actually understand only two things: whether an...
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Software (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
Intangible PERSONAL PROPERTY consisting of mathematical codes, programs, routines, and other functions that controls the functioning and operation of a computer's hardware.
Software instructs a computer what to do. (The computer's physical components are called hardware.) Computer software is the general term for a variety of procedures and routines that harness the computational power of a computer to produce, for example, a general operating system that coordinates the basic workings of the computer or specific applications that produce a database, a financial spreadsheet, a written document, or a game. Computer programmers use different types of programming languages to create the intricate sets of instructions that make computing possible.
Until the personal computer revolution began in the 1980s, software was written mainly for business, government, and the military, which employed large mainframe computers as hardware. With the introduction of personal computers, which have rapidly increased in power and performance, software has emerged as an important commercial product that can be marketed to individuals and small business as well as big business and the government.
Software is, under the law, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY and therefore entitled to protection from persons who seek to exploit it illegally. Software can be...
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Software (Encyclopedia of Business and Finance)
Computer systems consist in part of hardware that controls the overall activity of the computer. But in order for hardware to function, it must have the necessary instructions. These instructions are supplied by software. There are different kinds of software, each of which serves a specified purpose. Some software is necessary to make the computer operate. Another kind enables the computer to perform specific tasks. Still other software exists solely for entertainment purposes.
OPERATING SYSTEM SOFTWARE
The operating system software makes the computer perform its basic operational functions. Disk operating system (DOS) is one of the earlier types of operating system software used to power IBM-compatible computers. Commands are typed at a prompt to direct the computer to carry out its functions.
Windows is the most common operating system today. It permits several programs to be opened simultaneously and provides ease of movement between the open programs.
Windows NT is used for business networks. Once this operating system is downloaded and running, other kinds of software are opened to perform the desired functions.
The Macintosh Operating System (Mac OS) is designed for use with Apple, Mac, and Power Mac computers. One disadvantage of Mac OS is that fewer programs have been written for it compared to the number written for DOS or Windows.
Application software allows performance of specific tasks, such as writing letters, computing formulas, playing games, or carrying out desktop publishing tasks
- Word-processing software: Writing tasks previously done on typewriters with considerable effort can now be easily completed with word-processing software. Writing tasks such as keying in reports, letters, and tables, as well as merging documents, can be performed easily. Documents can be easily edited and formatted. Revisions can be made by deleting (cutting), inserting, moving (cutting and pasting), and copying data. Documents can be stored (saved) and opened again for revisions and/or printing. Many styles and sizes of fonts are available to make the document attractive.
- Spreadsheet software: Spreadsheet software permits performance of an almost endless variety of quantitative tasks such as budgeting, keeping track of inventory, preparing financial reports, or manipulating numbers in any fashion, such as averaging each of ten departmental monthly sales over a six-month period. A spreadsheet contains cells, the intersection of rows and columns. Each cell contains a value keyed in by the user. Cells also contain formulas with many capabilities, such as adding, multiplying, dividing, subtracting, averaging, or even counting. An outstanding feature is a spreadsheet's ability to recalculate automatically. If one were preparing a budget, for example, and wanted to change a variable such as an increase in salary or a change in amount of car payments, the formulas would automatically recalculate the affected items and the totals.
- Database software: A database contains a list of information items that are similar in format and/or nature. An example is a phone book that lists a name, address, and phone number for each entry. Once stored in a database, information can be retrieved in several ways, using reports and queries. For example, all the names listed for a given area code could be printed out and used for a commercial mailing to that area.
- Desktop publishing software: This software permits the user to prepare documents by using both word-processing devices and graphics. Desktop publishing software uses word-processing software, with all its ease of entering and revising data, and supplements it with sophisticated visual features that stem from graphics software. For example, one can enhance a printed message with virtually any kind of illustration, such as drawings, paintings, and photographs.
- Presentation software: A speaker may use presentation software to organize a slide show for an audience. Text, graphics, sound, and movies can easily be included in the presentation. An added feature is that the slide show may be enhanced by inclusion of handouts with two to six slides printed on a page. The page may be organized to provide space for notes to be written in by the audience as the presentation ensues. An example of this is Power Point. Preparation of the software is simplified by the use of 'wizards' that walk the user through the creation of the presentation.
- Office suite software: Office suite software puts together complete programs of software. A typical suite package might include word processing, spreadsheet, databases, and presentation software. Depending on the jobs that need to be done, the suite provides the tools to make professional-looking documents.
Each piece of software works independently as well as with other parts of the suite. Items on the menu bar uch as File, Insert, and Format ork similarly on all the programs in a suite. Thus, familiarity with one program makes it easy to work with the other programs.
A typical example of office suite software is mail sent via bulk rate. It is usually addressed by name to an individual, rather than to "Occupant," with names and addresses accessed from the database memory. Merging those names with the letter in the word processor produces a form letter. A spreadsheet might also have been used to include charts and graphs with the letter. When completed, all forms are inserted into envelopes addressed by means of the database and word processor.
Using telephone lines and working through the computer's modem, communications software makes it possible to communicate to any location in the world using either fax or electronic mail. A fax transmits whatever copy is on an original sheet of paper (text, graphics, or handwriting) to another computer or fax machine. Electronic mail (e-mail) is a text message. It remains in the receiver's computer until retrieved. The message can be stored in either the sender's or the receiver's computer for later processing. Attachments or files can also be sent via e-mail.
Utility software is used to diagnose computer problems and repair them. A major type is a virus (or "illness") checker. It checks for viruses the computer may have received from downloading information received from the Internet, e-mail, or another disk. Although some viruses may do little damage, others can cause serious damage to files and/or the computer operating system. It is important for a computer owner to find a virus-check program, install it, use it, and keep it continually updated. New viruses are found continually, and the only way to be safe is to update. Some antivirus software allows easy updating by downloading new files from the Internet.
By teaching by means of games, educational soft ware is designed to make learning fun. The approach used in educational software is that of a tutorial in which the learner competes with him or herself. Such software appeals to persons of all ages but particularly to young children, who can learn skills related to reading and arithmetic. Older children and adults can learn or improve on a wide variety of more mature skills.
SPECIAL SOFTWARE ACQUISITION ARRANGEMENTS
Some kinds of software are given away. Another kind permits the potential user to try the software before purchasing it. Freeware software is free for those who ask, but the rights remain with the developer. Public domain software is free to the user without any copyright or other restrictions. Shareware software permits potential buyers to try out the software. A user who likes it may purchase it by sending payment to the developer. The developer in turn may send the buyer sup porting materials and information.
Software is as critical to computers as breathing is to humans. Fortunately, an extremely wide variety of software programs are available that make possible the preparation of virtually any kind of computer product.
"The Complete Suite: Office 97 Does It All," (1998). Smart Computing Reference Series: Office 97, (September): vol. 2(3).
"The Computer's Unsung Hero: Its Operating System," (1995). Smart Computing. (February): vol. 6(2).
"Keeping Your Computer Virus-Free", (1999). Smart Computer Reference Series: Troubleshooting, 2nd ed. (March): vol. 3(1).
"What You Should Know About Operating Systems", (1998). Smart Computer Reference Series: Computing for Beginners, (February): vol. 4(2).
"Where NT Falls in the Windows Family", (1998). Smart Computer Learning Series: Windows NT, (August): vol. 4(8).
Software (Encyclopedia of Business)
Software is the collective term for computer programs, which are instructions in code telling a computer what to do in response to specific user inputs. Software is part of a functioning computer system, which also consists of hardware, the actual computer machinery and equipment.
Although computers were commercially introduced in the early 1950s, the term software did not appear until the early 1960s. Originally, commercial software was either developed and sold exclusively by computer hardware manufacturers and their valueadded resellers as part of a computer system, or it was custom-written by computer programmers for individual clients. It was only in the 1970s, once the mainframe and minicomputer market had sufficiently grown and microcomputers had appeared, that independent software companies emerged.
Two types of softwareystems software and applications softwarere needed to perform most common functions on a computer.
Operating systems software is the basic set of instructions for how a computer operates; most types perform similar functions. Operating systems may be either proprietaryhat is designed and sold only with a specific computer hardware brandr they may be sold independently of a computer brand, as long as the operating systems and the computers meet certain industry standards. During the course of the 1980s operating systems became increasingly independent of hardware.
Widely used proprietary system software include MVS and OS/390 for IBM mainframe computers, Unix for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s workstations, and VMS for Digital Equipment Corp.'s VAX minicomputers. MacOS is the proprietary operating system of Apple Macintosh computers, although for a brief stint in the mid-1990s it was licensed to outside developers who made Mac clones. In the 1990s Microsoft Corp.'s Windows became the dominant operating system for microcomputers, specifically IBM-compatible PCs, covering as much as 90 percent of the market. Other common nonproprietary operating systems for desktop computers include MS-DOS, OS/2, and the various versionsometimes termed "flavors"f Unix, including the increasingly popular Linux open standard. Generally, applications software must be designed to run on a given operating system, although some operating systems, such as OS/2, can execute software designed for other operating systems.
The operating system is often closely associated with the user interface; however, the two are technically separate. In many cases, particularly with PCs, the operating system includes an interface that serves as a template for application interfaces running on that system, but individual applications each have their own interfaces and may diverge substantially from the standard look and feel, often to the chagrin of users. Windows in its early versions was essentially an elaborate graphical user interface (GUI) running on top of MS-DOS, the core operating system at that time, yet DOS's own interface was decidedly ungraphical. Similarly, interface and operating system are divorced from one another on many systems. Windows NT and the Windows 9x versions, on the other hand, were operating systems in their own right which also had GUIs.
NETWORK OPERATING SYSTEMS.
A special category of systems software is network operating systems. This software, in conjunction with network adapter hardware, allows multiple computers to be connected together and share data and the use of peripheral equipment. These software systems are designed to cope with the special problems involved in linking multiple users, including file sharing, device sharing, traffic management, and security. The most common network operating systems for local area networks (LANs) are Novell, Inc.'s NetWare and Microsoft Windows NT. The rise of corporate Web sites and e-commerce activities has spawned a special breed of network operating systems, known as server operating systems or sometimes simply servers, for hosting and managing Web site activities.
UTILITIES AND OTHER SYSTEMS SOFTWARE.
Systems software also includes a large class of often narrowly focused programs that are used to help manage computer resources. Many of these fall under the collective heading of utilities, which include such programs as virus checkers, system backup programs, and disk management and error recovery tools. These are particularly prevalent on desktop computers, but they exist for nearly all kinds of systems. Most utilities serve as a means to make the computer run smoothly for other applications, rather than as an end in themselves. A related class of software is file management tools, often considered a special set of utilities, which are specialized programs to facilitate more powerful file manipulations than the operating system's generic interface provides. Such file management activities might include browsing and modifying the computer's file and directory structure, renaming large groups of files in batches, or performing advanced searches for files that meet certain criteria.
The other major branch of systems software includes various programming tools that are used mainly by specialists on midrange or mainframe computers. While some of the newer software development suites for PC users like Microsoft's Visual C+ + may be closer to applications software than systems software, other programming tools serve a more basic purpose for the system and may be considered systems software. On higher-end systems, on which programmers may write or customize any number of small programs or routines, the system is typically equipped with a compiler and possibly a debugger or an assembler. A compiler transforms source code written in a human-readable language, such as C or Ada or FORTRAN, into a machine readable language that can be executed as a program. Thus, after the programmer writes or modifies a program to be run on the system, it must be compiled in order to work. Debuggers are tools to help programmers identify and fix logical or syntax errors in their source code. In some cases an assembler may be used to create machine language from an intermediate form of a program known as assembly language. Assembly language, which is specific to a computer's type of processor, allows for a more nuanced handling of the program code than conventional programming languages provide.
Whereas systems software provides behind-the-scenes coordination and support, applications are front-end resources people use to get things done. Applications software may be custom-designed by or for an individual corporate user, developed and sold as part of a computer hardware system with its own proprietary operating system, or developed and marketed independently for use on one or more of the standard operating systems, also referred to as off-the-shelf software. The trend has been toward off-the-shelf software packages.
GENERAL USE APPLICATIONS.
Software applications used in business may be of a generic type, sometimes called horizontal software, or be tailored to the very specific needs of an industry segment, which is referred to as vertical software. Common horizontal software categories include:
- word processing (Microsoft Word, Word-Perfect, Word Pro)
- spreadsheets (Lotus 1-2-3, Microsoft Excel)
- database management systems (Oracle, Sybase)
- electronic mail (Lotus Notes, Microsoft Outlook)
- Web browsers (Netscape, Internet Explorer)
One of the biggest trends in general application software has been the integration of common taskoriented programs such as the above into so-called productivity suites. Widely held brands include Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite, and Corel Word-Perfect Office. While early iterations of these suites were little more than a set of discrete programs marketed as a bundle, refinements and innovations have begun to prove the power of integration. Some of the more useful innovations include multiple item clipboards for copying and pasting within suite programs (e.g., a user could copy a paragraph from a word processor and a table from a spreadsheet and paste them both into an e-mail message in one step), central configuration consoles for customizing all the programs in a suite from one menu, and integrating small Web browser windows into the desktop alongside non-Web resource windows.
Certain software applications, while not industry-specific, are designed mostly for business applications because of their capabilities to handle large volumes of data. One example is database management software, especially transaction processing software. This includes payroll and billing processing software and software used in retail and wholesale trade. Such software is typically developed for larger, more powerful computers, such as mainframes and minicomputers. Other examples of high end software products include management information systems, human resource management systems (HRMSs), enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and executive information systems.
Software for a specific industry, or vertical software, is at its core a combination of generic software types, such as database management plus communications software, often with the addition of certain data and features. Examples of vertical software include transaction processing software used by banks, computer reservations software used by travel agents to book airline flights and hotel rooms, appointment scheduling software used in medical offices, software that monitors customer orders in mail-order houses, and software that keeps track of parts and labor for appliance repair contractors. Vertical software is more often proprietary than horizontal software, but it, too, is becoming increasingly available in off-the-shelf packages as its respective markets expand.
Other kinds of industry-specific software are those that facilitate engineering, manufacturing, and other production needs. Computer-aided design (CAD) software, for instance, is widely used in engineering and industrial design fields. Automated industrial machinery, such as in manufacturing or materials handling, uses software to control the machinery and processes. Desktop publishing software, used for publications design and typesetting, is regularly used not only by publishing and printing companies but also by many organizations and individuals wishing to create attractive documents.
The ability to integrate different software applications is a growing trend in business software. Different activities of a company have historically used independent software programs, such as one for accounts receivable, another for inventory management, another for manufacturing process control, and yet another for product design. Newer software tends to offer expanded features or the ability to "interface" with, or be connected to, other software programs. Similarly, various "add-in" software has been developed to add features to specific existing software packages. For example, in the retail/wholesale industries, the same software is now being used to record retail sales, keep track of inventories, and place orders with suppliers. In engineering, a CAD program can be linked to a database of information on component prices and labor costs to provide instant cost estimates for a specific design, which aids in budget planning. In some kinds of manufacturing, process control software not only automatically adjusts the flow of additives into product for desired quality, but also keeps track of the amount and rate of additive use; this data can be analyzed on a connected spreadsheet program to keep track of costs.
SEE ALSO: Database Management Systems; Graphical User Interface (GUI); Spreadsheets; Word Processing
[Heather Behn Hedden]
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