One of the greatest advantages of software is the ease of updates. Literature collections can be updated with selections from the most recent prize winners; science books can reflect the most current research; social studies can include more current events. So many students of this generation are completely at ease with the technology, and as programs are created to allow easy note-taking with the text, I can see the demise of the paper textbook.
I do think that future technology will probably spell the end of books and that each student will have their own computer or laptop which they can use to access all the relevant materials they need. The convenience of having all materials you need on one computer far outweights the necessity of having lots of separate textbooks that are potentially very expensive and heavy.
I think a combination of both is the best possible combination. Textbooks are more reliable than software in many cases, but students are sometimes less resistant to use software than to open up a textbook. I think the key is using software to supplement text or having a classroom set of texts but having students use software to access the material at home. Software can also be more cost-efficient in some cases, as in the case where students have access to the textbook online at home, thereby leaving there expensive text at school and not losing/harming the book on their journey home.
There are definitely uses for both. I think one of the advantages to software can be the ease with which modern students use it. They are so much more used to getting information and working with it from a computer or electronic device than a book. If they a more comfortable with the medium, I think learning often happens more readily. Not to say that it doesn't require that students learn to use their software and technology properly. This needs to be a particular goal of all schools that I believe many fall flat in. My students are in 7th grade, the majority have computers at home (and always have) and yet they often come to me unable to preform even basic tasks, like cutting and pasting. They don't know how to use any of the tools of even basic wordprocessing software. How can they spend hours a day on a computer and not really know how to use one? (I know, Facebook and Twitter don't require spellcheck!)
In the long run, it might be cheaper to use software than textbooks. Software is also easier to update and updated much more quickly. Yet with software enters technical problems. I teach at an online school, and the entire curriculum is online other than novels. If students are to read a story, it is online. Quizzes and tests are online. Students type their work and submit it online. The advantage is that many of the lessons are interactive. The problem is that even this is not teacher-proof. I would hate to think that people will just hire a few teachers and stick a 100 students in classroom with computers and call that teaching. I can see things coming to that.
I think that for most subjects, software is less useful than textbooks. In most subjects, the basic information and ideas do not change much from year to year. Because of that, there is really no need for the rapid change that software can enable.
In order to use software, you would need (as Post 4) points out, a lot of expensive and easily broken technology. You might have to give every student a e-reader, for example. That's expensive and it's just not worth it. Software would be nice, it would be lighter, it would be easily updated. But it's not worth it -- there aren't enough changes going on to make it worthwhile to buy all the technology.
The answer to this question is going to largely depend on the specific financial situation one's district is immersed. For example, if a school district can afford to provide equal access to all students in terms of technology, then I think that using software in the classroom and electronic versions of books will be ideal. However, if one is in a district that lacks the resources or will to do this, then textbooks might be the best approach. Sadly enough, there are too many districts and schools in our country that lack both, putting their students at tremendous disadvantage in receiving quality resources for a quality education. I do believe that all districts need to assess the demands for the 21st Century learner. The proliferation of technology has transformed the learning landscape for the modern student. Schools and districts that are able to provide the technology resources for their students and demonstrate consistently effective use of them have a better chance for preparing students to compete in the workplace and world they will enter. Those that lack these resources might not be doing as good of a job in preparing students for these situations. This growing "digital divide" is something with which all educators must reckon. If the discussion is between textbooks or software and both are present, I think that being able to understand the reality of this adversary should be part of the decision making process.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both mediums of presenting information in the classroom, reflecting the multitude of variables involved in delivering varied curriculum topics to students of different ages and ability levels.
Textbooks are available for reference and review whenever and wherever needed, are generally researched and presented as authoritative and reliable sources of information within their subject area(s), and provide a structure and organization in the presentation of information that many educators and students find helpful in building and reinforcing concepts and applications. However, students accustomed to highly-interactive video games and special effects-filled activities may find textbooks "boring." Content presented in textbooks will not be appropriate for the reading level of all students within a classroom, meaning that comprehension, application and retention of information will be impacted.
Software programs frequently are programmed to adjust presentation speed and level of information in response to student input, allowing for immediate differentiation - possibly the best reason for using software in the classroom. Most students are highly motivated by and may learn more through the active engagement involved in working with software-based activities. In order to make that level of involvement available, however, classrooms need to have hardware available to every student, involving substantial investment in equipment, infrastructure, and space. Teachers need familiarity with software programs and training to understand how to best utilize software programs as another tool available to them.
One of the advantages to using software in class instead of textbooks is the fact that you could decrease the physical load that students have to carry back and forth. Unfortunately, there are often things that are still only available in textbooks or teachers that are more comfortable with textbooks so sometimes adding computers only adds one more thing to carry.
The big advantage to software is that it is often so much more flexible and can be changed without great expense from year to year whereas new textbooks are super expensive.