What is Software?
When you want your computer to perform a task, you give it instructions using software. Software is the name for the applications or programs that run on your computer.

Two common types of software are system software and application software.
The operating system (OS) or system software is the most important program that runs on a PC. Operating systems recognize input from the keyboard, send output to the monitor, keep track of files and directories, and control peripheral devices such as printers.
An operating system lets you use different types of application software. For example, you can use a word processing application to write a letter, and a spreadsheet application to track your financial information. To learn more about operating systems, see the GCF Global Learning modules on Windows. To learn more about applications, see the GCF Global Learning modules on Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access.

Types of Software
What you want to do with your computer determines the type of programs installed on it. Here are some business software commonly used in an office or home:

1. Word processing programs such as Microsoft Word and Corel WordPerfect allow you to create and edit documents, such as letters, reports, and resumes.

2. A spreadsheet application allows you to store information, perform complex calculations, and get printed output. Microsoft Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 are two popular spreadsheet applications.

3. Database management software organizes specific information in one or more tables. Databases utilize tables, created by the user, to retrieve data for a variety of purposes. For example, if you are a business owner, you might use Microsoft Access to analyze your customer information and ordering data. Retrieve data by asking questions, sorting or filtering, and creating reports.

4. Presentation software like Microsoft PowerPoint and Corel Presentations is designed for creating on-screen presentations, reports, overhead transparencies, and slideshows. It allows you to combine text and graphics in a single document.

5. Desktop publishing software, also known as publishing software, offers tools for precise control over text and graphics placement, and some image editing functions. This software can often handle layout for newsletters and other publications. Adobe PageMaker, Quark Express and Microsoft Publisher are desktop publishing applications.

There's a World of Software Out There

1. There's software for completing just about any task or for engaging in any pastime you can imagine including needlepoint, quilting, landscaping, home design, architecture, astrology, and genealogy.

2. Computer game software allows you to play interactive games on your computer, including card and board games, and flight simulation.

3. With educational software, your computer becomes a virtual teacher covering such topics as reading, writing, math, geography, foreign languages, and science.

4. Beta software is a version of commercial software that's released before the full version. Software companies use beta software to test the product in the real world and to find and correct bugs before the final release hits the stores. Betas often expire after a period of time, usually when the full version or the next beta is released. Developers sometimes have private beta testing that you can apply to join. Or, they may have an open beta available to download.

5. Before you buy software, check its hardware requirements to make sure its compatible with your computer. If possible, try software before you buy it. You can sometimes download a demo from a manufacturer's website or visit a computer store to see it in action.