Computers consist of two main components: hardware and software. Hardware is the collection of physical and mechanical components that make up a computer, such as the monitor, the keyboard, the printer, the hard drive, the mouse, the central processing unit, the network card and other tangible devices on the computer. Software, on the other hand, is the collection of programs and data that tell the hardware what to do. Software includes operating systems such as Windows and Linux, programs and utilities such as Microsoft Word and Safari, video games, drivers, firmware and background processes that keep the computer running efficiently and safely without any user input. Metaphorically, the hardware would be the “body” of the computer while the software would be the “brain” (or, more accurately, the memory and information that was contained within the brain).
For the end user, software usually consists of programs, drivers and games that help us enjoy the use of our computers in a user-friendly way. The type of software that is most visible to everyday users is application software. Applications are the programs that work within an operating system to perform various functions. Common applications include word processors, web browsers, audio and video editing suites, multimedia libraries and instant messaging clients.
Device drivers are equally as crucial to computing but less apparent to users. Drivers control parts of the computer such as the printer, optical drivers, monitors and disk drives. Just like a train needs a conductor and an airplane needs a pilot, devices attached to your computer need drivers specifically designed to control that device.
Operating systems are a type of software that provide the environment for applications, drivers and other software to run. The operating system (sometimes referred to as the “platform”) governs how programs access system resources and interact with computer hardware. Personal computers usually run Windows, Mac OS or Linux. Smartphones and other mobile devices also have operating systems as well.
Firmware is a type of software that is usually stored on the electrically programmable memory of a device. Because firmware is contained within the device itself rather than on your computer’s centralized hard drive, firmware is often treated more like hardware. Firmware, however, can be updated, though the process is different from updating a driver or installing an application.
In our Software Directory, we’ve compiled a comprehensive listing of software for various purposes. Click on a category to find programs, developers and resources for all of your software needs.