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Software is a set of instructions, data or programs used to operate computers and execute specific tasks. Opposite of hardware, which describes the physical aspects of a computer, software is a generic term used to refer to applications, scripts and programs that run on a device. Software can be thought of as the variable part of a computer and hardware the invariable part.

Software is often divided into application software, or user downloaded programs that fulfill a want or need, and system software, which includes operating systems and any program that supports application software. The term middleware is sometimes used to describe programming that mediates between application and system software or between two different kinds of application software. For example, middleware could be used to send a remote work request from an application in a computer that has one kind of operating system to an application in a computer with a different operating system.

An additional category of software is the utility, which is a small, useful program with limited capability. Some utilities come with operating systems. Like applications, utilities tend to be separately installable and capable of being used independently from the rest of the operating system.

Similarly, applets are small applications that sometimes come with the operating system as accessories. They can also be created independently using the Java or other programming languages.

Software can be purchased or acquired in the following ways:

  • Shareware- usually distributed on a free or trial basis with the intention of sale when the period is over.
  • Liteware- a type of shareware with some capabilities disabled until the full version is purchased.
  • Freeware- can be downloaded for free but with copyright restrictions.
  • Public domain software- can be downloaded for free without restrictions.
  • Open source- a type of software where the source codeis furnished and users agree not to limit the distribution of improvements.

Today, much of the purchased software, shareware and freeware is directly downloaded over the Internet. In these cases, software can be found on specific vendor websites or application service providers. However, software can also be packaged on CD-ROMs or diskettes and sold physically to a consumer.

Some general kinds of application software include:

  • Productivity software, which includes tools such as word processors and spreadsheets.
  • Presentation software, also known as slideware.
  • Graphics software.
  • CAD/CAM.
  • Vertical marketor industry-specific software, for example, banking, insurance and retail applications.

A specialized type of software that allows hardware to run is firmware. This is a type of programming that is embedded onto a special area of the hardware’s nonvolatile memory, such as a microprocessor or read-only memory, on a one-time or infrequent basis so that thereafter it seems to be part of the hardware.


Sometimes abbreviated as SW and S/W, software is a collection of instructions that enable the user to interact with a computer, its hardware, or perform tasks. Without software, most computers would be useless. For example, without your Internet browser software, you could not surf the Internet or read this page. Without an operating system, the browser could not run on your computer. The picture shows a Microsoft Excel box, an example of a spreadsheet software program.

Examples and types of software

Below is a list of the different kinds of software a computer may have installed with examples of related programs. Click any of the links below for additional information.

It should be noted that although application software is thought of as a program, it can be anything that runs on a computer. The table below also includes a program column to clarify any software that is not a program.

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Software Examples Program?
Antivirus AVG, Housecall, McAfee, and Norton. Yes
Audio / Music program iTunes and WinAmp. Yes
Communication Discord, Skype, and Ventrilo Yes
Database Access, MySQL, and SQL. Yes
Device drivers Computer drivers. No
E-mail Outlook and Thunderbird. Yes
Game Madden NFL football, Quake, and World of Warcraft. Yes
Internet browser Firefox, Google Chrome, and Internet Explorer. Yes
Movie player VLC and Windows Media Player. Yes
Operating system Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, and Windows. No
Photo / Graphics program Adobe Photoshop and CorelDRAW. Yes
Presentation PowerPoint Yes
Programming language C++, HTML, Java, Perl, PHP, Python, and Visual Basic. Yes
Simulation Flight simulator and SimCity. Yes
Spreadsheet Excel Yes
Utility Compression, Disk Cleanup, encryption, registry cleaner, and screen saver. No
Word processor Microsoft Word Yes

See our program definition for additional examples of computer programs.

How do you get software?

Software can be purchased at a retail computer store or online and come in a box containing all the disks (floppy diskette, CD, DVD, or Blu-ray), manuals, warranty, and other documentation.

Software can also be downloaded to a computer over the Internet. Once downloaded, setup files are run to start the installation process on your computer.

Free software

There are also a lot of free software programs available that are separated into different categories.

  • Shareware or trial software is software that gives you a few days to try the software before you have to buy the program. After the trial time expires, you’ll be asked to enter a code or register the product before you can continue to use it.
  • Freeware is completely free software that never requires payment, as long as it is not modified.
  • Open source software is similar to freeware. Not only is the program free, but the source code is also available to everyone.

See our top 10 free PC programs everyone should have, for a list of software you may want to install on your computer first.

Installing and uninstalling software

How do you use computer software?

Once the software is installed on the computer hard drive, the program can be used anytime by finding the program on the computer. On a Windows computer, a program icon is added to the Start menu or Start screen, depending on your version of Windows.

How to maintain software

After the software is installed on your computer, it may need to be updated to fix any found errors. Updating a program can be done using software patches. Once updates are installed, any problems that may have been experienced in the program will no longer occur.

How is software created and how does it work?

A computer programmer (or several computer programmers) write the instructions using a programming language, defining how the software should operate on structured data. The program may then be interpreted, or compiled into machine code.

When I save a document, is that file also considered software?

When you create or edit a file using software — a Microsoft Word document, for instance, or a Photoshop image — that file is considered a “resource” or “asset” used by the software. However, the file itself is not considered “software” even though it is an essential part of what your software is doing.

What was the first piece of computer software?

The first software program that was held in electronic memory was written by Tom Kilburn. The program calculated the highest factor of the integer 2 18 = 262,144, and was successfully executed on June 21, 1948, at the University of Manchester, England. The computer that held that program was called the SSEM (Small Scale Experimental Machine), otherwise known as the “Manchester Baby.” This event is widely celebrated as the birth of software.

How expensive is software?

The price for certain applications can vary widely. For example, there are games on Steam that go for less than $5 and advanced programs, such as Cinema 4D Studio, can cost more than $3,500.


Software, instructions that tell a computer what to do. Software comprises the entire set of programs, procedures, and routines associated with the operation of a computer system. The term was coined to differentiate these instructions from hardware—i.e., the physical components of a computer system. A set of instructions that directs a computer’s hardware to perform a task is called a program, or software program.

The two main types of software are system software and application software. System software controls a computer’s internal functioning, chiefly through an operating system, and also controls such peripherals as monitors, printers, and storage devices. Application software, by contrast, directs the computer to execute commands given by the user and may be said to include any program that processes data for a user. Application software thus includes word processors, spreadsheets, database management, inventory and payroll programs, and many other “applications.” A third software category is that of network software, which coordinates communication between the computers linked in a network.

Software is typically stored on an external long-term memory device, such as a hard drive or magnetic diskette. When the program is in use, the computer reads it from the storage device and temporarily places the instructions in random access memory (RAM). The process of storing and then performing the instructions is called “running,” or “executing,” a program. By contrast, software programs and procedures that are permanently stored in a computer’s memory using a read-only (ROM) technology are called firmware, or “hard software.”


The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is a nonprofit with a worldwide mission to promote computer user freedom. We defend the rights of all software users. Read more.

Congratulations to the 2020 Free Software Award winners: Let’s Encrypt, Clarissa Lima Borges, and Jim Meyering!

Free software developers guarantee everyone equal rights to their programs; any user can study the source code, modify it, and share the program. By contrast, most software carries fine print that denies users these basic rights, leaving them susceptible to the whims of its owners and vulnerable to surveillance.

  • The FSF provides critical infrastructure and funding for the GNU Project, the foundation of the popular GNU/Linux family of free operating systems and the keystone of the Internet.
  • Our Campaigns Team creates educational materials about free software, convenes the yearly LibrePlanet conference and goes toe to toe against powerful interests that threaten computer user rights.
  • Our Licensing & Compliance Lab defends freely licensed software from proprietary hoarding, advises on licensing issues, and certifies devices that Respect Your Freedom.

With your support, we’ve done these things for more than 30 years. Help sustain us for many more; please become a member today.

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, the Free Software Supporter:

Search the FSF’s Web site:

Looking for free software?

“I’ve spent a third of my life building software based on Stallman’s four freedoms, and I’ve been astonished by the results. WordPress wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those freedoms, and it couldn’t have evolved the way it has.” – Matt Mullenweg, co-founder of WordPress


Start coding online with the Arduino Web Editor, save your sketches in the cloud, and always have the most up-to-date version of the IDE, including all the contributed libraries and support for new Arduino boards.

Download a preview of the incoming release with the most updated features and bugfixes.
Mac OS X (Mac OSX Mountain Lion or later)
Linux 32 bit , Linux 64 bit , Linux ARM , Linux ARM64

Download the Beta Version of the Arduino IDE with experimental features. This version should NOT be used in production.

All the Arduino 00xx versions are also available for download. The Arduino IDE can be used on Windows, Linux (both 32 and 64 bits), and Mac OS X.

Active development of the Arduino software is hosted by GitHub. See the instructions for building the code.

The source code archives of the latest release are available here. The archives are PGP-signed so they can be verified using this gpg key.

Easy Installation Procedure (recommended): Download the Upgrade Image then please follow the steps in the Yún sysupgrade tutorial.
Advanced Installation Procedure: This procedure is only recommended to advanced users who wish to completely re-flash the Yún including its U-Boot bootloader. These instructions on reflashing the base images are for reference only. Following them will void your Yún’s warranty.

Packages List
The list of available packages for the Yún is available here.
See the list of changes.

By downloading the software from this page, you agree to the specified terms.

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