Difference Between Software and a Software Application?

Dennis Faas's picture

Infopackets Reader Pat J. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

Could you please tell me the difference between an application and a software program? Or are software programs also applications? If so, what do non-software program applications do, and where are they located? "

My response:

Interesting question.

There isn't much difference between the definition of "software" versus "application", as the two terms are often used interchangeably in the world of computing. Depending on the wording, however, application can infer how something is used.

Let me see if I can explain the difference.

In general, software is a program that operates hardware. Some software is designed to run at the operating system level (such as a game, application, or software driver), while some software (such as "firmware") is designed to run at the hardware level. In the later example, firmware is software that is used for application.

To best illustrate the idea:

Firmware is a software stored in a programmable chip in a device (such as a digital camera), which instructs the device how to operate. For example: when the power button is pressed, the camera is instructed by the firmware to turn "on." When the capture button is pressed, the device is instructed by the firmware to take a photo, and so on. Firmware operates at the hardware level (regardless if an operating system is installed on the device).

Comparatively, a device driver is software that acts as a intermediate between a device and the operating system (MS Windows). For example: to get the camera to "talk" (work) with Windows XP, you need a camera device driver. Obviously, a device driver operates at the operating system level.

And finally, to manipulate the camera using Windows XP (the operating system for your PC) you might need to install specialized camera software. For example: to download your pictures, you need to install the camera software.

In all three cases, the software (as a program or application) is running the hardware.

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