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June 1, 2016updated 14 Jun 2022 1:46pm

What is application software?

Application software, or app for short, is software that performs specific tasks for an end-user.

By Tech Monitor

Application software, or app for short, is software that performs specific tasks for an end-user. Application software is distinct from system software, which refers to the software that keeps systems running. Effectively, if a user is interacting directly with a piece of software, it is application software.  

A collection of application software.
Application software is used to describe any software that helps a user perform a task. (Image by denkcreative / iStock)

Examples of application software

Microsoft Word or Excel are well-known examples of application software, as are common web browsers such as Firefox or Google Chrome. 

Application software also includes mobile apps, including communication apps such as WhatsApp or games such as Candy Crush Saga. There are also app versions of common services such as those providing weather or transport information or apps for customers to interact with companies. 

Application software is increasingly delivered over the internet from the cloud. This includes software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications used by businesses, such as Salesforce or Google G-Suite, and cloud gaming services. 

What is the difference between an application and a program? 

Sometimes, the terms application, program and software are used interchangeably, but they have different technical definitions.  

A program consists of “statements” that tell the computer what to do. A statement is an instruction in the appropriate programming language. Examples of programming languages include Python, Java and C++. 

The easiest way to remember the difference between an application and a program is that application software cannot run without programs, but there are many more types of program than application software.   

System software vs application software 

While applications software is used directly by users, systems software is what allows the applications to tun. The best-known examples of system software are operating systems, such as Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android.  

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An operating system for example acts as an intermediary between the application software and hardware, controlling input, output and memory allocation, and can schedule tasks for efficient use of the system.  

There is some ambiguity about the distinction between application and system software since operating systems usually bundle application software. 

A piece of software not considered system software if it can be uninstalled without affecting the functioning of other software. 

This has caused controversy where a company supplies system software such as an operating system but also produces the application software that runs on it. 

The most notable example is Microsoft, which sells the Windows operating system but also produces application software such as Microsoft Word. Microsoft was accused of building secret interfaces in the operating system software which would give it an advantage in its application software products. 

Read more: What is virtual memory?

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