Application Software Vs. System Software: The Comparison You Needed

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Application Software Vs. System Software

We come across a number of different computer applications and programs everyday. Some of them are application software, and there are others that are system software. To a layman, they both appear to be one and the same, when in fact, they are vastly different from each other. In this article, we will examine the main differences between an application software and a system software.

Software is a generic term, which is used to describe a group of computer programs and procedures which perform some task on a computer system. It is an ordered sequence of instructions given for changing the state of the computer hardware, in a certain predefined manner. Computer software are divided into three major types: system software, application software, and program software. Most of our everyday computer usage involves the first two. In following sections, we shall find out what system and program software are, and how they differ from each other.

What is System Software?

System software is a computer software that is designed to operate the computer hardware, and to provide and maintain a platform for running the application software on.

One of the most important and widely used system software is the computer’s operating systems. It is with the operating system that the different parts of a computer (hardware and software), are able to work together. This system software performs tasks such as transferring data between memory and disks, rendering the output onto the display device etc.

BIOS and device firmware are other important system software. BIOS is the first software that a computer system runs. It is a firmware which controls the basic input and output operations of a computer. The device firmware are software programs that operate and control the hardware which are connected to, or built into the computer.

The system software is essential for running the various components of the computer system such as diagnostic tools, compilers, servers, utilities, language translator, data communication programs, data management programs, etc.

What is Application Software?

Application software is a computer software which is designed to help the user in performing single or multiple related tasks. In other words, application software is actually a subclass of computer software, which employs the capabilities of a computer directly to a task that the user wishes it to perform. Hence, often application software is looked upon as a software as well as its implementation.

There are different types of application software, which include Enterprise Resource Planning Software, Accounting Software, Customer Relationship Management Software, Graphics Software, Media Players, etc.


Making the distinction between application software and system software is arbitrary and more often than not the lines of distinction are blurred. A good analogy, which can be used to understand the difference between these two, is that of an electric light bulb and an electric power generation plant. Electricity is generated by the power plant, but in itself it is of no real use, until it is harnessed in an application like an electric light bulb, which performs a service that is of benefit to the user. The electric power generation plant here, can be thought of as being the system software, while the electric bulb can be considered as the application software.


System Software Application Software
The system software helps in operating the computer hardware, and provides a platform for running the application software. Application software helps the user in performing single or multiple related computing tasks.
System software executes in a self-created environment. Application software executes in the environment created by the system software.
It executes continuously as long as the computer system is running. It executes as and when the user requires.
The programming of system software is complex, requiring the knowledge of the working of the underlying hardware. The programming of an application software is relatively easier, and requires only the knowledge of the underlying system software.
There are much fewer system software as compared to application software. There are many more application software as compared to system software.
System software runs in the background and the users typically do not interact with it. The application software run in the foreground, and the users interact with it frequently for all their computing needs.
System software can function independent of the application software. The application software depends on the system software and cannot run without it.
Examples: Windows OS, BIOS, device firmware, Mac OS X, Linux etc. Windows Media Player, Adobe Photoshop, World of Warcraft (game), iTunes, MySQL etc.

Thus, although there is a clear distinction between application and system software, it is important to note that both of them work in tandem. It is the capability of both to interact with each other in different ways that allows a computer system as a whole to function.

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