Computer Software Terminology

Often I get asked questions about software I use, particularly open source software. Sometimes, the questions themselves display a total lack of understanding of the subject matter at hand. For instance, I was recently asked "can I run Microsoft on Office" and "will Windows run in Firefox". Therefore, I present this page as a quick reference of who is who and what is what in the software world. There is much redundancy on this page, as I don't assume that it is read from top to bottom in one pass. I generalize quite a bit to avoid details unimportant to those not familiar with the field, and I don't hide the fact that I have a personal preference for open source software.

Hardware: Hardware is exactly what software isn't. Though this page is about software, the distinction between hardware and software must be made up front. Hardware is the tangible parts of the computer, the parts that one could physically touch or throw. Examples of hardware include the computer monitor, the keyboard, and the case. A man wiser than myself once said that hardware are the parts of a computer that can be hit with a hammer, whereas software are the parts of a computer that can only be cursed at.

Software: Software is the instructions that tell a computer what to do. Different types of software include operating systems, applications, and files. Although software is by nature intangible, some software companies refer to their products as both the intangible code that is distributed on tangible media, and the tangible media itself.

Types Of Software

Types Of Software: Just like anything else in which one can make money or have a hobby, software can be divided into different types based on differing criteria: purpose, licensing, price, origin. Here I mention some key terms to categorize software.

Proprietary Software: Proprietary software is software that is owned and controlled by a company or person. This means that proprietary software has restrictions regarding the copying and distribution of the software, as well as the right to examine and modify the software. Usually, proprietary software costs money and comes with support from the company who produced it. Examples of proprietary software include Microsoft Windows (operating system), Adobe Photoshop (image editor), Opera (web browser), and Microsoft Office (office suit).

Open Source Software: Open source software is software with relaxed licensing which permit free copying and redistribution of the code, the ability to examine and modify the code, and the clause that anyone can use the software for any purpose. Examples of open source software include GNU/Linux (operating system), Gimp (image editor), Firefox (web browser), and Open Office (office suit).


Pirated Software: Pirated software is proprietary software that has been distributed or installed in a manner contradicting the software's EULA. Usually, pirated software is used where legal software is either too expensive, too invasive, or too restrictive of the user. Common examples of pirated software include Microsoft Windows (invasive update policies), Adobe Photoshop (expensive), and Microsoft Office (expensive). Computer security experts agree that the vast majority of pirated software is distributed with malware preinstalled.

Prominent Software Corporations

Prominent Software Corporations: Software companies are among the largest companies on Earth, and software-related foundations have influence in many legal topics such as intelectual property, copyright, patents, free speech, consumer rights, and others.

Microsoft Corporation: Microsoft is a proprietary software company. Microsoft's flagship software is the Microsoft Windows operating system. In addition to Microsoft Windows, the company produces the Microsoft Office office suit, which is composed of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, (sometimes other applications are included, depending on version). Other common Microsoft products are Internet Explorer, MS Media Player, the MSN Internet portal, and the Xbox gaming console. Microsoft also rebrands some hardware peripherals such as keyboards, mice, and joysticks.

Apple, Inc.: Apple is a proprietary computer hardware, software, and accessory manufacturer. Apple's flagship products are it's Macintosh operating systems and iPod media players. Other Apple products include the iPhone multimedia cellular telephone, the QuickTime multimedia framework, and the Safari web browser. Additionally, Apple distributes music and video through its iTunes online store.

Free Software Foundation: The Free Software Foundation is a non-profit corporation dedicated to promoting the development and usage of open source software. The Free Software Foundation sponsors the GNU/Linux operating system, the GPL open source software license, and many related projects and activities.





Business Software Alliance:

Types Of Computers

Types Of Computers: Different computers are intended to fill different roles.



Apple Macintosh: Macintosh is the name of Apple's line of proprietary computer systems. Unlike other computer retailers, who typically install GNU/Linux or Windows operating systems, Apple had it's own proprietary operating system for the Macintosh: OS X. The Macintosh is known for its reliability, aesthetic design, and high price.

Hacintosh: A user-installed OS X system on a non-Macintosh computer.

Web Server:

Smart Phone:

Operating Systems

Operating Systems: The operating system is most important piece of software on a computer. The operating system is the basic code that enables the hardware components to communicate with one another. For instance, when you type on the keyboard or move the mouse, it is the operating system that receives and processes those functions. The operating system is most visible to the user when starting or turning off the computer: the screen that you see before you can do anything is the operating system's splash screen. Other places where the operating system is visible is the main menu (Start menu on Windows), the desktop, and error messages when programs crash. The operating system itself does not permit anything useful to be done with the computer. Therefore, additional programs, or applications, must be installed. Most operating systems come with some basic applications preinstalled, such as a text editor, a web browser, and a media player. Examples of common operating systems include Microsoft Windows, Apple Macintosh OS-X, and Ubuntu.

Microsoft Windows: Microsoft Windows is an operating system. Microsoft Windows is currently (as of early 2008) the most popular desktop operating system in use worldwide. Microsoft Windows systems can be identified by the Start menu button in the lower left corner of the screen (or lower right corner, for Hebrew and Arabic systems). Like most Microsoft software, Microsoft Windows is proprietary software. That means that it cannot be copied or redistributed by end users, among other restrictions. These limitations, along with Microsoft Window's invasive update policies (not present in pirated versions) and high cost, are major factors contributing to MS Windows being the single most widely pirated software in use.

Apple iOS:

Apple OS X: OS X is the name of Apple's line of proprietary operating systems. Unlike other consumer operating systems, OS X is designed to be used only with Apple's Macintosh computers. OS X is known for its user friendliness, security, and attention to detail.

GNU/Linux: Commonly referred to as simply Linux, the GNU/Linux operating system was designed as an open source replacement for proprietary Unix installations. GNU/Linux provides only the operating system kernel and basic filesystem tools, however, and in order to provide a graphical user interface and user-level applications other open source tools are distributed in a Linux distribution. While the name Linux technically only refers to the kernel (heart) of the OS, the term is often used as a shortcut for GNU/Linux, and for Linux distributions in general. Although Linux has been a popular webserver operating system for many years, only recently has it been finding acceptance on the desktop.

Ubuntu: Ubuntu is a GNU/Linux based operating system designed to be familiar to users of proprietary operating systems. Like most Linux distributions, Ubuntu contains only open source software. Ubuntu comes with many types of software preinstalled that other operating systems do not. For instance, image editing and office software are not included in Apple Macintosh nor in Microsoft Windows, whereas they are included in Ubuntu.


Office Suites

Office Suites: An office suite is a collection of computer programs that perform tasks central to the management of a business or home. This includes word processing software (such as MS Word or OOo Writer), spreadsheet applications (MS Excel or OOo Calc), presentation software (MS Powerpoint or OOo Impress), database management (MS Access or OOo Base), and other related software.

Microsoft Office: Microsoft Office is proprietary office software from Microsoft Corporation. Currently, versions are available that run on the MS Windows and Apple Macintosh operating systems, however, MS Office can be run on Linux with a compatibility layer known as wine.

Open Office:

Web Browsers

Web Browsers:

Internet Explorer:



Google Chrome:

Image Editing Software

Image Editing Software:







Trojan Horse:



Web-Based Email:



Yahoo! Mail:

Traditional Email:

Email Client:





Search Engines

Search Engines:


Google Search:

Yahoo Search:



Internet: The Internet is a collection of communication mediums, computers, and protocols designed to ensure reliable transfer of information.

Web Site:

World Wide Web: The World Wide Web is the familiar collection of websites that one can display in a web browser.

Email Protocols: Although Email is discussed above, it should be mentioned that Email is transfered over the Internet by its own set of protocols. Prominent among these are POP3, IMAP, and STMP.








Date Revised: 2011-07-27


Popular software terminology explained.
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