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A platform is a group of technologies that are used as a base upon which other applications, processes or technologies are developed.
In personal computing, a platform is the basic hardware (computer) and software (operating system) on which software applications can be run. This environment constitutes the basic foundation upon which any application or software is supported and/or developed.
Computers use specific central processing units (CPUs) that are designed to run specific machine language code. In order for the computer to run software applications, the applications must be in that CPU’s binary-coded machine language.
Thus, historically, application programs written for one platform would not work on a different platform.
A computer platform — also called digital platform or computing platform — generally refers to the operating system and computer hardware only.
An example of a computing platform is a modern laptop running Windows as an operating system. Another example would be an Apple computer running the Mac OS X operating system.
The platform conforms to a set of standards that enable software developers to develop software applications for the platform. These same standards allow owners and managers to purchase appropriate applications and hardware.
Thus, to run a bookkeeping program on a computer, one must purchase a bookkeeping software application that was developed for the platform on which it will be used.
New standards-based interfaces and open interfaces allow application programs to run on multiple platforms. Additionally, software developers have developed software tools that allow applications to run on multiple platforms.
This has given rise to the terms cross-platform software and multi-platform software. A classic example is represented by videogames developed specifically for a certain platform, in this case a console such as the PlayStation or Xbox.
Although the same game may exist in different versions to be run on different systems, if that version is built to be run on Microsoft Windows, it won’t work if loaded on an Xbox.
Each gaming platform will adhere to its own set of standards as well as rules and hardware restrictions. For example, developers may need to lower in-game graphics settings if the game engine is too heavy on a specific console’s hardware.
Newer web browsers allow third-party plug-ins to be run as part of the browser. Therefore, some browsers are now spoken of as platforms since they are used as a base on which to run other applications' software programs.
Today, new mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets possess their own software and hardware. They operate independently of other systems and are capable of running their own apps, tools, and other software, hence they can be effectively considered as platforms.
Software stacks and some applications are also sometimes referred as digital platforms.
For example, SQL is a database application that is often used as an environment to run other tools for CRM, analytics and log management.
Similarly, the collection of the three-open source applications Elasticsearch, Logstash, and Kibana constitutes the ELK Stack, a platform used for logging purposes.