Application Software

What Does Application Software Mean?

One of the first things to understand about the term “application software” is that it is exceedingly broad.


Application software is commonly defined as any program or number of programs designed for end-users. That’s it, in a nutshell.

In that sense, any end user program can be called an “application.” Hence the age-old saying: “there's an app for that.”

People often use the term “application software” to talk about bundles or groups of individual software applications, using a different term, “application program,” to refer to individual applications.

That’s because the word “program” correlates to a discrete, countable single unit, while the word “software” is often used to refer to more than one individual program.

Techopedia Explains Application Software

Examples of application software include items like Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, or any of the web browsers used navigate the Internet … or the actual software suites themselves, if they are intended for end users.

Another way to understand application software is to contrast it with other software. In a very basic sense, every program that you use on your computer is a piece of application software.

The operating system, on the other hand, is system software. Historically, the application was generally born as computers evolved into systems where you could run a particular codebase on a given operating system.

Fundamental Types of Application Software and How They Differ

One way to do this is by grouping all application software into three types.

Utility software

This could include firewall utilities and antivirus applications, as well as other utilities like zipping or unzipping utilities or disk defragmenting tools, or anything else that an end user can operate as a utility.

Integrated software

Software that does more than one thing, or includes different bundled applications. Here's where your traditional Microsoft Office suite belongs. Another example is a set of database applications bundled together to do different things to data assets.

Specific application software

This would be a single application developed for one defined purpose that is not a utility. Here's where you can separate all of those standalone applications into different categories like games, word processors, analytical engines, newsfeeds etc.

Even social media platforms have come to resemble applications, especially on our mobile phone devices, where individual applications are given the nickname “apps.”

So while the term “application software” can be used broadly, it’s an important term in describing the rise of sophisticated computing environments from early mainframes and Von Neumann models.

How Should I Think Of Application Software?

When you think of application software, think of a given software could program being built from the ground up to do one or several important things.

Then think of that finished application or set of applications being ported into an operating system environment where users can open the application, use the application and then close it again.

This traditional construct has remained dominant even as we've moved through a lot of different hardware scenarios from traditional mainframes to virtualization and cloud systems.

Talking about the evolution of cloud native application software is a good way to look at what's likely to evolve in software development lifecycle is in the future.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…