Difference between System Software and Application Software

Difference between System software and Application software

In this article, you will learn the basics of the software, different types of software, System software, Application software, and the difference between system and application software.

What is software?

Software is a set of instructions (generally referred to as code) or data or programs that connect the user with the device hardware, thus enabling to use it.

So, now let us understand what is computer software? In simple terms, it is an invisible component of the computer system that allows the user to interact with the computer’s hardware components to carry out well-defined functions or tasks.

It can also be referred to an as intangible resource that is contrary to hardware which is physical aspects of a computer and is essential along with hardware to make the system run efficiently.

Software always comes with a license agreement to explain to the user how to use the software.

Must Read:- What is Software Testing?

What are the different types of software?

The software is generally classified into two categories:-

One being system software and the other one is application software.

Both of this software can be differentiated based on their purpose of design. i.e. the system software serves as an interface between the application software and the system whereas the application software acts as an interface for the user and the system software.

What is System Software?

The system software is a collection of files and programs that controls and manages the operation of a computer itself.

Generally, the system software is made by a computer manufacturer. Since it runs at the most basic level, it is written in a low- level language which means a machine language that can be understood by a machine only.

Without System Software a computer cannot run. The system software is general-purpose software that serves as an interface between the user and the hardware of the computer.

It also provides a platform to run the Application Software. The user does not interact directly with the System Software; rather it interacts with Graphical User Interface (GUI) created by the System Software to manage and control the computer.

The system software either comes preinstalled with the computer or it can be installed along with the operating system.

The software update is possible with the inbuilt option of ‘windows update” for windows and ‘software update’ for Mac.

Fortunately, the user has not to worry much about the functioning of system software since it always runs in the background.

The system software is hard to manipulate, smaller in size and has fast performance.

Different components of System software

System software comprises of the following components:-

Operating system

It is the most important part of a computer and also considered as a lifeline since it ensures the smooth functioning of the computer.

The computer won’t switch on in the absence of an operating system even though we have all the physical hardware and input devices connected to it.

An operating system consists of programs and data and also provides service for application software to run on the computer. Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac are examples of the operating system.

Device driver

It is system software that helps the computer hardware to communicate with the higher-level program.

The devices such as keyboard, mouse, touchpad have pre-installed drivers whereas the drivers for the devices such as a printer, scanner need to be installed from their websites to use it.

Without the drivers, these devices cannot perform their tasks as designated by the OS and will give troubleshooting problems.

Programming Language Translators

It acts as a converter of the higher-level language (as used by humans to interact with the computer) into machine language (machine language is difficult to be understood by a normal human being). 

Compiler, Interpreter, and assembler are some of the known translators and are designed by the manufacturers.

These translators have the capability of translating the machine code at one time or the flexibility of doing it line by line.

Utility Software

As the name suggests, it is one type of system software that is designed to maintain the computer and the application installed by the user.

It is also capable of detecting errors in the computer. Virus scanners, firewalls, system utilities are some of the examples of Utility software.

What is an Application Software?

Application software is a computer program that is designed to perform some specific tasks for the end-user. It is also termed as end-user programs or simply an app.

It houses over the system software. It will need system software installed on the device to run its application.

This kind of software is programmed using a high-level language like C, Java, VB. Net, etc. 

It is capable to carry out both simple and very complex tasks. It can either be installed on the computer or access online.

Some application software comes with a single program and some have multiple programs and is referred to as application suite – Microsoft office, etc. 

Each program is designed to support the end-user with a specific process about creativity, productivity, and/or communication.

Application software needs more storage space as it is bigger.

Category of Application Software

The application software can be categorized as follows:-

General-purpose application software

It is designed to execute multiple tasks. For instance, word processors can be used to write a document or prepare a menu card for a restaurant.

Some other examples include Spreadsheets, Presentation software.

Specific purpose application software

It is designed to perform a specific task. For instance, a media player can be used for only playing videos or camera application software that allows you to take and share pictures only.

Some other examples are Web browsers, calculators, calendar programs, CAD, etc…

User Customized application software

This type of software is customized or tailor-made to suit an organization’s requirements in carrying out some special tasks.

For instance, a business application software which is a subset of application software is designed to meet the growing business needs to improve productivity, precise workings, accuracy, and effectiveness of operations. Some of the examples of this type of software are Enterprise

Resource Planning (ERP), Customer relationship Management (CRM), database, Project Management software, Business process Management, etc…

This category also includes some applications designed for industrial sectors to run machinery, defense software, financial institutions, etc…

What are different types of application software?

There are many different types of application software which can be classified as follows:-

Proprietary software

This type of software is copyrighted or patented and is not free and has limitations regarding its usage, distribution, and modification.


It comes free of cost and be downloaded from the internet to use it. It restricts any modifications to the software. E.g. Adobe PDF, Google talk, etc…


It is a software that is freely distributed amongst users on a trial basis (i.e. for 15 days or 1 month).  Adobe acrobat 8 professional, Winzip, etc…

Open source

It is the software that comes with the source code. The user has the flexibility to modify and also can enhance the software.

It can be either free or chargeable.E.g. Mozilla’s Firefox web browsers, Open Office, etc…

Application software’s can also be illustrated based on usage as follows:-

  • Utility programs
  • Generic programs
  • Integrated programs
  • Specific software
  • Bespoke software
  • Word processing software
  • Desktop publishing software
  • Spreadsheet software
  • Database software
  • Presentation software
  • Internet Browsers
  • Email Programs
  • Graphic Programs (Pixel-based)
  • Graphic Programs (vector-based)
  • Communication software: Communication through audio, video or chat-based mode

Difference between System Software and Application Software

  System Software  Application Software
The system software is a collection of programs to control and manage the operation of computers and gives a platform to run application software.Application software is a computer program which is designed to perform some specific tasks for the end-user
The system software is written in a low-level language and is understood by machine only.  Application software is written in a high-level language such as C, Java, etc.
System software starts from the time the computer is switched on and continues to run until the computer is switched off.  Application software starts when the user begins, and it stops when the user closes it.
The Installation of system software is mandatory for the computer to function.  The installation of application software is optional and as per user-specific requirements.
The system software is categorized as a package program or can be a customized option.  Application software is categorized as client-server, time and resource sharing
Users never interact with this type of software since it runs in the background.  Users interact with this type of software while using specific applications.
The system software is independent of the application software.  Application software requires system software to run
The system software is capable of controlling many processes at one time.Step by step procedure is followed at a time in Application software.  
The programming of System software is complex than the application software.  The programming of Application software is simpler as compared to System software.
The updates for system software takes longer timeThe updates for application software take a relatively shorter time.
Example: Operating system such as Microsoft Windows, Linux, Mac, device drivers, language processors, Utilities.  Example: Word processors, spreadsheets, Presentation software, Web browsers, Graphics software, Multimedia software, etc…

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