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Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Explain what software is and what it does
  • Describe each of the main software types used in business
  • Understand how to install and maintain software

You learned about the history of computers and basic hardware in the Technology in Everyday Life and Business chapter. While hardware is the backbone of a computer, and knowledge of it and what can go wrong with it helps you to keep vital devices working properly, software is the lifeblood that gets work done personally and in the business world.

This chapter examines the basics of software programs. It also covers the terminology and functions common to most programs. Refer to this chapter as you work through the rest of the material in the textbook, especially when you encounter more advanced concepts.

One final note: Before beginning this chapter, be sure you know how to use your mouse to click and hover. Clicking (sometimes called pressing or selecting) the left side of the mouse tells it you want to activate a command directly on the screen. It is the most direct use of the mouse. Clicking the right side (called “right-clicking”) of the mouse will reveal a little screen with a menu of options. Don’t worry about those yet. And, finally, hovering over portions of the screen such as icons will give you a short descriptor of that tool or menu. When you hover, you do not click the mouse at all but rather direct it over the tool icon.

Mac Tip

You will need to hold the Control (Ctrl) key when clicking the mouse to reveal the menu of options, and then hold Command when clicking the mouse to activate a command directly on screen.

What Is Software?

When using a computer, we often hear the terms programs, software, and applications. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably. However, there are some distinctions. Programs are the instructions that tell the computer how to operate and run specific tasks. Whereas software consists of the step-by-step instructions that tell a computer how to operate with its hardware. Software is essentially a collection of interlinked programs. More specifically, the instructions enable the program to perform specific actions such as printing, saving, or formatting text. These step-by-step instructions are written in computer language or code. Different types of programs include the Microsoft Office suite, educational software, and antivirus software.

There are two major categories of software: system-related software and application software. System software is related to the functioning of the computer. Examples include the computer’s operating system and the software needed to run items such as printers, the keyboard, and antivirus software. Applications are programs that are task-oriented, including those we will cover in this text such as word processing programs and presentation software. Internet browsers are also considered application programs. They are used to search for content on the internet.

There are several facets of programs that are consistent regardless of the type of program. The programs use computer programming to add the functionality for the software or application. For example, there is a specific computer programming language (or code) that is used to simply print a document. This language is the foundation for making the program work. The basic elements of programs are shown in Figure 2.2. They are:

  • The graphical user interface (GUI) is the portion of a program that allows the user to interact with it. Commands in Office are organized in groupings called tabs, while in Google Workspace, these groupings are called menus.
  • A menu bar, or ribbon, typically at the top of the screen, contains an array of general commands that the user can choose, such as changing the font, printing the file, or adding elements such as pictures or shapes. In Office, this is referred to as the ribbon.
  • A toolbar, typically located below the menu bar, contains icons or graphical representations for commonly used commands such as Copy or Save that are more specific than those contained in the menu bar.
  • A dialog box provides information or requests inputs. These boxes typically appear after a user action, such as clicking a button or selecting a menu option. For example, see Figure 2.2, which shows more options for changing the font color or size.
  • The status bar is located at the bottom of the program window. Its main function is to show the status of the program, such as the number of pages.
Tabs along the top are labeled Ribbon. Command groups on the screen are labeled Toolbar. An open pane is labeled Dialog box. The bar along the bottom is labeled Status bar.
Figure 2.2 The common format for software includes a series of menus or toolbars at the top of the screen that are specific to the functionality of the program. (Used with permission from Microsoft)

Common Applications in Business

Task-oriented applications include word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and database management programs. Figure 2.3 shows the icons for the popular applications in Google Workspace.

Specialized applications include programs used only for certain disciplines or occupations, such as QuickBooks, which is used for accounting. Mobile applications such as E-reader applications are programs designed primarily for smartphones and tablets.

A word processing application creates text-based documents such as memos, letters, and reports. Just about every organization uses word processing software, especially businesses, colleges, and universities. Microsoft Word is the most widely used word processing application, along with Google Docs and Open Office Writer.

A spreadsheet application organizes, analyzes, and uses numeric data. These applications are common in just about every profession today for compiling data in a table and creating visual displays (graphs and charts) of the information. Sales data from WorldCorp can be analyzed using the tools in a spreadsheet application. The most widely used spreadsheet applications are Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets.

A presentation application combines graphics and text to create attractive slideshows. These applications are used by students in colleges and universities as well as in the business world. The most common presentation applications are Microsoft PowerPoint and Google Slides. Employees at WorldCorp can use presentation applications to prepare sales summaries to present to key executives at the company.

A database application is designed to organize and store large amounts of data. The information in a database program often includes both text and numeric information. Microsoft Access is a database application that can be used to compile and filter a large dataset. WorldCorp can use Access to store customer data in one file that includes information such as the customer address, historical purchase information, key contacts, and other related information.

The words Google Workspace are visible across the top and icons for these functions are displayed: Calendar, Gmail, Docs, Drive, Meet, and Sheets.
Figure 2.3 Google Workspace includes applications for emailing, managing files, and creating spreadsheets. These are the common icons you will see most as you start to learn this suite. (Google Workspace is a trademark of Google LLC.)

Specialized applications include programs that are used only in certain disciplines or occupations, such as a design application used in the engineering profession. Another example would be tax software programs that accounting professionals use to prepare taxes for their clients. Desktop publishing enables users to mix text and graphics to create page designs and layouts for brochures, newsletters, and textbooks. Popular types of desktop publishing software include Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Publisher.

Finally, businesses might also use social media applications. Social media applications are used to create virtual networks or communities through which users connect and share information, messages, and/or content such as images and videos. These applications are accessed either through the internet or by downloading the application to your device. These applications are geared to connecting with others in a variety of different scenarios. For example, LinkedIn is a professional networking application that can help you connect with others in your career field. Social media applications will be covered in detail in Content Management Systems and Social Media in Business.

One of the first social media platforms was Myspace, which was used to connect individuals with family and friends, as well as for networking. Then came Facebook (which became more popular than Myspace), Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Twitter (now X). At WorldCorp, you would most likely use LinkedIn, which is a site tailored to the business world. Companies and workers share news, their résumés, and network through it. Social media also allows virtual collaboration, which plays a role in work life, as individuals can use Zoom or Microsoft Teams for business meetings, a feature that became crucial during the COVID pandemic. Many organizations also use social media for marketing purposes.

In addition to interacting with others, social media users can watch movies and play games on many different types of devices, including tablets, computers, and even cell phones through social media sites. The chapter Content Management Systems and Social Media in Business covers this topic in more depth.

Installing and Maintaining Software

Installing software is an automated process for the most part. Although there are some differences based on both the software and the operating systems (Windows or macOS), software installation follows a basic process. Acquisition of the software often begins with visiting the software website and purchasing the software download. Not all software requires a purchase. Some programs are freely available. Also, not all programs are directly downloaded onto your computer. With today’s cloud-based technologies, some software exists in the cloud and instead you are downloading an app on your device to get access to the software.

Once you have identified the software you would like to install, generally you will find a link (or button) on the website that says Download. By clicking on the download, you agree to allow the software components to be added to your computer’s hard drive. Also, although not as common today, software programs can be installed via a CD-ROM. If you have a CD-ROM to install the software, often the installation process will begin once the CD is inserted in the CD drive. You will be prompted with similar dialog windows whether installing from a download or a CD-ROM.

Keep in mind that you need to do your research and use caution when choosing software from the internet to download. There are fake sites that exist for downloading software that could harm your computer. Additionally, sometimes there are options to download other software or additional features to install. These are generally not necessary and could again be potentially harmful to your computer. Take the time to make sure you are downloading software from trusted sites.

The installation begins with downloading a folder that contains the necessary files to install the software program on your computer. Two key files in the folder are the README file and the actual install file, which will have a .exe extension (the execute file). It is a good idea to read the README file. This file is a text file that contains the steps needed to install the program. It will also contain the system requirements information to determine if your computer is suitable for the program. The programs differ based on the computer space needed to store the software files and the version of the operating system needed for the software to function. The download prompter screens will often indicate the amount of space required for the installation.

Installation starts when you click on the .exe file. You will be prompted with a series of approvals at the beginning of the installation. These approvals could include the consent to make changes (add files) to your computer, closing all other open programs, and usage of the software. Some software programs will have options to customize the installation based on the elements you want installed or where you want to place the installation files. You may be prompted with a dialog box asking you the type of installation, which could include options such as basic installation or customized. Often, the software developers will recommend the basic installation for most applications. Unless you have a reason not to complete the installation as recommended, there is usually no reason to choose a customized installation.

Mac Tip

.exe files are only for Windows computers and cannot be installed on macOS operating systems. The Mac operating system uses .dmg files.

Maintenance of software is simple. Developers of the programs will regularly check the programs for issues. At times, there may be a need to update the software. You might already be familiar with the concept with your cell phone. These updates improve security and functionality of the programs when issues arise. Installation of the updates can be set to be automatic, or you can manually and regularly check for updates of the software programs. Many programs will notify users when the program is opened if an update is available. Updating the software is a necessary part of keeping the program functional.

Troubleshooting issues in a program is another key component of being a software user. Most software has a Help function or menu available to assist the user with questions about the program. The items in the Help function are generally centered on issues of using the program itself. Items could include how to perform a certain task such as printing or other related items. If your issue is not solved with this type of assistance, most programs have a way to connect with the software company for more assistance through registering the software. This could be in the form of sending an email, contacting customer service by phone, or through a chat function in the program. Most problems with the functionality of a program can be resolved through one of these methods.


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