Informative Services Group

Articles about Computers and Computing

Articles about Computers and Computing


Informative Services Group Home

Web Site Design & Deployment Web Sites

IT Consulting & Project Management Consulting

Accounting Services & Packages Accounting

Digital Life and Living Digital Life

Articles about Computers and Computing Articles

Project Management Projects

Internet Technology & eLearning eLearning

Contact Us Contact Us

The Programs that Make Your Computer Go

Written on September 3, 1996 by Robert & Karen Vanderzweerde

Appeared in Greenmaster Magazine on October/November 1996

In our last column, we discussed the various hardware components of your computer system.  The term "hardware" is used to describe the physical parts of the computer -- the things you can touch and see, although you may have to open the computer to see them all.

While hardware is interesting, it isn't much use by itself.  The truly amazing part of your computer system is the software, and it is software that gives your computer the power to perform useful tasks for you -- and you can't even see it!

There are two categories of software -- the operating system and your application software.

Operating System

The operating system is the unsung hero of the software world.   Operating systems link the various devices of your computer and your application software, and make the computer do what it should.  The operating system knows where to find the keyboard, printer, disc drive and screen, and controls the messages that need to flow between them.  Without the operating system to manage things, nothing would happen when you try to use your computer.  The abilities of the operating system limit the abilities of the application software.

You must have an operating system for your computer to be useful.  If you have a MacIntosh computer, then you will have Apple's operating system pre-loaded onto your computer.  If you have a PC, then you have several choices of operating system, and which one you select will determine what type of application software you can run.

The original operating system for PC's was called MS-DOS (often just called DOS).  Early versions of DOS required the user to understand basic DOS commands.  Many early PC users had experience with large computer systems or were willing to learn the necessary instructions. As PC's grew in popularity, users started to demand that the operating system become less technical and more "user-friendly."   WINDOWS was developed as an interface between the application software and the operating system.

WINDOWS still uses MS-DOS as the operating system; its role is to provide a simplified method for the user to tell DOS what it needs to do.  By using a graphical interface and a mouse, WINDOWS made the PC user's life easier.

WINDOWS 95, the latest operating system product, replaces the MS-DOS/WINDOWS combination.  It is a new operating system with the WINDOWS interface built right in.  New features and technical improvements make it possible for new application software development by using 32-bit code (older systems used 16-bit code).   The new code will let larger programs run better and faster, when they are developed or re-developed in 32-bit code, so you will see both regular and WINDOWS-95 versions of popular software.  WINDOWS 95 also has the ability to help you install new peripheral devices if they are "plug and play" compatible, and to let you run several programs at once.

While most of the news lately has been about WINDOWS 95 and its related products, there are also other operating systems available for PC's.  A product from IBM, called O/S2 (also called WARP), was developed before WINDOWS and was once seen as the replacement for DOS.  While there are many O/S2 users, it never gained the popularity that WINDOWS has, even though many programmers believe it was the better product.   You may also hear of UNIX based systems.

Since WINDOWS and WINDOWS 95 have a large share of the market, almost all new application software is written to work on these systems.  If you choose an alternative operating system, your software choices will be limited, and you should have a compelling reason for such a choice.

If you need to choose between WINDOWS and WINDOWS 95, the decision can be hard.  Because WINDOWS 95 is a new product, it is not "stable" (there are still some problems to be worked out).  I have been using WINDOWS 95 on my laptop computer for about 6 months, and have had 3 unexplained "crashes".  I like the new features -- it was very easy to install my new fax/modem card, with the "plug and play" capability.  If you are a new user, WINDOWS 95 is a little easier to use, but you may find the unexplained crashes hard to deal with.  If you use WINDOWS or WINDOWS 95 at work, then you will probably find it easier to keep your system at home consistent with what you use at work.

You also need to remember that software is usually "backward compatible" but not "forward compatible".  Programs written to run on the new WINDOWS 95 systems (32 bit) will not run on old WINDOWS or DOS (16 bit) -- you cannot squeeze 32 bits down to 16 bits.  You can, however, run old programs (16 bit) on WINDOWS 95 (32 bit) -- you can squeeze 16 bits into 32 bits.

Application Software

Application software are the programs that do useful things for computer users, such as word processing packages, spreadsheets, presentation software, data bases, electronic mail and schedulers, personal information systems, accounting software, communication and fax software, and games.

When you purchase software, you must make sure that your hardware and operating system are compatible with the software.  The system requirements are usually clearly printed on the box the software comes in.  For example, it will not do you any good to purchase software that requires 16 megabytes of memory if you only have 4 megabytes.  You must also have enough free space on your hard drive to store the software.

Software will come ready for you to install on your computer either from a series of diskettes or from a compact disk (CD).  Don't buy the CD version if you don't have a CD player attached to your computer.  Follow the instructions supplied with the software.  You should also send in your registration card that comes with your software.  This proves that you are a registered owner of the software, and you will then get information about updates, new products, user groups, and newsletters from software company.

Many of the popular software products are sold bundled together as a "suite."  A suite usually includes word processing , spreadsheets, and presentation packages.  There is also a related data base product that is part of a more expensive suite.  For example, the Microsoft Office suite includes Word (word processing), Excel (spreadsheet), and PowerPoint (presentation package).  The Microsoft Office Professional suite adds Access (database).  There are similar suites from other vendors, including Corel Office (owned by Corel and based on WordPerfect) and SmartSuite (owned by IBM and based on Lotus 1-2-3).

The advantage to buying software suites are:

  • cost savings over purchasing each component individually

  • reduced learning time, as programs have similar commands and appearances

  • easy importing and exporting (passing information from one program to another)

There are so many interesting programs available that you can easily spend a lot of money buying software for your computer.  Before you invest, see if you can try the program for 30 days, or have a friend who has it show you how it works.  It can be tempting to borrow software diskettes from a friend or from your office and install it on your computer without buying the software for yourself.  This is fraud, and a violation of the license under which the original license was sold.
It is estimated that "bootlegged" software costs the software industry millions of dollars each year.  Software producers have formed the Software Audit Bureau, and are actively prosecuting companies and individuals who have stolen software.  Don't be one of them!

Copyright 2007-2011 © Informative Services Group. All rights reserved.