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    Traditionally, software has been divided into two different categories: systems software and applications software. However, in addition to those, an entire new batch of wares has entered the computer vernacular in recent years.

    For years people understood the term software to refer to computer instructions; meaning the programs or data. Traditionally, software has been divided into two different categories: systems software and applications software. However, in addition to those, an entire new batch of wares has entered the computer vernacular in recent years.

    What is System Software?

    System software sits directly on top of your computer’s hardware components (also referred to as its bare metal). It includes the range of software you would install to your system that enables it to function. This includes the operating system, drivers for your hardware devices, linkers and debuggers. Systems software can also be used for managing computer resources. Systems software is designed to be used by the computer system itself, not human users.

    Application Software Defined

    Unlike systems software, applications software is designed to be used by end-users. Applications software, in essence, sits on top of system software, as it is unable to run without the operating system and other utilities. Applications software includes things like database programs, word processors and spreadsheets, e-mail applications, computer games, graphics programs and such. Generally, people will refer to applications software as software.

    Types of Application Software: The Growing list of “Ware” Terminology

    Today we find new terms created frequently to classify types of applications software. You have classifications based on usage — for example games or financial software, office applications, and other categories where the category is derived based on the main use of the software.

    Unfortunately, we also have a newer group of software related terms that have a negative association. While the applications software itself may be useful, it may also carry hidden programs or utilities that may cause undesirable effects.


    We have a whole selection of software that may come bundled under the name of malware. Short for malicious software, malware is any software that has been designed (programmed) specifically to damage or disrupt a computer system. The most common forms of malware are computer viruses, worms, and Trojan horses.

    Editor’s Recommendation: For more information on Malware, check out Webopedia’s Did You Know… The Difference Between a Virus, Worm and Trojan Horse?

    Adware and Spyware

    Other common types of software are adware and spyware. Adware is considered a legitimate alternative offered to consumers who don’t wish to pay for software. Today we have a growing number of software developers who offer their goods as “sponsored” freeware until you pay to register. Generally most or all features of the software are enabled but you will be viewing sponsored advertisements while the software is being used. If you’re using legitimate adware, when you stop running the software, the ads should disappear, and you always have the option of disabling the ads by purchasing a registration key.

    Unfortunately some applications that contain adware track your Internet surfing habits in order to serve ads related to you. When the adware becomes intrusive like this, then we move it into the spyware category and it then becomes something you should avoid for privacy and security reasons.

    Spyware works like adware, but is usually a separate program that is installed unknowingly when you install another application. Once installed, the spyware monitors user activity on the Internet and transmits that information in the background to someone else. Spyware can also gather information about e-mail addresses and even passwords and credit card numbers.

    Unlike adware, spyware is considered a malicious program.

    Editor’s Recommendation: Learn more about The Difference Between Adware & Spyware in this Webopedia article.


    Sometimes developers will include tools and programs within software that some may view as malware, but really, it falls into the grey area between malicious software and software, hence the name greyware. Greyware is the term used to categorize all other malicious or annoying software such as adware, spyware, trackware, and other malicious code and malicious software fall under.

    In addition to these types of software, there are more terms to describe software that is distributed with common tools and utilities that don’t necessarily cause harm to your computer or are a security risk. Some of these terms are slang terms used to describe unwanted features found in applications software.

    What is Warez?

    Lastly, there’s warez which is a term that has been around for quite some time. Pronounced wayrz or wayrss, it is the name given to commercial systems software or applications software that has been pirated and made available to the public via a BBS or the Internet.

    Typically, those who pirate software, often called crackers, have figured out a way to de-activate the copy protection or registration scheme used by the software. The use and distribution of warez software is illegal.

    More Key Terms to Understanding Software

    Did You Know… software characterized by frequent updates, fixes, and patches is called dribbleware?

    The term is somewhat derogatory, indicating software that was released without sufficient testing or before all features could be added. With the intense market pressure to release software products as soon as possible, and with the increased ease of updating software via Internet downloads, dribbleware is becoming the norm rather than the exception.

    Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

    This article was originally published on September 29, 2006