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Differences Between Application Software And System Software.

All computers have a virtual part known as software and another physical part known as hardware. Through the software, the user can perform a variety of different activities.

Basically, there are two types of software: application software and system software. Each with its different features and uses. Although both are very different, they also share certain similarities which sometimes make them difficult to differentiate.

In this article, you’ll learn the differences between application software vs system software and you’ll find some basic examples that will help you understand better.

Differences between Application Software and System Software

If you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering: what is the difference between application software and system software? Actually, the differences are many. But in many cases, unclear. As it happens with some application software that are part of other system software.

If you feel confused at this point, don’t worry. Here are the concepts of each software type so you better get the point.

What is Application Software?

It allows users to interact with hardware and perform specific functions such as:

  • Writing
  • Drawing
  • Calculating
  • Modeling
  • Surfing the Internet
  • Opening multimedia files

Application software uses advanced programming language, such as Visual Basic, Python, C++, Java and others. The application software functions are limited to those established on its programming.

Every application software needs system software to function. So, there’s a sine qua non relationship between both software types.

According to its purpose and output, application software can be classified into:

  • Application suite

It consists of a group of applications distributed as a single pack. Usually, different applications can interact and exchange data between each other. A practical example of an application suite is Microsoft Office.

  • Enterprise software

It’s the software with useful tools for large companies, allowing the exchange of data through different departments. It allows obtaining reports with numerical data in tabular form or represented through statistical graphs.

  • Departmental software

Departmental software is very similar to Enterprise software, but its basic tools are designed to be used by a specific department.

  • Application platform as a service

It’s a cloud service that allows managing, running and creating your own applications.

  • Information worker software

It allows creating and managing data related to small projects within a department. It includes all the basic tools that a worker may need to do his job. Things like word processors, email, spreadsheets and others.

  • Content access software

It’s the kind of software that allows you to access certain types of information without the editing option. For example, play multimedia content, open text documents in read-only mode or browse the Internet.

Media players, PDF readers and web browser are examples of content access software.

  • Educational software

It’s a type of content access software that only provides educational data. It’s mainly used for online education. It allows interaction between students and teachers, take exams remotely and evaluate the academic performance of each student.

  • Simulation software

This advanced software allows generating simulations based on a long data record. Simulation software is widely used by scientists to study some physical phenomena and make predictions.

  • Product engineering software

It’s used for the design and development of new software and hardware solutions. For example, those CAD programs used to model structures and mechanical parts.

  • Entertainment software

It’s the kind of software created to provide entertainment to users. For example, video games and media players.

What is System Software?

On the other hand, system software is much simpler than application software. It uses machine language code to control hardware and administrate system resources. It works as a background platform between the application software and the user.

System software is essential to run a computer and activate each of the hardware elements. These are some basic examples of system software:

  • Operating Systems

An Operating system is a computer program that allows the transfer of data between RAM and hard drives. In addition, it allows the rendering of data to convert it into images that are then displayed on a monitor.

  • Utility Programs

Utility programs are those that allow you to maintain, configure, analyze and optimize a computer. Usually, they run automatically and can perform important functions without requiring user intervention. Maintenance multi-tools and virus protection programs are some examples of utility programs.

  • Drivers

A driver is a computer program that controls a certain device attached to the computer. For example, a printer, a joystick, a graphics card, etc.

Drivers may come pre-installed inside the device or require further installation. In the first case, the driver is installed automatically after connecting the device. This method is very common in removable storage drives, such as Pendrives.

In the second case, the user needs to run a program to install the driver. The program can come inside a DVD or be downloaded from the manufacturer’s website.

Some drivers include a user interface that allows you to configure several device functions at your convenience. Other drivers only work automatically after being installed.

Application Software vs. System Software: The Key Points

Now that you know the concept of each software, it’s time to know in detail the differences between both.


  • Computers necessarily need system software to work. System software allows you to control system components and manage resources such as hard drive space and RAM memory. In addition, they function as a platform for running application software.
  • Application software allows performing specific tasks such as writing, drawing, opening multimedia files and others.


  • System software is always the first one to be installed on the computer. Its correct installation and performance depends on the technical characteristics of the hardware.
  • On the other hand, application software is always installed after the system software. Its correct installation and performance depends on the characteristics of the existing operating system, the characteristics of the hardware and the available resources of the system.

Running of Hardware

  • Hardware devices necessarily require system software to work.
  • On the other hand, application software isn’t mandatory to run any type of hardware.

User Interaction

  • Users don’t interact with system software. It just works as a background platform.
  • On the other hand, users can interact with application software, through interactive commands, menus and buttons.


  • System software depends on the characteristics of the hardware to operate. However, it can run independently from any other software.
  • Application software depends on system software to work.

Time of Execution

  • System software starts running when the user turns on the computer and continues running until it’s turned off.
  • On the other hand, application software runs when the user needs it.


  • System software uses machine language code, such as C+ and C++.
  • Application software uses advance programming language, such as Visual Basic, Python, Java and others.


  • System software has full access to hardware components and system resources.
  • Application software has limited access to system resources.


  • To program system software, it’s necessary to know several programming languages, including the native assembly language of each hardware component.
  • To program application software, you only need to know any advanced programming language.

Why is it so difficult to differentiate both types of software?

Sometimes, it may be difficult to differentiate system software from application software. For example, currently, Windows is much more than an operating system. It also includes a wide variety of different applications such as:

  • Calendar
  • Web browser
  • Media player
  • Painting program
  • Instant messaging program

Although these applications aren’t exactly system software, they’re part of major system software. So, this fact could generate confusion when trying to differentiate system software vs application software.

The same goes for utility programs. Basically, these programs serve to enhance the user experience or perform system maintenance. For example, those programs used to burn DVD’s which include a long gallery of additional applications.

Those apps allow you to do things like:

  • Organize multimedia files
  • Edit photos and videos
  • Create playlists
  • Create slideshows
  • Transfer media files between devices
  • Add special effects to videos

In this case, the main program that contains the rest of the applications can be classified as a utility program. However, each of the secondary programs can also be classified as application software.



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