Software and hardware

A computer system is made up of hardware and software:

  • hardware is the physical parts of the computer
  • software is a general term for programs that control and make use of the hardware

Software is translated into machine code for the hardware to understand. Software types are in a hierarchy of their position in relation to the hardware.

Types of software

Firmware is a program embedded onto a hardware device. All hardware components in a computer have firmware. Firmware is usually coded into a hardware device when it is created in a factory. The user of the computer does not usually interact with the firmware directly. A typical example of firmware is the BIOS program written into the ROM of a computer. The BIOS runs when a system starts up before the operating system starts.

An operating system (OS) is a platform that gives the user an interface to the hardware. The OS uses device drivers to communicate with the firmware. The OS provides a user-friendly interface and performs basic tasks such as controlling and allocating memory, controlling the execution of software applications, controlling peripherals, networking, and managing files.

Software applications - also called an application or 'app' - is not essential for the basic function of the computer. Examples include games, word processors and web browsers. Programming environments are a type of software application used to write code and create programs.

Glossary
  1. app An abbreviation for 'application'.
  2. BIOS Basic input output system - the basic firmware that is embedded in the computer ROM chip used to start a computer.
  3. browser An application used to view web pages, eg Internet Explorer or Google Chrome.
  4. machine code Also called object-code, this is low-level code that represents how computer hardware and CPUs understand instructions. It is represented by binary numbers.
  5. MySQL Open source database management system.
  6. peripheral A piece of hardware that connects to a computer, eg a mouse, keyboard, printer or scanner.
  7. prototype A working model of a design used for testing, development and evaluation.
  8. ROM Read Only Memory (ROM): memory or storage that has data stored on it that cannot be changed
  9. smart TV A television which can be used to go online and display video streamed from the internet.
  10. smartphone A mobile phone with a powerful processor that is capable of running applications and accessing the internet.
  11. tablet A computer device a little smaller than a laptop but with a built-in touchscreen, usually without a keyboard.