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A computer application is software that is a subclass of computer software that employs the capabilities of a computer directly to a task that the user wishes to perform. This should be contrasted with system software which is involved in integrating a computer's various capabilities, but typically does not directly apply them in the performance of tasks that benefit the user. In this context the term application refers to both the application software and its implementation.
A simple, if imperfect analogy in the world of hardware would be the relationship of an electric light bulb (an application) to an electric power generation plant (a system). The power plant merely generates electricity, not itself of any real use until harnessed to an application like the electric light that performs a service that benefits the user.
Multiple applications bundled together as a package are sometimes referred to as an application suite. Microsoft Office and OpenOffice.org, which bundle together a word processor, a spreadsheet, and several other discrete applications, are typical examples. The separate applications in a suite usually have a user interface that has some commonality making it easier for the user to learn and use each application. And often they may have some capability to interact with each other in ways beneficial to the user. For example, a spreadsheet might be able to be embedded in a word processor document even though it had been created in the separate spreadsheet application.
User-written software tailors systems to meet the user's specific needs. User-written software include spreadsheet templates, word processor macros, scientific simulations, graphics and animation scripts. Even email filters are a kind of user software. Users create this software themselves and often overlook how important it is.
In some types of embedded systems, the application software and the operating system software may be indistinguishable to the user, as in the case of software used to control a VCR, DVD player or Microwave Oven.
Application software classification
There are many subtypes of application software:
- Enterprise software addresses the needs of organization processes and data flow, often in a large distributed environment. (Examples include Financial, Customer Relationship Management, and Supply Chain Management). Note that Departmental Software is a sub-type of Enterprise Software with a focus on smaller organizations or groups within a large organization. (Examples include Travel Expense Management, and IT Helpdesk)
- Enterprise infrastructure software provides common capabilities needed to support Enterprise Software systems. (Examples include Databases, Email servers, and Network and Security Management)
- Information worker software addresses the needs of individuals to create and manage information, often for individual projects within a department, in contrast to enterprise management. Examples include time management, resource management, documentation tools, analytical, and collaborative. Word processors, spreadsheets, email and blog clients, personal information system, and individual media editors may aid in multiple information worker tasks.
- Content access software is software used primarily to access content without editing, but may include software that allows for content editing. Such software addresses the needs of individuals and groups to consume digital entertainment and published digital content. (Examples include Media Players, Web Browsers, Help browsers, and Games)
- Educational software is related to Media and Entertainment Software, but has distinct requirements for delivering evaluations (tests) and tracking progress through material. It is also related to collaboration software in that many Educational Software systems include collaborative capabilities.
- Simulation software are computer software for simulation of physical or abstract systems for either research, training or entertainment purposes.
- Media development software addresses the needs of individuals who generate print and electronic media for others to consume, most often in a commercial or educational setting. This includes Graphic Art software, Desktop Publishing software, Multimedia Development software, HTML editors, Digital Animation editors, Digital Audio and Video composition, and many others.
- Product engineering software is used in developing hardware and software products. This includes computer aided design (CAD), computer aided engineering (CAE), computer language editing and compiling tools, Integrated Development Environments, and Application Programmer Interfaces.
Enterprise infrastructure software
- Business workflow software
- Database management system (DBMS) software
- Digital asset management (DAM) software
- Document Management software
- Geographic Information System (GIS) software
Information worker software
- Time and Resource Management
- Data Management
- Analytical software
- Collaborative software
Content access software
- Electronic media software
- Classroom Management
- Edutainment Software
- Learning/Training Management Software
- Reference software
- Sales Readiness Software
- Survey Management
Computer simulation software
- Computer simulators
Media development software
- Image organizer
- Media content creating/editing
- Artificial intelligence
- Automatic speech recognition
- Computer assisted design
- Computer assisted diagnosis
- Computer assisted instruction
- Computer assisted testing
- Computer peripheral devices
- Computer searching
- Decision support systems
- Electronic communication
- Information systems
- Virtual reality
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