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FAQs about Software Terminology

by Staff Writer

Computer software user handling a mouse

To choose the right software for your computer, it's important to understand the basic terms associated with computer systems and the software applications that they use. Below is a quick primer on computer software terms, their definitions and how they relate to you as a software user.

Software Terminology:

  1. What is the difference between a program and an application?
    The terms "software," "program" and "application" are used interchangeably. The terms themselves simply refer to a piece of computer programming, designed for specific functions.

  2. What is a hard drive?
    Every computer or laptop has a hard disc drive on which all the data making up the software programs in your computer are stored. The hard disc is a spinning, magnetic disc that stores the information your computer retrieves when needed. Hard drives can carry hundreds of gigabytes or more of software, music, video and digital photos.

  3. What are software requirements?
    Every software program has minimum and recommended requirements for any computer system to be able to run it. Usually, software applications will list the amount of RAM, hard drive space, processor speed and any other hardware specifications that a computer needs to run that program.

  4. What are drivers?
    Drivers are a type of software that your computer uses to communicate with devices like printers and webcams. These peripheral devices usually include drivers on an included software installation CD. Any peripheral that doesn't require a manually installed driver is called a "plug-n-play" or device.

  5. What does "OS" stand for?
    It is the abbreviation for operating system; OS is the is master control program that runs your computer hardware. Generally, applications are designed for use with a specific OS and are compatible only with that OS software.

  6. What is RAM, and how does it relate to software?
    Random access memory (RAM) is active computer memory that your computer uses to perform calculations. When a photo or music file is being used, the original file stays on the hard drive and a working copy of that file is held in your computer's RAM. Software system requirements usually list a minimum amount of RAM needed to run.

  7. What do video requirements have to do with software?
    Some video games and imaging software require a lot of computing power to display complicated images and 3D environments. Advanced software may even require that you have a video card installed in order to handle the graphics involved in the program.

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