A computer system is made of both hardware and software.
The hardware components of a computer systems are the physical components of the system and include the motherboard, the CPU, RAM and ROM and all input, output and output devices.
Software consists of the computer programs that run on hardware. They fall into three main categories:
The Operating System is an essential software needed to operate a computer. The Operating System is responsible for:
- Memory Management: The Operating System allows the user to load files and applications into the primary memory (RAM) and to remove these from RAM when they are no longer needed.
- Providing a User Interface to allow the user to interact with the computer. On a laptop or desktop computer most Operating systems (e.g. Windows, MacOs, Linux etc.) provide a Graphical User Interface (GUI) enabling the user to open apps in separate windows, use the mouse pointer to click on menus and icons. Similar Graphical User Interfaces are also available on smartphones running an iOS or Android Operating Systems.
- Maintaining User Accounts and Access Levels: The operating system enables users to authenticate themselves often using a username or password or, on more recent smartphones, a fingerprint scanner or facial recognition software. Once logged in, the identified user will be given access to their own files, folders and settings based on their access-level
- Managing the hardware including input, output and storage devices: The Operating System is the only software that will communicate with the different hardware components to decide what to display on screen, where to save or retrieve a file on secondary storage, what information to send to the printer, etc…
- The operating systems also allocates CPU time to the different jobs being processed by the CPU and may allow for multitasking, enabling the end-user to work on different applications at the same time.
To enable the Operating System to communicate with a wide range of hardware peripherals from many different manufacturers it is sometimes required to install drivers which are used to teach the OS how to communicate with a specific peripheral. (e.g. When connecting a new printer or game controller, you may have to install the required driver first).
Utility software is specific software that performs tasks to help with maintaining the computer system, to optimise the resources and keep the system secure.
There is a wide range of utility software including:
- File Management software to help you organise your files using folders and sub-folders, move, rename or delete files and folders.
- Disk cleanup softwware to help you free up space on your hard disk, and hence improve system performance. Disk cleanup software scans your disk to locate temporary files, Internet cache files, and other unnecessary program files that you can safely delete to free up space.
- Defragmentation software is used to reorganise/optimise how files are stored on a hard-disk drive resulting in reduced read/write time when accessing files.
- Backup software can be used to perform regular automated backup of all your files. Taking a backup of your files can be useful in case you have lost a file or your files are corrupted.
- File compression software is used to create compressed files or group of files to save space on your secondary storage or to save time when transferring these files across the Internet.
- Anti-virus and Anti-malware software that scan the content of your hard-disk drive to identify and quarantine potentially infected files and other malware such as trojan horses, worms, spyware or ransomware.
- Firewall Software can be used to scan all incoming and outgoing traffic from/to your computer and block malicious requests and potential hacking attempts.
- Encryption software is used to encrypt sensitive information before either storing it (e.g. Password Management Software) or before sending it across the network/ the Internet
Application software is the main software that you will want to use when on your computer, tablet or smart phone. It incudes software such as:
- Word Processing Software,
- Spreadsheet Software,
- Presentation Software,
- Graphic & Photo Editing Software,
- Video Editing Software,
- Web Browsers.
Most of the Apps you use on your smartphone are also examples of application software.