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Application Software vs. Operating System: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 5, 2023
Application software performs specific tasks for the user, whereas an operating system manages hardware and provides services for computer programs.

Key Differences

Application software refers to specialized programs designed to help users perform specific tasks such as word processing, image editing, or playing video games. Such software is developed to assist with particular activities, ensuring ease and efficiency for the user. Comparatively, an operating system (OS) is a critical software that manages all hardware and other software on a computer, serving as a bridge between user interactions and physical device operations.
Application software needs an operating system to function since it utilizes the OS's capabilities and functionalities to operate. Applications interact with the OS through system calls and utilize various services provided by the OS to perform their tasks, reflecting the dependency application software has on operating systems. On the contrary, an operating system can function independently as it interfaces directly with the hardware, orchestrating the operations of the CPU, memory, storage, and connected devices.
Importantly, application software is purpose-oriented, meaning each piece of application software is designed for specific tasks, for instance, browsers for internet surfing or Photoshop for image editing. In comparison, the operating system is comprehensive and generalized, ensuring all software and hardware components communicate and function collectively, adhering to user commands and executing application software.
The development of application software frequently adheres to trends, user demands, and evolves quickly with technological advancements, often providing updated versions or entirely new software for emerging needs. Operating systems, however, see updates that often prioritize stability, security, and compatibility to ensure a robust platform for all application software and hardware components, underlining a steadfast and foundational role in computer systems.
Application software can be readily swapped, chosen based on preferences, and used in varied combinations on a single device. Conversely, an operating system establishes the fundamental environment of a computer, and changing it is consequential, typically altering the entire user experience, software compatibility, and user interface, underlining the distinctive, structural role it plays in computing.

Comparison Chart


Performs specific user tasks
Manages hardware and provides services


Depends on an operating system
Functions independently


Photoshop, Microsoft Word
Windows, Linux, MacOS

Update Focus

New features, user interface
Security, stability, compatibility

User Interaction

Direct, task-oriented
Indirect, through GUI or command interface

Application Software and Operating System Definitions

Application Software

Application software can be custom-built for specific organizational needs.
A CRM tool is a piece of application software vital for managing customer relations.

Operating System

Operating systems provide a user interface and control over hardware functions.
MacOS, an operating system, offers a graphical user interface for user interaction.

Application Software

Application software can be single or multi-user based on design.
Photoshop, used for photo editing, is single-user application software.

Operating System

Operating systems manage resources like processor time and memory space.
IOS, an operating system, allocates memory among various running applications.

Application Software

Application software operates above the operating system layer.
Google Chrome, an application software, allows for web browsing.

Operating System

An operating system manages and coordinates the use of the hardware among the computer's different types of software.
Windows 10 is an operating system popular among PC users.

Application Software

Application software can be proprietary or open-source.
Mozilla Firefox is open-source application software providing web access.

Operating System

Operating systems ensure hardware and software compatibility.
Linux, an operating system, can facilitate various software applications.

Application Software

Application software is designed to help users perform specific tasks.
Microsoft Word is application software that enables document creation.

Operating System

Operating systems can multitask, managing several active applications.
Android is an operating system that allows users to run multiple apps simultaneously.


Is Windows an application software?

No, Windows is an operating system that manages hardware and provides services for software applications.

Can I run multiple application software simultaneously?

Yes, running multiple applications at once depends on the capabilities of the operating system and hardware resources.

What is an operating system (OS)?

An operating system is system software that manages computer hardware and provides services for computer programs.

Can operating systems be vulnerable to malware?

Yes, operating systems can be targeted by malware, and it’s vital to keep them updated for security.

Can I run a piece of Windows application software on Linux?

Not natively, but you may use compatibility layers or virtual machines to run Windows applications on Linux.

Do I need special skills to install an operating system?

Basic installation is often user-friendly, but configuring and troubleshooting might require specialized knowledge.

What is application software?

Application software is a program designed to help users perform specific tasks on a computer.

Can application software interact directly with hardware?

Typically no, application software interacts with hardware through the intermediary of the operating system.

What role does an operating system play in a computer?

It acts as an intermediary between users and the computer hardware, managing resources and providing services.

Can I use application software on different operating systems?

Some software is cross-platform, but compatibility depends on whether a version of the software is available for the OS.

What are examples of operating systems?

Examples include Microsoft Windows, Linux distributions, and Apple's MacOS.

Are device drivers part of the operating system?

Device drivers, which enable hardware communication, can be integrated into the OS or installed separately.

Is it necessary to update application software regularly?

Regular updates are recommended to access new features and ensure security and stability.

Can I install MacOS on a Windows PC?

Technically yes, through a dual-boot setup or using virtualization software, but MacOS is designed for Apple hardware.

Is it possible to change the operating system of a device?

Yes, you can replace or upgrade an operating system, though it can be complex and device-dependent.

Can I use an operating system without installing application software?

Yes, but functionality will be limited to the features and applications provided by the OS itself.

What are examples of application software?

Examples include Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and Google Chrome.

Can application software run without an operating system?

No, application software requires an operating system to function as it relies on it for various services and resources.

Is mobile OS different from desktop OS?

While they share core functions, mobile OSs are optimized for mobile device functionalities, such as touch interactions.

Is an internet browser application software?

Yes, internet browsers like Chrome or Firefox are examples of application software.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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