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

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 9, 2023
System software manages hardware and provides a platform for application software, while application software performs specific user-oriented tasks on top of system software.

Key Differences

System software serves as a foundational layer, enabling the functionality and management of computer hardware, whereas application software offers specialized functionality to perform tasks useful to the user. System software includes the operating system, which controls hardware and allows application software to run. Conversely, application software, which ranges from word processors to media players, cannot manage system resources directly and operates through system software.
The interplay between system software and application software underlines the seamless operation of computing devices. System software often works invisibly in the background, providing an essential bridge between hardware and application software, facilitating communication and resource allocation. Meanwhile, application software delivers particular, task-specific functionalities, enabling users to interact productively with their computers, yet is dependent on system software for accessing hardware.
System software incorporates drivers, servers, windowing systems, and utilities, prioritizing stability, and efficiency to sustain robust hardware management. Application software, embracing a variety of programs like spreadsheets and video editing tools, puts user experience at the forefront, ensuring intuitive, and task-centric design, while relying on the stable environment provided by system software.
Updates to system software often address broad aspects like security and hardware compatibility, ensuring a secure and stable platform for application software to run. On the other hand, updates to application software generally introduce new features, usability improvements, or bug fixes that are specific to the tasks they are designed for, without altering underlying hardware interactions.
From a development perspective, system software necessitates a deep understanding of both hardware and software engineering to ensure efficiency and stability at the foundational level. In contrast, application software development is typically more centered on user interface design, functionality, and task-specific algorithms, with no need for intricate hardware knowledge due to the abstraction provided by system software.

Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Manages hardware and provides a platform for applications
Provides specialized functionality to users

User Interaction

Minimal or none (works in the background)
Direct and frequent


Independent, supports application software
Dependent on system software for operation


Operating systems, device drivers
Word processors, web browsers


Typically installed when the system is set up
Installed according to user needs

System Software and Application Software Definitions

System Software

System software ensures that hardware and software resources are efficiently utilized and managed.
Device drivers, a type of system software, facilitate communication between the operating system and hardware peripherals.

Application Software

Application software often gets updated to introduce new features, enhance usability, or fix bugs.
Social media apps, forms of application software, frequently update to offer new functionalities and improved security.

System Software

System software serves as an intermediary between hardware and application software.
The operating system is a crucial piece of system software that manages all other software and hardware on the computer.

Application Software

Application software can be installed or uninstalled according to user requirements.
Video games are application software that provide entertainment and can be installed as per user preference.

System Software

System software maintains and controls computer hardware, providing a stable environment for application software.
System utilities, kinds of system software, help in managing and tuning computer hardware for optimal performance.

Application Software

Application software allows users to accomplish specific tasks on a computer.
Microsoft Word is application software that enables users to create and edit text documents.

System Software

System software is integral to the operation of computer systems and provides low-level functionalities required to execute application software.
The kernel, part of system software, facilitates hardware interaction for application software.

Application Software

Application software is designed to cater to particular tasks or activities and is dependent on system software.
Adobe Photoshop is application software used for photo editing and graphic design.

System Software

System software generally operates in the background, transparent to the user.
The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is a type of system software that performs crucial initialization tasks when a computer is powered on.

Application Software

Application software provides an interface for users to interact with computer systems.
Web browsers, like Chrome, are application software that allows users to navigate the internet.


What is the primary role of system software?

Its primary role is to facilitate the operation of computer hardware and create an environment for running application software.

Is firmware considered system software?

Yes, firmware, which is embedded software stored on hardware, is considered a type of system software.

What is system software?

System software is a type of computer software designed to manage and control hardware, enabling other software to run on the system.

Can you install system software via external media?

Yes, system software like operating systems can be installed via external media such as a USB drive or DVD.

Can I create my own application software?

Yes, you can create your own application software using various programming languages and software development tools.

Can application software run without system software?

No, application software requires system software (like an operating system) to run.

How is application software installed?

Application software can be installed via physical media like DVDs, downloaded files from the internet, or through a software marketplace.

Is an operating system necessary for a computer?

Yes, an operating system is crucial as it manages hardware resources and provides services for computer programs.

Provide an example of application software.

An example of application software is Microsoft Word, a popular word processing application.

Is a web browser considered application software?

Yes, a web browser like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox is considered application software.

How is application software different from system software?

While system software helps manage hardware and creates a platform for software usage, application software enables users to perform specific tasks and is dependent on system software to operate.

Give an example of system software.

An example of system software is an operating system, like Windows or Linux.

Can a computer run without system software?

No, system software is necessary for managing hardware components and running application software.

Can system software run application software?

Yes, system software provides a platform that allows application software to be executed and function properly.

How is system software updated?

System software is typically updated through patches or updates provided by the software developer or manufacturer.

What is application software?

Application software is computer software designed to help users perform specific tasks, such as word processing or image editing.

Are mobile apps considered application software?

Yes, mobile apps are a form of application software specifically designed for mobile devices.

Is BIOS considered system software?

Yes, BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) is a fundamental type of system software that initializes hardware during the booting process.

What is the purpose of application software?

The purpose of application software is to assist users in performing specific tasks like creating documents, playing games, or managing data.

Can application software control hardware components?

Indirectly, application software can control hardware through system software by requesting hardware resources.
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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