By Lasa Information Systems Team
Computers need software in order to work and to enable users to do things like create documents, view websites, store and retrieve data. This article provides an introduction to the main issues you need to think about when choosing and using software in your organisation.
What is software and why do you need it?
There are 2 main types of software that you’ll need on your computer:
- Application software
- Operating Systems (OS)
Application software enables you to do things like create documents, spreadsheets, and databases. Examples include Microsoft Office applications, Word (word processor), Excel (spreadsheet) and Access (database) or Open Office a free alternative to Microsoft Office.
Operating System software
When you buy a computer you usually get the Operating System (OS) already loaded. The most common by far is Microsoft Windows OS, followed a long way back by Apple OS and Linux.
Bear in mind the most popular is not always the best, but the best marketed. Apple is known for its multimedia, video, graphic capabilities. Linux is known for its reliability, stability and use on older machines because it generally requires less computer power to run.
There are currently fewer choices of more specialist application software for databases and accounting that work on Apple and Linux OS than on Microsoft Windows OS, however, this is changing.
Connecting computers together.
One or more computers can be connected together to form a network. It is generally simpler to connect computers with the same OS together however it is possible to connect computers with different operating systems.
All three OS types will talk to each other, and share files across a network. You will also need equivalent application software on each type of OS to work on files created by another computer with a different OS. For example, if you create a document using Microsoft Word on the Microsoft Windows Microsoft computer, then you want to open it on an Apple Computer, you need the Apple version of Microsoft Word.
For more information on joining computers with different operating systems see Working Together - Your Apple Mac and Microsoft Windows and Linux in Mixed Environments.
Other types of software:
Other types of software you might find built in to your computer includes:
- Assistive software which can makes it easier or more comfortable for you to use your computer if you have a disability, impairment, or injury for example.
- Utility software which is specifically designed to help manage and tune your computer's hardware, application software and operating system.
Standardising your software
It is better generally to move towards software standardisation, the same type of OS and the same application software on a network of computers. There are several benefits to standardising the software used in your organisation. For example it is easier to support, maintain and upgrade software if it is limited to a set number of packages. Other benefits are outlined in the article software standardisation.
Buying and owning software
Software often has to be paid for although there are many examples of good software available for free. Nearly all software, even free software has some kind of licence that you must agree to before using the software. It is important that all the software you use in your organisation is properly licensed. See the article Making Sense of Software Licensing for more information.
Charities can get commonly used paid for software at discounted prices from specialist Charity Software Suppliers.
Open source software can be a good choice for voluntary and community sector organisations. Not only is it usually free or low cost to install and use, but you are generally free to modify the software code (or get someone with the appropriate skills to do this for you) so you can adapt it to suit your needs. This is not usually possible with “proprietary” software like Microsoft products and products from other software vendors. For more information see Going with open source software, Open source is on the map and other articles in the knowledgebase section on Open Source
You don’t necessarily have to install software applications on your own computers. Application Service Providers host commonly used application software that you can access over the Internet. For example you can set up a virtual office using Web Office Tools. There are several things to consider if you choose to use software hosted by an external provider. See the knowledgebase article on Application Service Providers for more on this.
There are many more articles in the Knowledgebase section Software that can help with this important issue.
As well as the Knowledgebase articles on Software, there is the Software Knowledgebase Discussion – this is a useful place to share knowledge, experiences, and ask questions.
For help getting started in other areas of ICT, see our index of Starting Out articles.
Published: 1st May 2007
Copyright © 2007 Lasa Information Systems Team