It’s easy to think of computers as just machinery – buttons, screens and parts that work together. But the magic of computers comes from something that makes them unique to you.
The problem with computers is that most of us don’t speak their language. We need a translator, something that can understand our needs and put the computer to work for us. The translator is called software and it makes computers useful.
Look at it this way. Like a typewriter, a computer without software is just a lifeless machine. By adding software, the computer becomes more alive, easy to use, and built for you. Most computers have two basic kinds: The operating system and software programs.
If you’ve ever used a computer, you’ve used an operating system. From saving files, to using a mouse or fixing problems, the operating system covers the basics. Operating systems come with all new computers and do a lot of same things. You’ve seen them called Windows, Mac and Linux.
But the operating system is only part of what we need. To make them personalized and more useful, we can add software programs. For example, if you need to edit a photo you can add a software program that is built for that purpose. If you need to design a house, you can add a software program that lets you see the house from all sides.
By adding and removing software programs, you can make the computer fit with exactly what you want to do. And adding most software programs is easy. You can get them from a computer store or download them from the Internet. No computer nerds required.
Once a program is on your computer, opening it is as easy as clicking an icon.
But what is a software program? What’s really happening when you open one? Think about it this way. Computers are really good at following instructions. And a software program is essentially a set of instructions that tells the computer exactly what to do.
When you open a program, the computer goes to work, completing the instructions until the program is ready for you to use. The ability to add and remove software programs means that everyone’s computer can be different and unique to them.
So, to review. We’ve talked about operating systems that take care of the basics, and software programs that make computers personalized. It’s this combination that makes computers so useful. But it’s not limited to computers on your desk.
Consider your cell phone. Just like a computer without software, it’s a lifeless machine that doesn’t speak our language. Thankfully, cell phones have software that bring them to life.
The same thing is true for many cameras, music players, and even our cars. Every day we rely on software to bring machines to life and make them personalized and useful.
The next time you use a computer or cell phone, think about software’s role in translating your needs into instructions that put the machine to work for you.
This video introduces the role of software in making computers useful. It focuses on different kinds of software and software's roles in computers and other tools we use every day, including:
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