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I sometimes see web based applications (eg Avairy, Google Docs) labeled as "software". Is this the true meaning of software? Isn't it supposed to mean applications that run natively on an OS, such as Photoshop or Outlook? Or does it mean ALL applications whether native or web-based?

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If talking about what is considered "computer software" allowed on Super User, though, it is limiting to things you actually install/run on your computer. – Gnoupi Apr 1 '10 at 19:08
@Gnoupi, ya, I had that thought, but that was not the purpose of my question. From previous observation on Superuser, web-based software is not allowed on here... – studiohack Apr 1 '10 at 19:10
Yes, although the FAQ says questions about software are welcome on SU, questions about software that is run on a server or delivered by a server on the internet are typically not allowed. – heavyd Apr 1 '10 at 19:29
@heavyd: ya questions of that type go on Server Fault. – studiohack Apr 1 '10 at 20:41
@Gnoupi - we nowadays have all kinds of trademarks, trade names and such, so maybe your definiton of a computer is somewhat different, but I've never heard of a "non computer software". – Rook Apr 1 '10 at 20:59
up vote 7 down vote accepted

All of the things that you mentioned are "software". They are all code that are running on an OS somewhere. The question is how do you the user use the software.

Software installed on you local computer you use directly. It interacts directly with the processor installed on your computer. Web-services are exactly that, services. There is software behind the service, but the user doesn't directly run the software. This is sometimes known as software as a service. You typically need a separate piece of software on the client machine(ie web browser) to access these services, but they are still software, just running on a server somewhere.

Web services such as Aviary and Google Docs are starting to blur the line between locally run software and web-services even more. These services provide some of their software on their servers, however much of the functionality is downloaded and run on the client computer using technologies such as JavaScript, Flash, Sliverlight, etc.

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so you're saying that technically all apps are "software", it is just a matter of how and where I interact with that software? – studiohack Apr 1 '10 at 19:05
Yes, I would argue that they are all software. It is all executable code, the location of the processor that is executing the code is the only difference. – heavyd Apr 1 '10 at 19:11
makes sense. thanks! – studiohack Apr 1 '10 at 19:16

Eh...It's debatable. The definition I remember was something along the lines of.. Software is written programs or procedures or rules and associated documentation pertaining to the operation of a computer system and that are stored in read/write memory.

I guess you can go a step further and break it down into categories. Like System software such as an OS, or Application software such as word, or Web software such as google docs, zoho crm, Avairy programs that run in a browser as opposed to software stored on the CPU and operated from the RAM.

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Software that runs in a browser is also run on a CPU and operates with RAM. Every kind of software does. – Rook Apr 1 '10 at 20:58

I don't think there's any need to be a prescriptivist here. The different senses in which people use the term "software" don't seem to cause ambiguities and misunderstandings, so why try to anoint one use as "proper" or "correct" and call another "incorrect"?

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@Spiff, you have a very good point. I was curious as to the technical definition of software and whether or not it was correctly used in some scenarios that I've seen. You're right in that software is used in all kinds of situations without confusion. Again, just curious. +1 – studiohack Apr 1 '10 at 19:07
I would say there is no technical definition of "software", then. It's not a term owned by a company or standards body or government or academic researcher or other authority, so it's not that technical of a term. It's just loose jargon. – Spiff Apr 1 '10 at 20:27

In my definition there is software and hardware. It doesn't matter whether it runs locally, as a service (whatever that means), "in the cloud", or any other way marketing fellows make up over time (and some people in here when closing questions).

Funny enough, it correlates pretty good with Wikipedia's definition.

So software = "software", "OS", "BIOS flashes", "the thing that runs on your cell phone", "GMail", "weather simulation on the nearest Cray", ...

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The only non-software application I can bring to mind is probably Pong -- it's entirely made of discrete components, not capable of doing anything but playing Pong. (And calling it an application is pushing it, because it's not actually an application of the stored-program computer...)

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