Software

A diagram showing how the user interacts with application software on a typical desktop computer.The application software layer interfaces with the operating system, which in turn communicates with the hardware. The arrows indicate information flow.

Computer software, or simply software, is a collection of data or computer instructions that tell the computer how to work. This is in contrast to physical hardware, from which the system is built and actually performs the work. In computer science and software engineering, computer software is all information processed by computer systems, programs and data. Computer software includes computer programs, libraries and related non-executable data, such as online documentation or digital media. Computer hardware and software require each other and neither can be realistically used on its own.

At the lowest programming level,[clarification needed] executable code consists of machine language instructions supported by an individual processor—typically a central processing unit (CPU) or a graphics processing unit (GPU). A machine language consists of groups of binary values signifying processor instructions that change the state of the computer from its preceding state. For example, an instruction may change the value stored in a particular storage location in the computer—an effect that is not directly observable to the user. An instruction may also invoke one of many input or output operations, for example displaying some text on a computer screen; causing state changes which should be visible to the user. The processor executes the instructions in the order they are provided, unless it is instructed to "jump" to a different instruction, or is interrupted by the operating system. As of 2015, most personal computers, smartphone devices and servers have processors with multiple execution units or multiple processors performing computation together, and computing has become a much more concurrent activity than in the past.

The majority of software is written in high-level programming languages. They are easier and more efficient for programmers because they are closer to natural languages than machine languages.[1] High-level languages are translated into machine language using a compiler or an interpreter or a combination of the two. Software may also be written in a low-level assembly language, which has strong correspondence to the computer's machine language instructions and is translated into machine language using an assembler.

History

An outline (algorithm) for what would have been the first piece of software was written by Ada Lovelace in the 19th century, for the planned Analytical Engine.[2] She created proofs to show how the engine would calculate Bernoulli Numbers.[2] Because of the proofs and the algorithm, she is considered the first computer programmer.[3][4]

The first theory about software—prior to creation of computers as we know them today—was proposed by Alan Turing in his 1935 essay On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem (decision problem).

This eventually led to the creation of the academic fields of computer science and software engineering; Both fields study software and its creation. Computer science is the theoretical study of computer and software (Turing's essay is an example of computer science), whereas software engineering is the application of engineering and development of software.

However, prior to 1946, software was not yet the programs stored in the memory of stored-program digital computers, as we now understand it. The first electronic computing devices were instead rewired in order to "reprogram" them.

In 2000, Fred Shapiro, a librarian at the Yale Law School, published a letter revealing that John Wilder Tukey's 1958 paper "The Teaching of Concrete Mathematics"[5][6] contained the earliest known usage of the term "software" found in a search of JSTOR's electronic archives, predating the OED's citation by two years.[7] This led many to credit Tukey with coining the term, particularly in obituaries published that same year,[8] although Tukey never claimed credit for any such coinage. In 1995, Paul Niquette claimed he had originally coined the term in October 1953, although he could not find any documents supporting his claim.[9] The earliest known publication of the term "software" in an engineering context was in August 1953 by Richard R. Carhart, in a Rand Corporation Research Memorandum.[10]