What is application software?

We look at the characteristics that define applications, from stand-alone software to full-blown suites

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Application software is any program, or group of programs, engineered to be used by the machine’s operator, differing from other software that might come prepackaged with its operating system, like a utility.

One example would be disk tools, which is software included on operating systems that might scan for any problems in the hard drive, remove any redundant files and defrag a hard drive. They can be run by the end-user, but actually rely on the PC’s core to operate, whereas applications don’t run independently, and don’t need to lean on information from a system’s core.

Since cross-platform software has become more widely used in recent years, application software has spread more widely. Many of the programs that organisations use across the world must be configured so they’re easily deployed on multiple devices and across multiple systems. Indeed, the way that traditional software has evolved into online applications has allowed workers to continue working in various environments.

Application software, against traditional software, is engineered to be less intensive on a processor and features a much cleaner user interface (UI), with the latter kind traditionally demanding more resources. This model also represents a shift from the on-system installation method, allowing web applications to come into play meaning even less strain will be placed on a local machine. Instead, networking and cloud computing would bear the biggest brunt.

Application software types

Desktop applications

Desktop applications are classed as high-powered tools installed directly on a user’s machine that uses the memory directly to execute a function. These apps also allow users to manipulate datasets, graphics, or numbers to create outputs, with examples including word processing packages and media players.

Web-based applications

While most application software can be installed directly to a machine, many allow users to access tools through web browsers and some only exist in web format. Not only do these services free up space on a user's hard drive or network, being web-based means they can be accessed from anywhere in the world at any time, with data being stored in the cloud. This also means the application is kept up-to-date automatically, without the risk of a user running an insecure version.

This has given rise to software-as-a-service (SaaS), in which users agree to a subscription in exchange for application services, often provided through a web browser. Salesforce, Oracle, and Adobe Creative Cloud are some of the most widely used SaaS application suites.

Application suites

Applications are available as standalone products, but can also be grouped together in application suites, offering a variety of different apps to cover more than just one aspect of your business. Often, these application suites provide multiple applications at a lower price than buying each one separately and can provide better interoperability compared to buying lots of different applications from different companies.

Application packages often are themed around a certain part of your business. For example, Adobe's Creative Suite comprises multiple creative applications designed for editing photos, videos, creating websites and more. An enterprise may want a fully integrated set of applications to cover their entire business operations and so may comprise HR applications and customer relationship management (CRM) and more to keep data and performance in check.

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Application suites are also available for smaller businesses or home usage too. For example, Microsoft's Office comprises the company's full set of productivity applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Apple's similar productivity suite includes Pages, Sheets, and Keynote.

Other app suites are extendable. A computer anti-virus software, for example, may include the basics, but users are able to tag on extra services that protect their PCs against other threats, not included in the basic package. In such cases, the number of people using the software can dictate what's included too, such as password management for personal subscriptions, or protections for file servers on business accounts.

Application modernisation

An application can say a lot about the type of business which it’s meant to represent, that is why it’s important to treat it as the face of the company. This means ensuring that it runs correctly and doesn’t contain any flaws, glitches, or vulnerabilities, which could put users at risk, thus damaging the trustworthiness of your business.

Moreover, it also means making sure that the information contained within the application remains up to date with the current offerings and, most importantly, that it’s easy to access and use. As technology progresses fast, it’s crucial to bear in mind that your application may benefit from modernising – after all, nobody enjoys using outdated software.

Fortunately, modernising an application doesn’t have to be an expensive and troublesome chore. In fact, it’s considered to be quite simple to update an existing app, and it’s seldom needed to replace it completely. That is why, instead of throwing money at a brand-new app that requires to be developed from scratch, consider improving what you already have.

Modernising an application usually involves rewriting at least some portion of its existing code, or upgrading it with a more appealing and user-friendly interface. Some segments may require some hardcoding work, however, this largely depends on the scale of the endeavour, its needs, and how much time and resources you have at your disposal.

One way to ensure that your application modernisation journey doesn’t drain your finances and patience is to plan ahead, just like with any other business transformation project. That way, you can ensure that all your goals are met and that your application is up-to-date and ready to use.

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