The Difference Between Software And Operating Systems

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Software is instructions that tell a computer what to do, while an operating system is a basic program that controls a computer. Software programs are designed to perform specific tasks, such as word processing or playing games while operating systems handle the overall operation of a computer.

Many people confuse “software” with “operating system,” but they’re different. Understanding the key differences between them is important for better computer usage. Keep reading to learn more about these two crucial components of your computer.

Key Takeaways

  • System Software: Manages basic operations.
  • Application Software: Performs specific tasks.
  • Operating System: Controls memory, processes, and hardware.
  • Platform Differences: System software for hardware, application software for various platforms.
  • Updates and Security: Operating systems update more frequently and have better security.

What is Software?

Software comprises the instructions that tell a computer what to do. Think of it as the computer’s recipe book. Just like a cookbook offers ingredients and steps for a meal, software provides a set of commands for a computer to execute specific tasks.

Software ranges from operating systems that control computer basics to applications for specific tasks. Two common categories are system software, which manages core functions, and application software, which helps users complete particular tasks.

System software handles a computer’s basic functions. This includes the operating system managing overall operations and utilities aiding specific tasks. For example, a disk defragmenter optimizes hard drive performance by rearranging files and data.

Application software performs specific tasks like word processing or gaming. Third-party developers usually create and sell these programs. Some, like web browsers or email clients, might also come with the operating system.

  • System Software: Manages basic operations
  • Application Software: Performs specific tasks
  • Includes Operating Systems and Utilities

What is an Operating System?

An operating system manages a computer’s basic functions. It’s the most essential software, enabling users to interact with the machine.

The operating system controls the computer’s memory, processes, software, and hardware. It also offers a user interface, making it easy for users to interact with the computer.

Simply put, an operating system manages a computer’s hardware and software. Using software would be incredibly difficult without it.

There are many different operating systems, like Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Android. Each has its own set of features and capabilities.

  • Manages computer operations
  • Controls memory, processes, and hardware
  • Examples: Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android

Differences Between Software and Operating Systems

Now that you know more about software and operating systems, I’ll highlight some key differences between these types of programs.


The main difference between software and operating systems lies in their purpose. Software performs specific tasks like word processing or playing games. Meanwhile, an operating system provides a platform for this software to run.


Software performs specific tasks, while the operating system manages the overall operation of the computer.

For instance, to play a game on your computer, first install the game’s software. After installation, launch the game and start playing.

On the other hand, the operating system manages the game’s software, along with all other software and hardware on your computer.

  • Software performs specific tasks
  • Operating system manages overall operation
  • Example: game installation vs. system management


A key difference between software and operating systems is their platform. System software runs on hardware, while application software can operate on various platforms like a computer, mobile phone, or web browser.

System software enables application software to function properly. For instance, the Windows operating system supports various applications like web browsers, email clients, and word processors.

  • Platform differs
  • System software – hardware
  • Application software – various platforms


Another difference between software and operating systems is their location. Operating systems install on the computer’s hard drive, while software typically resides in the computer’s memory.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, some operating systems, such as Linux, can run from a USB drive. The software can also install on cloud storage and accessed via the internet.


Operating systems are generally larger than software programs due to the extensive code required to manage various hardware and software resources on a computer.

On the other hand, software programs are generally smaller since they only need specific code. Yet, for video editing and games, the size can be pretty large.

  • OS larger than software
  • OS manages hardware and software
  • Software usually smaller


Operating systems need frequent updates, more so than software programs. New hardware and software are regularly released, and the operating system must stay compatible with them.

On the other hand, software often goes longer without updates. Some cases, like security, may need more frequent updates.


Operating systems often have stronger security than software programs. They must protect the computer from viruses and other malware.

Software programs often don’t prioritize security since they aren’t crucial to a computer’s core functions. However, security becomes important for email clients and web browsers.

  • Operating systems have better security
  • Protects from viruses and malware
  • Software programs less critical for security

Programming Languages

Operating systems are typically written in low-level languages like Assembly because they interact directly with hardware. However, high-level languages, especially C, are now also commonly used to develop these systems.

Software programs are usually written in high-level languages like C#, Swift, PHP, and Java. They don’t need to directly interact with the computer’s hardware.

  • Low-level and high-level languages for Operating Systems
  • High-level languages for Software
  • Direct hardware interaction for Operating Systems


Operating systems cost more than software programs because of their higher development expenses.

On the other hand, software programs can be developed cheaply. Often, the cost of creating software is just a fraction of what it takes to develop an operating system.


Operating systems typically require a license for each individual computer. You must buy a separate license for every computer you wish to install the operating system on.

Software programs can be licensed for a single person, meaning you only need to buy one license no matter how many computers you install it on.

However, there are exceptions. Some software may be licensed for use on multiple computers, or a single person can use it on various devices like a laptop and a smartphone.

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