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System software is designed to control and work with the computer hardware, and is usually installed on your computer when the operating system is installed.

In fact, the main types of system software are the operating system and the software installed within the operating system, usually known as utility software. In many cases, the operating system and utility software depend on one another to function. Some system software is used directly by computer users, while other system software works in the background, allowing users to interact with the computer hardware, such as the device manager and other utilities that can be found in the control panel.

Overall, system software runs the computer systems. It controls, integrates, and manages all of the individual hardware components that make up the computer so that application software doesn't have to be concerned with the lower-level details, such as reading or transferring data from memory to disk, or onto a display.

In the early days of computers, the system files were the ones that were preinstalled on the computer when it was shipped, while application files were the ones that were installed by the user after the system was up and running. Today, most computers ship with a generous selection of applications as well as the system files so that's not so clear as a differentiating factor.

Generally, system software consists of the operating system and utilities, that may include a file manager, display managers, user authentication, security and systems management tools, and networking and device control software, as well as drivers for printers and other hardware, function libraries, and configuration files.

Although some of these are utilities that the average user never sees of manipulates directly, the five main types of system software are the operating system, device drivers, firmware, programming language translators (interpreters), and utilities, the first and the last being the ones that we're mostly concerned with here.

System software is the first layer of software to be loaded into memory whenever a computer is powered up.

The operating system is a system software kernel that sits between the computer hardware and the end-user. Installed first, it allows devices and applications to be identified, and therefore functional. Although that wasn't always the case, with most operating systems today, users interact through a graphical user interface (GUI) displayed on a monitor or touchscreen.

What is known as a desktop in most operating systems is the graphical interface, containing menus, icons, and applications that are manipulated by the user through either a mouse-driven cursor, a trackpad, or by the touch of a finger on a touchscreen.

Before the modern GUI desktop, the Disk Operating System (DOS) was the most popular interface, and DOS-type interfaces can still be found today, either as the primary interface or through an emulator.

System software known as utility software resides between the system and application software, as far as its function. These include programs used for diagnostic and maintenance tasks, and may include third-party tools that come bundled with the operating system, and may also be available individually.

Examples of utility software includes antivirus and security software, disk partition services, defragmentation tools, registry cleaners, file compression utilities, data backup and recovery tools, hardware diagnostics, software firewalls, networking utilities, system fonts, and so on.

Although most end users don't install system files, most PCs will support various types of operating systems and some will allow more than one operating system to be installed, usually in a partition, so it's not unusual for someone to change the OS on their computer or add a second OS.

The focus of this category is on system software. Sites that are dedicated to offering information about system software are appropriate for this category, as are those that offer system software.


Desktop Environments

Device Drivers


Operating Systems

Utility Software




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