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The Two Types of Application Software: General Purpose Applications and Custom Software

Alfred is a long-time teacher and computer enthusiast who works with and troubleshoots a wide range of computing devices.

Google apps for Chrome browser fall under the general purpose type of application software

Google apps for Chrome browser fall under the general purpose type of application software

General purpose applications and custom software are the two major types of application software. General purpose applications, which are sometimes referred to as off-the-shelf applications, are designed as fully-featured packages while custom software is tailor-made for a client's specific needs.

Applications, or apps, are end-user software. They contain basic to advanced sets of digital tools that are designed for productivity tasks such as calculations and text editing. They are at the end of the software queue because they enable users to accomplish complex to simple productivity tasks.

Most application software is designed to run on three popular platforms: desktops, mobile devices, and browsers.

Applications for Desktops and Mobile

Up until recently, application software was meant to be used on computer desktops. With the extensive adoption of mobile devices and the internet, software for mobile platforms are now mainstream.

Now the trend for developers is to create two or more versions of applications to install on desktops, mobile devices, web platforms, and embedded systems.

Applications on desktops usually have plenty of room and features, while apps for mobile are trimmed down versions. Browser optimization on mobile requires that just a few of the features load. This is so that the application does not to eat away at resources and battery life.

While some people still need the muscle of traditional computers, smartphones and tablets have become the popular choice for most users.

Applications for Web Browsers

Web apps can be installed to run on web browsers. They are capable of accomplishing tasks that were previously only possible inside native operating systems. Google Docs, Word Online, Zoho Wiki, Evernote, and email clients are popular examples of web apps.

Implementation of web apps is just one of the features of Web 2.0, a kind of second generation of web computing which is all about collaboration, interactivity, and sharing information between users around the world. The concept has taken off largely due to the mass adoption of mobile devices and cloud storage.

Below are popular Web 2.0 platforms and apps:

  • Social media communication like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
  • Blogs like Blogger, Wordpress, and Techcrunch.
  • Wikis like Wikimedia, Wikipedia, and TermWiki.
  • Social media curation like Pinterest, Digg, and Reddit.
  • Cloud storage like Google Drive, Dropbox, and SugarSync.

A plus for web apps is that they are largely free, or at least cheaper than their native counterparts. However, they may turn out to be more expensive in the long run because of app and internet subscriptions.

Apart from Chrome Web Store, other sources of apps are Wiki App Market, Microsoft Store, and Clover App Market.

General Purpose Applications

These are off-the-shelf software that accomplish a broad range of tasks as opposed to custom software which accomplishes tasks specific to user requirements. General purpose applications are available in standalone versions or are bundled together to make up application suites.

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Application suites such as MS Office, Apache OpenOffice, iWork, WPS Office, CorelDRAW Graphics Suite, and Adobe Creative Suite are bundles of applications with different functionality. They complement each other to make complete productive packages for the office, school, and home.

A typical suite includes at least a word processor, presentation app, database app, and graphics app. Corel and Adobe suites, however, favor graphics and video editing applications.

WPS Writer is an application software for word processing

WPS Writer is an application software for word processing

1. Word Processors

These types of application software feature basic tools to create, edit, format, and save text files until they are WSYWIG (what you see is what you get). The saved files can then be sent to a printer to produce a hard copy or used for other purposes.

Word processors can be used to create multiple kinds of documents such as reports, letters, newsletters, invoices, and manuals. They have additional features such as mail merge, email, and send to blog.

They also have tools for the advanced formatting of graphics for publishing.

Examples of word processing applications include MS Word, WPS Writer, and Apple Pages.

Google Sheets is a spreasheet app for the browser

Google Sheets is a spreasheet app for the browser

2. Electronic Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are used to manipulate large amounts of financial data in business, science, or for personal accounting. Numeric or text data are entered in cells of tables to be calculated, compared, and analyzed using select formulas.

The information gathered from these calculations are laid out for report preparation and presentation.

Additional features in spreadsheets include the creation of graphs, charts, 3D data maps, pivot tables, forecasting, etc.

MS Excel, LibreOffice Calc, and Google Sheets are examples of spreadsheets.

phpMyAdmin is a management tool for MySQL

phpMyAdmin is a management tool for MySQL

3. Data Management

Database applications are containers of related data for processing, analysis, storage, and retrieval. They are comparable to a book library where items are stored in an orderly fashion for ease of manipulation and access.

Typical desktop applications like MS Access, Filemaker, and dBASE are used for operational assignments to create, organize, and update all kinds of related records like inventories, mailing lists, purchases, catalogs, phone numbers, etc.

They allow users to query for specific information and generate reports with relative ease.

Relational database management systems like SQL, Cloud SQL, and Oracle are used in complex installations to manage vast amounts data and ensure data integrity.

Facebook, Pinterest, and Symantec are just a few of the complex database systems built on MySQL foundation.

On the other hand, non-SQL (NoSQL) database management implementations have taken shape in recent years. This has given credence to document-oriented databases. They are based on XML and JSON pages unlike relational databases which rely on tables.

Those favoring NoSQL value them because of their flexible data models and better scalability.

4. Accounting

The field of accounting is about communicating financial details in a business by recording, manipulating, sorting, storing, summarizing, and retrieving financial transactions in a comprehensive manner.

Ultimately, general purpose accounting packages will be used to create and present balance sheets, income and financial statements, and tax reports all according to set rules and procedures.

A good accounting setup must also be vetted regularly by external auditing firms to ensure it complies with set standards which govern financial establishments. Besides the eagle eyes of auditors, the services of professional accounting firms can be sought to help streamline procedural requirements.

Popular accounting software programs for small businesses include Quickbooks, Zoho Books, and Sage.

Popular applications for enterprise are Xero, Intacct ERP, and Microsoft Dynamics.

Audit Desktop, MetricStream, and ECAT are examples of audit management software.

Google Slides is an online presentation app

Google Slides is an online presentation app

5. Presentation

Presentation software is used to display ideas or concepts for business and educational purposes. They typically show information in a slideshow format. Popular feature like bulleted lists, graphs, charts, animations, text, audio, and video are used in creating slideshows.

These applications rely on the computer VGA or other output ports, like a projector or smartboard, to display slide contents.

Additional features include screen recording, sharing, and collaboration tools.

Keynote, MS PowerPoint, and Corel Presentations are examples of presentation applications.

MS Publisher is a DTP application software

MS Publisher is a DTP application software

6. Desktop Publishing (DTP)

DTPs are used to create illustrations, animations, and 3D images using text and graphics embedded within the clip art library. DTP page layouts feature design tools and other elements which allow the user to create quality typographic texts and imaginative graphics.

DTPs can be used to create brochures, newsletters, fliers, logos, magazines, newspapers, business cards, and 3D models for publishing or printing.

Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, and Microsoft Publisher are just a few popular DTPs.

7. Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing

CAD and CAM applications are used by artists and engineers to create 2D and 3D drawings, technical drawings of electrical and automotive structures, film animations, interior design and 3D models, and surveying images. They are intended for professionals to produce product models on the computer before implementing the final design in the real world.

CAD applications are commonly used to make architectural and construction drawings; they are used to design cars, ships, planes, weapons, and other forms of machinery.

Popular software in this category include AutoCAD, ArchiCAD, and PowerShape.

8. Digital Video Editing

Digital video editing applications are tools used to edit video footage and sound recordings. This can include sequencing and trimming clips as well as adding special effects. The goal is to manipulate the video to enhance the quality of presentation.

These applications are commonly used in movies, television shows, documentaries, advertisements, and in private events.

Adobe Premiere, Pinnacle Studio, and Final Cut studio are examples of editing applications.

Encarta Encyclopedia

Encarta Encyclopedia

9. Educational Reference

Educational applications help students learn new information and skills through interactive presentations. A computer-aided instruction (CAI) application helps students learn how to fix things, learn new languages, strengthen math skills, etc.

Educational simulations of computerized models allow students to simulate experiments which would otherwise be tricky to do in the classroom. Students can also build their own computerized models, which they can share with other students locally and globally.

Other applications are research tools that students use for reference purposes. They can also connect to the Internet to provide updated material.

Educational applications include electronic maps, Encarta encyclopedias, electronic dictionaries, and electronic books.

10. Computer Games

Computer games are probably the most popular form of entertainment with young users. They are more or less similar to games played on video consoles. Typically, they involve users interacting with avatars and other kinds of characters on the display panels to drive, play card games, solve mysteries, fly simulation planes, engage in virtual warfare, etc.

Gamers use all sorts of controllers to interact with games. The most popular types of controllers are keyboards, joysticks, and USB controllers.

Besides games played between two individuals at home, online games are played between different people from anywhere in the world using the internet.

Popular desktop games include World of Warcraft, Need for Speed, Dead Rising, and FIFA Football.

TOR browser

TOR browser

11. Web Browsers

Browsers are used to access information on the World Wide Web (WWW). They are used to request information from local networks or file servers. Browsers allow users to search, upload, read, and even download text files, music, videos, images, web pages, and other content from millions of resources available online.

Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Apple Safari, Opera, and Mozilla Firefox are the most popular browsers in the market.

Besides the browsers listed above, another category of browsers is built around the foundation of online anonymity and privacy. At the forefront of these browsers is the Tor network, which primarily blocks third-party snoops from seeing websites visited by a user. It addition to preventing websites from tracking user location, this network also permits a user to access websites that are usually blocked by ordinary browsers.

Tor browser hides user identification by bouncing the transmission between network relays around the world. This way, user search data and other communications are not easily analyzed and monitored.

Epic and Comodo Dragon are other examples of browsers which support anonymous browsing.

12. Search Engines

Search engines are types of application software which are used to search for information on the internet. They work on top of browsers and use crawling or spider-like scripts to search for user requests from every corner of the World Wide Web.

When a user types a search query in the browser, search engine algorithms immediately go to work inside web page and directory databases to look for information that best answers user requests.

Popular search engines include Google Search, Baidu, Bing, Wolfram Alpha, Yandex, and DuckDuckGo.

13. Communication Software

These are applications which facilitate remote transmission of information between two or more computer users. Transmission typically happens using internet, intranet, or other types of network infrastructure.

These applications facilitate all kinds of transfers ranging from audio, video, text, and graphics files to real-time chats.

Communication tools can be grouped under the following:

  • Email like Hotmail, Yahoo mail, and Gmail.
  • Social network like Facebook, WeChat, and Twitter.
  • Video conferencing like ChatBlazer, Google Hangout, and GoToWebinar.
  • Instant messaging like Whatsapp, Facebook messenger, and QQ International.
  • VOIP like Skype, Viber, and Whatsapp.
  • Private Branch Exchange (PBX) like Asterik, FreePBX, and FreeSWITCH.
Joomla backend

Joomla backend

14. Web Development

Web design applications are used to create interactive pages which make up websites. The pages are usually collections of electronic documents, images, audio/visual files, and applications that reside on a web server. They are accessible through computers connected to the Internet. A website owner then uses them to advertise, sell, or provide educational information about specific products.

Adobe Dreamweaver is an example of web development software.

Wordpress, Joomla, and Drupal are dynamic web creation tools which are installed offline on local hosts or online on web server platforms. These applications are designed with easy-to-use templates, which make web design a pleasure. A server application like Xampp or Wamp must be installed on a local computer before the aforementioned applications can be installed offline.

Other Categories of Application Software

  • Network software: CytoScape, Snort, and igraph.
  • Data analysis: SPSS, SAS, and Stata.
  • Medical software: Advanced MD, FreeMED, and Compulink.
  • Religious software: e-Sword, OpenLP, and Logos Bible Software.
  • Virtual applications: Virtual Box, VMware, and Windows Virtual PC.
  • Multimedia: Movie Edit Pro, Sony ACID Music Studio, and Maya.
  • Media players: Power DVD, VLC, and Windows Media Player.
  • Animation software: Cinema 4D, Maya, and Blender.
  • Simulation software: Simulink, Enterprise Dynamics, and MATLAB.
  • Document viewers: Adobe Reader, DocX Viewer, and FreeFileViewer.
  • File Transfer Protocol(FTP): File Zilla, Cyberduck, WinCSP, and P2P
  • Remote desktop access: TeamViewer, AeroAdmin, and Windows Remote desktop.
  • Cloud storage: Google Drive, BackBlaze, and SugarSync.
  • Music production: Fruity Loops, Logic Pro, and Garageband.
  • Photo editing: Photoshop, Gimp, and Affinity Photo.
  • Braille Editors: DBT Duxbury US, PictureBraille, and Lambda.
  • Virtual assistants: Siri, Google Assistant, and Braina.
FileZilla for file transfer

FileZilla for file transfer

Custom Software

Custom software is tailor-made to provide specific features and tools. They perform specific requested functions and may contain borrowed features from off-the-shelf applications. Overall, they are meant to maximize productivity and provide cordial interfaces for users while cutting out the excess features of general purpose software.

Custom applications are tweaked to suit the changing demands of the client organization. Tweaks may include adaptations to evolving business trends and removal of obsolete features.

Custom software can be customized to create:

  • Security and client identification systems.
  • Consumer application portals.
  • Attendance rosters.
  • Custom receipts and invoices.
  • Stock management applications.
  • Student enrollment, performance, and records tools.

Organizations and schools tend to favor custom applications because they work with multiple users and attend to multiple clients.

The ownership rights of an application also remain with the client, giving him/her absolute authority to use or sell the application.

An application can be customized to run on traditional computing setups or inside browsers. Popular examples of software under this category includes:

  • School Management Information System (SMIS).
  • Point of Sale (POS).
  • Electronic registration software for schools.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Alfred Amuno


dev on September 13, 2020:

There is a lot of information.

Bada Martin on August 11, 2020:

This page is good

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Bala from Chennai on March 11, 2020:

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Shivani Sharma from India on December 25, 2019:

Informational :)

CionSystems on October 30, 2019:

Nice article

Rafatul from BD on October 12, 2019:

Very nice written and clear to understand. But to use above software and playing games you need to download it first. Well you will find all above items from our free software site-

Harshita on June 11, 2019:

Very nice. You have done a great job.

Adavid1907 on May 30, 2018:

wow this is nice article using all app content i am working in business site designer ( there are many way

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