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System software controls a computer and provides the environment for users to run application software. It is a collection of programs, with different functions and purposes, most notably the Operating System (OS) that controls an entire computer. Also included in system software are utilities and device drivers. In contrast to this, computer users typically run application software to perform tasks, play games, listen to music, and otherwise make use of a computer.
Although it has multiple components, system software on a computer is generally based on the OS installed onto it. There are many different companies that make operating systems, though some of the most prominent include Microsoft®, Apple®, and groups working with open formats such as Linux®. These companies produce and release numerous versions over time, which have included Windows XP®, Apple Mac OS X®, and Ubuntu®. A great deal of debate surrounds the subject of which system is superior, and it often comes down to personal preference and the individual needs of a computer user.
Some computers can run two different types of system software; such as both Mac OS X® and a version of Windows®. Users often employ one of two different methods to run more than one OS at the same time. One way is through software that lets the user choose the preferred OS to initialize at startup. The other is through desktop software that a user runs, which allows two operating systems to be accessed simultaneously on one machine.
Utilities include a variety of specialized programs that can be applied across applications. Basic utilities include trouble-shooting and diagnostic software that can scan a system or other program to find errors and missing files. Additional utilities include data backup programs, file compression software, and tools used to thoroughly uninstall other programs.
Device drivers are needed for every peripheral and device connected to a computer, from the mouse and keyboard to the printer. This type of system software allows the OS to effectively identify and communicate with hardware connected to a machine. The OS can include device drivers for basic components, like the mouse and keyboard, while peripheral manufacturers often provide discs with drivers for users to install with their hardware.
System software differs from application software in a couple of important ways. First, it is necessary, whereas most computer users consider any particular application optional. It is also complete, in that no computer needs to have more than one version of any type of system software on it at any given time. Applications, on the other hand, are generally placed on a computer in large numbers, some providing similar functionality with only minor differences. In addition, system software is independent and requires no application software to run, whereas applications cannot run without an OS and proper drivers.