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Chapter 3: Application Software

| Overview | Expand Your Knowledge | Checkpoint | Practice Test |


 

Overview

  1. Define application software
  2. Understand how system software interacts with application software
  3. Identify the role of the user interface
  4. Explain how to start a software application
  1. Identify the widely used products and explain the key features of different software applications
  2. Identify various products available as Web applications
  3. Describe the learning aids available with many software applications

This chapter discusses the role of the system software with respect to application software. It then presents an overview of several productivity software applications, graphic design/multimedia software applications, home/personal/educational software applications, and communications software applications. The chapter then identifies various Web applications. Finally, learning aids and supports tools within application software products are presented.

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    Define application software

Application software consists of programs designed to perform specific tasks for users. Application software can be used as a productivity/business tool; to assist with graphics and multimedia projects; to support home, personal, and educational activities; and to facilitate communications. Specific application software products, called software packages, are available from software vendors. Although application software also is available as shareware, freeware, and public-domain software, these usually have fewer capabilities than retail software packages.

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    Understand how system software interacts with application software

System software consists of programs that control the operations of a computer and its devices. System software serves as the interface between a user, the application software, and the computer’s hardware. One type of system software is the operating system. Before application software can be run, the operating system, which contains instructions that coordinate the activities among computer hardware devices, must be loaded from the hard disk into the computer’s memory.

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    Identify the role of the user interface

The user interface controls how you enter data or instructions and how information displays on the computer screen. Many of today’s software programs have a graphical user interface. A graphical user interface (GUI) combines text, graphics, and other visual images to make software easier to use.

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    Explain how to start a software application

Both the Microsoft Windows and the Apple Macintosh operating systems use the concept of a desktop. The desktop is an on-screen work area with common graphical elements such as icons, buttons, menus, links, windows, and dialog boxes. A software application can be started by clicking its program name on a menu, or list of commands. Clicking the program name instructs the operating system to transfer the program’s instructions from a storage medium into memory. Once started, the application displays in a window on the desktop. A window is a rectangular area of the screen that is used to show the program, data, and/or information. At the top of the window is a title bar that contains the window’s name.

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    Identify the widely used products and explain the key features of 

People use productivity software to become more effective and efficient while performing daily activities. Word processing software allows users to create and manipulate documents that contain text and graphics. With word processing software, you can insert clip art into a document; change margins; find and replace text; use a spelling checker to check spelling; place a header and footer at the top and the bottom of a page; and vary font (character design), font size (character scale), and font style (character appearance).

With spreadsheet software, data is organized in rows and columns, which collectively are called a worksheet. The intersection of a row and column, called a cell, can contain a label (text), a value (number), or a formula or function that performs calculations on the data and displays the result.

Database software allows you to create and manage a database. A database is a collection of data organized to allow access, retrieval, and use of that data. A query is used to retrieve data according to specified criteria, which are restrictions the data must meet.

Presentation graphics software is used to create presentations that communicate ideas, messages, and other information to a group through a slide show. You can use a clip gallery to enhance your presentation with clip art images, pictures, video clips, and audio clips.

A personal information manager (PIM) is software that includes an appointment calendar to schedule activities, an address book to maintain names and addresses, and a notepad to record ideas, reminders, and important information. A software suite is a collection of individual applications sold as a single package.

Project management software allows you to plan, schedule, track, and analyze the progress of a project. Accounting software helps companies record and report their financial transactions.

Power users often use software that allows them to work with graphics and multimedia. Computer-aided design (CAD) software assists in creating engineering, architectural, and scientific designs. Desktop publishing (DTP) software is used to design and produce sophisticated documents. DTP is developed specifically to support page layout, which is the process of arranging text and graphics in a document. Paint software is used to draw graphical images with various on-screen tools. Image editing software provides the capability to modify existing images. Video editing software and audio editing software can be used to modify video and audio segments.

Multimedia authoring software is used to create electronic interactive presentations that can include text, images, video, audio, and animation. Web page authoring software is designed to create Web pages and to organize, manage, and maintain Web sites.

Many software applications are designed specifically for use at home or for personal or educational use. Integrated software combines several productivity software applications that share a similar interface and common features into a single package. Personal finance software is an accounting program that helps pay bills, balance a checkbook, track income and expenses, follow investments, and evaluate financial plans. Legal software assists in the creation of legal documents and provides legal advice. Tax preparation software guides users through the process of filing federal taxes. Personal DTP software helps develop conventional documents by asking questions, presenting predefined layouts, and supplying standard text.

Photo-editing software is used to edit digital photographs. A clip art/image gallery is a collection of clip art and photographs that can be used in all types of documents. Home design/landscaping software assists with planning or remodeling. Educational software teaches a particular skill and exists for about any subject. Reference software provides valuable and thorough information for all individuals. Entertainment software includes interactive games, videos, and other programs designed to support a hobby or provide amusement.

One of the main reasons people use computers is to communicate and share information. E-mail software is used to create, send, receive, forward, store, print, and delete e-mail (electronic mail). A Web browser is a software application used to access and view Web pages. A chat client is software that allows you to connect to a chat room, which permits users to chat via the computer. A newsreader is a software program used to participate in a newsgroup, which is an online area on the Web where users conduct written discussion about a particular subject. An instant messenger is a software program installed to use instant messaging (IM), a real-time communications service that notifies you when one or more people are online and then allows you to exchange messages or files. Groupware is a software application that helps groups of people on a network work together and share information. A videoconference is a meeting between two or more geographically separated people who use a network or the Internet to transmit audio and video data.

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     Identify various products available as Web applications

A Web application is a software application that exists on a Web site. To access the Web application, you visit the Web site that offers the program. Some Web applications are free; for others, you pay for use, service, support, or when a certain action occurs. Web-based training (WBT) is a type of CBT (computer-based training) that uses Internet technology. Many Web sites offer WBT to the general public. An application service provider (ASP) is a third-party organization that manages and distributes software and services on the Web.

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    Describe the learning aids available with many software applications

Many software applications and Web sites provide learning aids. Online Help is the electronic equivalent of a user manual. Usually integrated into an application software package, online Help often is context-sensitive, meaning that the Help information is related to the current task being attempted. Most online Help also provide links to Web sites that have a FAQs page. FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) supply answers to common queries. Many books are available to help you learn to use the features of a personal computer application package. A wizard is an automated assistant that helps complete a task by asking questions and then performing actions based on the answers.

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Expand Your Knowledge
  1. Application software
  2. System software
  3. The user interface
  4. Starting an application
  1. Software
  2. Web applications
  3. Learning aids

Here you will find additional information that will expand and enhance your knowledge beyond that contained in your textbook. Compare this information to what may be provided in a traditional classroom by your instructor or peers.

    Application Software

Popular types of application software can be categorized by their general use: productivity software, graphics design/multimedia software, home/personal/educational software, and communications software. An application can belong to more than one category. For example, an e-mail program can be considered both productivity software and communications software.

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    System Software

Many application programs are designed to run with a specific operating system. When shopping for an application software package, buyers must make sure they have a compatible operating system. A software package designed to be used with the Macintosh operating system may not work with the Windows operating system. The operating system version also is important. An application designed for Windows XP may not work with Windows 3.1. Yet, because most operating systems are downward compatible, software written for earlier versions of an operating system (such as Windows 98) usually can be used with recent versions of the operating system (such as Windows XP).

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    The User Interface

The user interface plays a key role in application software. Studies have found that GUI users generally complete tasks more accurately, work faster, are more productive, and feel less fatigue than users of a text interface. The Macintosh operating system – the first popular GUI – actually was developed from an earlier GUI-based operating system created by Xerox.

The first version of Windows (1985) imitated the Macintosh’s GUI (Apple sued Microsoft, unsuccessfully, for copyright infringement). Although some users still feel the Macintosh interface is superior, today some form of Windows is used on almost 90 percent of personal computers. Because of this, even competitive products often use similar features, such as the same menu names.

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    Starting an Application

To click an object on the screen, you move the pointer to the object and then press and release a button on the mouse. Often, applications also can be started by double-clicking the icon that represents the application.

When an application is started, the right-hand corner of the application window title bar usually displays three buttons:

A dialog box can contain option buttons, check boxes, text boxes, and command buttons. Option buttons stipulate desired alternatives; check boxes turn specific capabilities on or off; text boxes allow text to be entered; and command buttons immediately perform an action, such as implementing (OK) or ignoring (Cancel) the choices made in a dialog box. Shortcut menus can change depending on where the pointer rests when the mouse is right-clicked. Dimmed commands on a menu or shortcut menu are unavailable.

Some applications use automatically display a smart tag when you perform a certain action. Clicking the smart tag displays a menu of commands related to the action.

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    Software

Word processing software is used for creating, editing, formatting, saving, and printing documents. In the modern office, word processing software has replaced the typewriter for almost all written work. The editing capabilities of word processing software have altered the creative process. The freedom to express yourself without reservation, knowing you easily can revise what you have written, can improve the quality of written work. It is good practice to save a document before printing it. When a document is saved, it exists as a file, or named collection of data, instructions, or information. A file name uniquely identifies each file. Restrictions on file names once were severe; file names could be no more than eight characters long, and many characters, including spaces, could not be used. In Windows XP, however, a file name can have up to 255 characters, including spaces.

Some spreadsheet programs offer more than 200 internal functions. When creating a spreadsheet, formulas and functions usually must be preceded by a special character (such as =, +, or @) to distinguish them from labels or values. Formulas use cell references, or addresses, of cells that contain values. When formulas are copied from one cell to another, the cell references change to reflect the new location. This update is called relative referencing. Another powerful capability, called goal-seek, finds what value is needed to reach a specified goal.

While spreadsheet packages can manage data tables of a few thousand records, database software can efficiently handle much larger data tables. In a database, common data types include text, numeric, currency, date, memo, hyperlink, and object. When identifying data types, numbers treated as text (such as zip codes, Social Security numbers, or telephone numbers) sometimes are referred to as alphanumeric data because they are not used in calculations. The results of a database query are placed in an ANSWER table.

Although introduced years after word processing and spreadsheet software, presentation graphics software has had almost as great an impact on business, and on how people do business, as either of the older applications. Presentations often include an outline with the text from each slide, audience handouts that can be distributed to the audience, and a notes page with additional notes for the presenter. Some presentation graphics packages offer templates for various presentations (company meeting, financial report, marketing plan, progress report, employee orientation, training, and so on).

PIMs essentially are “free style” database managers. They are very popular with people who spend much of their time in business travel. These people, often called road warriors, find PIMs a valuable part of the arsenal they bring to their daily battles. Like a daily planner, PIMs must be reviewed regularly to be effective.

Unlike word processing software, DTP software increases hardware requirements. Because of its relatively low cost (an advanced DTP system can be purchased for less than $10,000) and the speed, control, security, and flexibility offered by desktop publishing, many companies are using DTP instead of outside printing firms for their publishing needs.

Paint software and image editing software have had a tremendous impact on commercial art. Commercial artists praise the capabilities offered by these applications. At the same time, many feel these applications have led clients to demand more, both in terms of time and expectations. As a result, some commercial artists believe their income, actually has dropped because of graphic software.

Most software for home, personal, and educational use is relatively inexpensive. It still pays to shop around. Prices for some software for home/personal use, such as integrated software, can vary greatly for the same brand depending on the vendor. Some personal finance packages can prepare reports on income and expenses, budget, net worth, taxes, and investments.

Personal finance software wizards (automated assistants) can help to balance accounts, prepare budgets, plan mortgages, calculate savings, and arrange retirements. Legal software is designed to facilitate creation of standard documents; unusual circumstances might still demand the services of a lawyer. Tax preparation software also is best used by people in fairly common circumstances.

For some students, educational software is a welcome alternative to traditional classes, allowing them to work privately at their own pace. Reference software articles often include links that, when clicked, display related articles. Because referenced material can change frequently, some reference software packages can be updated via the World Wide Web.

Computer communications touch everyone’s life. Consider the ATM that “knows” a bank balance even though it is located 500 miles from the bank. Many e-mail programs allow users to send “registered mail” with a return receipt guaranteeing the recipient received the message. E-mail and personal information management (PIM) software sometimes also are considered part of groupware. Although e-mail has assumed an important role in business messages, traditional paper letters and memos still are used In fact, some maintain that the amount of paper correspondence has increased.

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    Web Applications

Web applications can be a better buy than packaged applications. For example, a $50 packaged antivirus program can be replaced by a Web application that costs less than $30 annually, is updated frequently, and uses less space on a hard disk. In addition, packaged software might include features you will never use, which increases the cost of the package. Often, you can use the standard version of a similar Web application for less money or even for free, and only pay more for the additional features you want. Web applications can save businesses money with reduced installation, upgrade, and maintenance costs. Some social analysts believe that the lower cost of Web applications also can help close the “digital divide.”

For Web application vendors, benefits include easier updating and debugging (error correcting), removal of packaging and distribution costs, and elimination of software piracy (the illegal copying and selling of software). Despite their advantages, analysts point out that Web applications may not be right for everyone. For some consumers, paying a monthly fee ultimately costs more than the one-time purchase of packaged software. Also, many households do not have the fast Internet connection needed for certain Web applications to run smoothly. Finally, some people worry that files stored at a Web application site can be infected with viruses. Web application vendors believe these worries are groundless and that Web applications benefit both buyers and sellers.

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    Learning Aids

In many applications, an audible “beep” indicates an error, and the last entry should be reviewed. Function key f1 often is used to activate the Help feature. Some applications have a Help button that, when clicked, changes the mouse pointer to a Help arrow. This arrow can be used to obtain help on a command, button, or bar by pointing at the item and clicking. Many software developers have eliminated user’s manuals in favor of extensive online Help. Computer stores occasionally carry a few trade books, but entire aisles of computer-related books can be found in most large book stores.

For some applications, other learning aids, such as tutorials or keyboard templates, are available. Tutorials are step-by-step instructions using real examples that show how to use an application. Tutorials can be printed, software-based, or Internet-based. Keyboard templates (plastic sheets that fit around a portion of the keyboard) illustrate the keyboard commands for various tasks. Wizards can be used to help create memorandums, meeting agendas, fax cover sheets, flyers, letters, resumes, charts, forms, reports, awards, pleadings, calendars, postcards, envelopes, mailing labels, newsletters, and Web pages. Some applications also offer document templates, which are special documents that provide basic tools for shaping a final document. The availability of learning aids and support tools is an important consideration in selecting an application package.

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