In information technology, an application is a computer program designed to help people perform an activity. An application thus differs from an operating system (which runs a computer), a utility (which performs maintenance or general-purpose chores), and aprogramming tools (with which computer programs are created). Depending on the activity for which it was designed, an application can manipulate text, numbers, graphics, or a combination of these elements. Some application packages offer considerable computing power by focusing on a single task, such as word processing; others, called integrated software, offer somewhat less power but include several applications. User-written software tailors systems to meet the user’s specific needs. User-written software includes spreadsheet templates, word processor macros, scientific simulations, graphics and animation scripts. Even email filters are a kind of user software. Users create this software themselves and often overlook how important it is.
The delineation between system software such as operating systems and application software is not exact, however, and is occasionally the object of controversy. For example, one of the key questions in the United States v. Microsoft antitrust trial was whether Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser was part of its Windows operating system or a separable piece of application software. As another example, the GNU/Linux naming controversy is, in part, due to disagreement about the relationship between the Linux kernel and the operating systems built over this kernel. In some types of embedded systems, the application software and the operating system software may be indistinguishable to the user, as in the case of software used to control a VCR, DVD player or microwave oven. The above definitions may exclude some applications that may exist on some computers in large organizations.
In recent years, the shortened term “app” (coined in 1985) has become particularly popular to refer to applications for mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets, the shortened form matching their typically smaller scope in relation to applications used by PCs.