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Software earns its name for what it is not. It is not hardware. Whatever is not hard is soft, and thus the derivation of the name. Hardware came first—simply because the hard reality of machines and tools existed long before anyone thought of computers or of the concept of programming. Hardware happily resides on page 551 of the 1965 dictionary I keep in my office—you know, nuts, bolts, and stuff like that. Software is nowhere to be found. (Why I keep a 1965 dictionary in my office is another matter entirely.)

Software comprises abstract ideas. In computers, the term embraces not only the application programs you buy and the other kinds of software listed earlier but also the information or data used by those programs.

Programs are the more useful parts of software because programs do the actual work. The program tells your computer what to do—how to act, how to use the data it has, how to react to your commands, how to be a computer at all. Data just slow things down.

Although important, a program is actually a simple thing. Broken down to its constituent parts, a computer program is nothing but a list of commands to tell your hardware what to do. Like a recipe, the program is a step-by-step procedure that, to the uninitiated, seems to be written in a secret code. In fact, the program is written in a code called the programming language, and the resultant list of instructions is usually called code by its programmers.

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